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Esthela Bañuelos Joins the Arts Division as Assistant Dean for Student Success/Chief of Staff

Esthela Bañuelos

Growing up in Southeast Los Angeles as the daughter of immigrant parents, Esthela Bañuelos, the Arts Division’s newly appointed Assistant Dean for Student Success/Chief of Staff, found herself at UC Santa Cruz more than 20 years ago when, as a first gen student, she earned her M.A. in Sociology and her Ph.D. in Sociology with a Designated Emphasis in Feminist Studies. She also holds a B.A. degree in Sociology from California State University, Long Beach. Her graduate research examined how institutional practices and policies shape inequality and identity in graduate education, from the perspective of student experiences and perceptions across race, gender, and class identities. Bañuelos was initially drawn to UCSC due to its outstanding faculty and their groundbreaking interdisciplinary work.

“I was further drawn by the beauty of the campus and the surrounding area,” she says. “We have an amazing community of faculty, staff, and students here—and I’m inspired by colleagues that are dedicated to the mission of education as a public good.”

Bañuelos brings a wealth of experience to her new role. When she was part of UCSC’s Academic Senate, she provided thought partnership, policy advising, analysis, strategic planning, and project management in support of the academic mission and subject matter plenary and/or advisory authority of Senate committees, including the Committees on Planning and Budget and Graduate Council. Her colleagues describe her as a collaborative leader skilled in strategic planning, fostering teamwork, and working toward a shared mission and vision. She was previously a lecturer for UCSC’s Department of Latin American and Latino Studies, teaching courses on the topics of race, class, gender; Latinx communities in the U.S.; and Latinx and higher education.

“I’m excited about joining the Arts – this is a critical time for the division,” says Bañuelos. “I’ve had the opportunity to listen to Dean Celine talk about the mission and vision of the Arts. In its attention to creative practice, critical theory, and history, there is centrally a bold statement about diversity, equity, and inclusion as a foundational principle that drives innovation and transformation in curriculum, faculty diversity, mentoring, and student success. The work of this position connects to my own academic background and focus on student experience and success. I look forward to contributing to advancing the mission and vision of the Arts and working collaboratively with faculty, staff, and students in the division.”
Listening and learning will be a large part of her initial steps soon after she joins the Division. She also is eager to get started on the important work of relationship building within what is a new setting for her, as well as continuing to build strong connections across the campus units and beyond.

Bañuelos’s passion for education comes through when she mentions her parents and her belief in what the UC system means for so many people. “My mother was only able to attend school until the 5th grade, and my father attended school to 8th grade,” she says. “I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to acquire an education. I believe there is more we can do as a collective to ensure that as many as possible have access to education. I believe in the public mission of the University of California, its potential to contribute to social mobility, and its ability to better utilize the talent and abilities of its constituents – students, staff, faculty – to advance the public good by providing access, and ultimately to fostering a society that values curiosity, knowledge, and the pursuit of a more just world.”
Outside of work, Bañuelos expresses her creativity by preparing home-cooked meals,  which she devoted more time to during the pandemic and continues to enjoy doing with her partner and daughter. She hopes to also learn how to cook more traditional dishes that she remembers her mother making for her and whom she credits as being a phenomenal cook. Other pastimes include taking long walks in nature. “It is a way for me to re-center, ground myself, and re-energize,” she says. “I discovered that I can walk into Nisene Marks State Park from my home, and there are many other places to walk in nature both on campus and the surrounding area. Visiting Point Lobos Reserve in Monterey County is one of my favorite things when I have some time on weekends.”
Regarding the arts, Bañuelos recalls how she really came to appreciate ballet in particular through her daughter, who studied dance for many years. “I watched her practice extensively and make progress in her technique over the years, and performances were always something to look forward to,” she says. “I loved to watch her, waiting in the wings ready to go on stage, with pure anticipation and joy in her being. Watching ballet performances still evokes that feeling of pure joy for me.”
She also appreciates how art can evoke emotion and connect us to community, citing it as critically important in our collective and individual lives. “As a college student, I vividly remember first coming across visual art that conveyed the power of social movements and social action for me, and how documentary films conveyed to me the struggle and agency of communities working for change that helped me to connect to, and understand, history and theory very directly and powerfully.”

Starting her new position in June, Bañuelos is eager to embark on this exciting new phase in her career. “My work on student success will place me in working collaborations with department faculty and staff,” she says. “And as chief of staff, I look forward to working with the existing incredible team in the Arts Division Office, and to working as advisor and thought partner with Dean Celine.”