Monday, May 14, 2018

‘Community Engaged Student’ Lives Thayne Center Values

Pedro Rico

Pedro Rico is interested in research and data, like the kind that focuses on social disparities in education, employment and income in Utah and throughout the U.S. Growing up poor in a family and community of Mexican immigrants and without a father fueled that interest. The undocumented status of people who have been close to him growing up and now has also helped clarify his educational and career paths.

Those are a few of the reasons why this recent Salt Lake Community College political science graduate – and the first college graduate in his family – has his sights set on studying political justice and global studies, a research-intensive program at Westminster College. While at SLCC, Rico’s passions and interests manifested themselves in making real impacts and turning the heads of administrators.

After participating in an SLCC Alternative Spring Break to tackle a community’s food insecurity issues in Seattle, Rico applied for and was accepted into the SLCC Student Leaders in Civic Engagement group. He was a leader for the Bruin Pantry Open House that raised awareness of food insecurities among SLCC students. Using research and data at that weeklong open house, he helped people connect the dots between hunger issues and academic performance or why people with jobs and a place to live suffer from malnutrition and an inability to afford a balanced diet, let alone three meals a day. Rico was instrumental in expanding the Bruin Pantry at the Taylorsville Redwood Campus. He also represented the Thayne Center for Service & Learning on the Utah Campus Compact Student Advisory Council and the SLCC Student Fee Board. Just before he graduated from SLCC, Rico’s efforts were recognized with a Community Engaged Student award during the Thayne Center Annual Celebration of Civically Engaged Scholars.

Pedro Rico (right) accepts his Thayne Center Community Engaged Student award from Curt Larsen, SLCC Assistant Vice President for Student Life.

Alexis Bucknam, executive director of Utah Campus Compact, said during the Thayne Center celebration, “Pedro lives and breathes the Thayne Center values through his coursework. He has cultivated a strong sense of values and is willing to use his voice to stand up for his local community. Pedro is great at seeing the big picture of systemic forces that perpetuate oppression on local and national levels. He does not shy away from tough questions and thinks critically about where we need to move as a society to make it a more equitable place for all.”

Rico’s stances on certain issues weren’t always popular while at SLCC, like when he “dissented” during a project intended to help people in his beloved hometown of West Valley City. He felt the project did more to gentrify the city than address deeper issues like the need for better paying jobs.

“Pedro’s commitment to elevating marginalized voices is apparent throughout his work at SLCC,” said Sean Crossland, director of the SLCC Thayne Center for Service & Learning. “He demonstrated this commitment in his efforts to raise the awareness of food insecurity on campus and to promote the Bruin Pantry. Pedro engages in critical conversations around complex social issues and is willing to challenge and be challenged.”

Rico, 27, who almost left Utah in 2015 to study art in California but stayed when he met a man with whom he fell in love, wants to make changes in his home state. He wants to influence or develop policies toward that broad goal. And he wants to encourage others to stay politically active or at least aware, especially in today’s climate, even though they might be frustrated with elected officials who Rico says seem more interested in the needs of the economic elite than issues of social welfare or the greater public good. “We have moved into a society where people feel politics does more damage than good,” Rico adds. “Politics is a catharsis and leads to new ideas. If people continue to disassociate themselves from it, then the issues of today will never be resolved.”

Pedro Rico (right) and two of his friends at the 2018 Commencement ceremony.