Alumni Feature

Jaime Fajardo: A Path Towards Social Justice

Originally from Grandview, WA, Jaime Fajardo (’12, Society, Ethics and Human Behavior) enrolled in IAS with an associate’s from Spokane Community College. Jaime is a first-generation college student. His parents emigrated in 1979 from Mexico. Jaime works full time as a juvenile counselor at Echo Glen Children’s Center, while pursuing a master’s degree full time from the University of Washington School of Social Work, and working as an intern in the Human Service Division for the City of Bellevue. Jaime came back to UW Bothell to speak with us here in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences about his path as a first-generation college student, and as a Mexican American in higher education and social work.

How do you feel that your undergraduate education in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences prepared you for graduate school?

IAS taught me that relationships with professors were essential to my personal growth as a student. Everyone had an open door policy. I learned that building relationships and talking with people was a different way to do research.

Coming to IAS, I found a sense of being at ease with myself. Not just with being Mexican American, but simply being OK with voicing my opinion. My professors nurtured that voice so that I could speak up.

One that comes to mind is Benjamin Gardner. He overheard me talking about grad school, saying that I didn’t think I was up to that level. He pulled me to the side and told me that if I put my mind to it I could do stuff like that and that he’d be more than happy to assist me with the process.  Ron Krabill also encouraged me to pursue my interests in further higher education. He wrote one of my references for my School of Social Work application. 

I graduated with a major in Society, Ethics, and Human Behavior (SEB). I took classes with Leslie Ashbaugh and Wadiya Udell that examined families and social inequalities.  Not everyone has the same playing field. I learned how to think academically about the ways that the environment affects individuals and their social mobility. People often think that social work is all about individual clinical work, but in reality you also address the environment, the community level. Those critical lenses helped me prepare for the Master of Social Work program at the University of Washington Seattle. 

Now that you’re in the Master of Social Work Program, what is the experience like?

Awesome!  Right now I’m entering into my second year, with a concentration in Administration and Policy Practice. The program at UW Seattle is ranked number three in the nation. I didn’t even know it was prestigious until I was in these classes and everyone was out of state or international and I’m local – from UW Bothell.  I found out later that the program only accepts 100 out of 700 applicants. I thought, man, IAS did a great job of preparing me to feel confident to engage with graduate students from all over the world.

What was it that made your IAS experience work for you, personally?

I’ll be honest with you: when I went to school at Spokane Community College, those were my hardest two years. I didn’t have any sense of community, I didn’t feel accepted. Everyone called me “jaymee”: no one took the time to find out how to say my name. Here, people take that time. They actually create the inclusive environment that a lot of places only talk about. When I graduated, Bruce Kochis was the professor reading out the names of people getting their diplomas.  I never even had a class with him, but he rolled out the “r’ in Fajardo, and gave me a look like ‘I got you.’

Because of the differences in support and community, I did better in IAS.  At Spokane I had a GPA of only 2.5, whereas I graduated with my bachelor’s from IAS with 3.62. The reason I was having trouble with my academics at one point is that I was never given the resources. I was the first one of my brothers to go to college, but I wasn’t the first to graduate. I ended up taking a year off from Spokane because I was so not in tune with the whole process of higher education. I enrolled by walking in one day with $500 dollars and picking a random class to take. No orientation – nothing.  And I failed miserably.

The environment makes all the difference. I learn the best when I feel like I’m involved in the conversations.

Does your undergraduate education in IAS help you with your current job?

In addition to the SEB curriculum and the clinical theories I learned through my job as a juvenile counselor for the State at Echo Glenn Children’s Center, I took those lessons from IAS about voice and inclusion and have applied them in my everyday work. I think, how am I allowing this individual I’m working with to really voice their experiences? Clinical theory and practice are there, but for me it’s really about listening and not interrupting, letting people have the space to talk and reflect.

So in addition to full time counseling work and a full time MA program, you also have an internship?

Well, the internship is actually the practicum for the Master of Social Work program. The first year is academic research, and then in the second year you can apply for competitive internships with stipends. I received one with the City of Bellevue in the Human Service Division. With my work at Echo Glenn and a previous internship with El Centro De La Raza (which is the largest Latino youth program in the state), I’ve experienced direct practice.  Now I have a chance to look at the policy decisions and outcomes that go into funding these types of programs.

What is next for you?

The policy direction is where I want to focus in the next five to ten years: become more involved in the macro level, funding social service agencies that advocate for marginalized individuals. Direct practice is great, but I want to make wider change. Many of the people I work with, they don’t come from marginalized populations. It hurts me that they are making multi-million dollar decisions that affect individuals they are disconnected from.

The way I measure my progress is by asking, ‘What am I doing to give back to the communities that I’m working with?’ It turns out that I’ve been pursuing social justice for a long time – I just didn’t know that’s what it was called. It was in IAS that I learned that.

Jaime with his parents at graduation.