Sofia de la Grana ’23 enjoys working with other students and helping them succeed. As a resident advisor (RA) for the International Living Learning Community at Syracuse University, she values sharing experiences, building relationships, exploring cultures and creating inclusive communities. She sees education as a pathway for bringing people together to learn from one another and improve understanding. “Education is at the forefront of what I want to do,” says de la Grana, who’s majoring in public relations at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and in citizenship and civic engagement at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.
“I really wanted to meet new students outside of my own little bubble. I wanted to make these global connections, and I learned so much about different cultures.”
De la Grana grew up near Miami in a largely Hispanic community and earned a scholarship from the Posse Foundation that not only made her enrollment at Syracuse a reality, but also provided her with a support system that she considers invaluable. As an incoming student, she chose to live in the International Living Learning Community, where she was paired with a roommate from Kenya, Michelle Osiyah ’23, who became a good friend, and got to know students from around the globe and across the U.S. “I really wanted to meet new students outside of my own little bubble,” she says. “I wanted to make these global connections, and I learned so much about different cultures.”
The experience inspired her to become an RA last year—a role that allows her to stay involved with the international community, create programming and help other students continue to grow as she has. And while campus living during the pandemic was “unconventional,” she says she approached it with a positive mindset. She appreciated sharing more one-on-one moments and related to everyone’s experiences adjusting to life amid the pandemic. This fall, she looks forward to big events and other activities that weren’t possible last year. “I loved seeing students grow from the first day—not knowing anyone, not knowing campus—and being the person who helped them connect to others,” says de la Grana, a member of the Office of Student Living’s RA Advisory Board. “I was so proud of them at the end, being able to come into themselves and have a great experience.”
Beyond her RA duties, de la Grana served as a Newhouse peer advisor, working as a teaching assistant for the school’s first-year seminar and sharing her insights about courses and resources with new students. She was also a First-Year Experience class facilitator, engaging students in discussions about race, identity, equity and inclusion, and leading them in activities. “I really enjoyed having those conversations with students about our identity,” she says. “I’ve been learning so much about different people’s cultures and sharing conversations about my own. I think creating relationships with people is such an important part of it.”
As de la Grana has broadened her worldview, she also has tailored her academic path to reflect her interest in educational nonprofit and community work. As a high school student, she was active in community theater and service projects, and she carried that with her to Syracuse. Passionate about film, she was originally a television, radio and film major, but shifted to public relations because of the expansive employment opportunities and her interest in sharing other people’s stories. “I thought PR would be perfect for that,” she says. As a complement to those interests, she was drawn to citizenship and civic engagement because of the course offerings and emphasis on experiential learning, which includes partnering with an organization and developing an action plan for putting an initiative into practice. “I thought, ‘Wow, this allows me to start building on what I know, creating something out of that and having people who will support the project,’” she says. “I really like that this is a major I can create with my own work.”
“I really enjoyed having those conversations with students about our identity. I’ve been learning so much about different people’s cultures and sharing conversations about my own. I think creating relationships with people is such an important part of it.”
De la Grana describes herself as a “huge history buff,” which led her to add an interdisciplinary minor in atrocity studies and the practices of social justice through the School of Education. “It relates to what I want to teach kids about atrocities and genocide through my work as an educator, or at least through film and the arts,” she says. “That minor expanded what I know about the world and also inspired me to try to teach others about what I haven’t known.” One virtual course she particularly enjoyed was Death as Political: Violence, Grief and Protest, taught by Professor Maggie Scull of the Syracuse Abroad London Center. “I love dialogue-driven courses, where we’re all sharing ideas with each other,” she says.
Putting Knowledge to Work
This summer, de la Grana joined the University’s Mary Ann Shaw Center for Public and Community Service as a public relations intern—a position that allows her to combine what she’s been learning at Newhouse with her devotion to helping an organization with an educational mission. She worked on a video for Orange Central, interviewing Shaw Center alumni about the importance of civic engagement in their lives, as well as Mary Ann Shaw about her vision for the center. She is also making improvements to the center’s website and hopes to spend time in the community documenting the center’s initiatives with schoolchildren in areas like literacy, finance and nutrition. “I love being involved in working with other people, especially community-based work where I can create initiatives that actually impact and help people,” she says.
De la Grana has also put her communication skills to work for Best Buddies International at Syracuse University, the local chapter of a global nonprofit dedicated to expanding opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She has been involved with research, advocacy and social media messaging, which includes supporting accessibility for voting and highlighting Black activists with disabilities as part of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I love being involved in working with other people, especially community-based work where I can create initiatives that actually impact and help people.”
All these experiences have helped de la Grana grow as a person and focus on what is important to her. She has many life goals—including working for the Peace Corps and teaching abroad—that would immerse her in new cultures and allow her to both teach students and learn from them. As she enters her junior year, she wants first-year Syracuse students to know there are opportunities for everyone on campus, and she encourages them to be patient, explore and not get overwhelmed. “There are so many resources and so much support. People are willing to help you grow and advocate for you to learn what you want to learn,” she says. “It’s been such an enriching experience. I just love my classes—I really do. I love learning.”
By Jay Cox
This story was originally published on September 21, 2021 here.