Syracuse University Magazine


Jessica Santana

A Driving Force

Jessica Santana ’11 gained a broad worldview during her four years at SU. She met people from a variety of cultural, geographic, and socioeconomic backgrounds, traveled throughout Europe as part of a globalization study program, and spent a semester in Hong Kong. She realizes none of this would have been possible if she’d stayed in Brooklyn, where many of her friends live their lives by default—not decision. “Growing up in the projects, I was very narrow minded,” says Santana, who was valedictorian of her high school class and is the first in her family to attend college. “But at SU, I’ve met so many great people who have expanded my understanding of the world.”

Santana nearly took a different path when she learned in high school that she was adopted. Raised a Latina in a Puerto Rican household, she was astonished to discover her biological mother is Puerto Rican, but her biological father is Pakistani/Egyptian. “I went through an identity crisis and started running with a gang,” Santana says. “We weren’t violent—just obnoxious. I came to realize that kind of behavior was senseless and I had to make better choices.”

Santana decided Syracuse University was the place for her when she learned about the multitude of study abroad and leadership options available. Once on campus, she grabbed hold of opportunities to participate in student activities. She joined Los Colores, a student organization that provides interpreters for Spanish-speaking families during Orientation Week. And when she discovered the Spanish-speaking immigrant community on the West Side of Syracuse, she helped transform Los Colores into an organization that encourages Latino students to come down off the Hill and get involved there. She established a partnership with MANOS to provide tutoring and mentoring programs for non-English speaking preschool children, and Nuestro Futuro, a program that provides after-school tutoring for students, ages 5-12. Los Colores members also hosted workshops on the state of Latino education and mentored teens at Fowler High School, where only a small percentage of Latino students graduate. “I thought we should reach out to the Latino community and let them know we’re here, we’re making it, and we want them to succeed as well,” says Santana, a Remembrance Scholar and Honors student. 

Santana also worked as a leadership intern at the Mary Ann Shaw Center for Public and Community Service and as a Literacy Corps tutor at a local elementary school. And during her study abroad experience in Hong Kong, she tutored and mentored low-income Chinese students. “Jessica wanted to experience everything she possibly could during her time at SU,” says Pam Heintz ’91, director of the center. “She has tremendous energy and a deep, sincere commitment to being an active citizen wherever she resides.”

The Office of Student Activities recognized Santana’s contributions with two honors: the Lillian and Emanuel Slutzker Center for International Services Award for Cultural Diversity for serving as a mentor to women of color on campus, volunteering to help Chinese students abroad, and implementing such initiatives as the Diversity Ball; and the Senior Vice President Award for Outstanding Senior Leadership for serving on the executive boards of a number of student organizations.  

With an accounting degree in hand, Santana is interning this summer at Deloitte & Touche in New York City and Sao Paulo, Brazil, as part of the company’s global internship program. This fall, she will return to SU to pursue a master’s degree in information management. “I’ve become passionate about technology,” she says. “When I see the impact technology is having in the Middle East, it makes me aware that it has the power to break down barriers. I want to be part of the movement that keeps the wave going.”     —Christine Yackel

Photo by Susan Kahn