Sofia Garcia Garbuno endured experiences as a young student that no one should have to.
After moving from Chicago to the suburbs, Garbuno was placed in special education coursework because it was assumed they didn’t understand English (Garbuno did, and is fluent in English and Spanish).
Around second grade, Garbuno also recalls a classroom discussion about college — and thinking it “sounded really cool and was something I wanted to pursue.”
“At the same time, I was being told that kids like me don’t go to college,” says Garbuno, who uses they/them pronouns. “It was harmful stuff.”
Flash-forward to this past spring, and Garbuno was celebrating graduating from the UW–Madison School of Education with a BS in education studies. This summer, they are working as the project assistant for UW–Madison’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Internship Program, and this fall Garbuno will start pursuing a master’s degree in higher education from the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis.
“I was driven to prove people wrong,” says Garbuno.
One experience that had a significant positive impact on their drive to succeed was Garbuno’s experience with the MSAN Network. Housed in the School of Education’s Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER), MSAN is a national coalition of multiracial school districts that have come together to understand and eliminate racial opportunity gaps that persist in their schools.
MSAN has worked hard for more than two decades to achieve the parallel goals of closing opportunity gaps and ensuring all students achieve at high levels. To this end, the MSAN districts work collaboratively to conduct and publish research, analyze policies, and share promising practices.
In addition, MSAN is also dedicated to uplifting student voices in pursuit of the network’s mission — a role Garbuno says was vital in shaping their current path.
Garbuno notes how they first saw the UW–Madison campus via a tour supported by MSAN during their sophomore year of high school in Evanston, Illinois. She adds how the MSAN Student Conference offered valuable opportunities to learn with and from other educators and students from across the nation interested in better understanding a range of topics centered around the opportunity gap, and other topics broadly related to equity, diversity, and inclusion.
Garbuno was also a facilitator for the online version of this conference during the pandemic.
Through MSAN, Garbuno also gained valuable experiences learning to speak with different classrooms and groups about their interests in educational inequality.
Garbuno says they remain passionate about examining educational opportunities, equity, and the advancement of marginalized communities — interests that are shaped by both their past lived experiences and connections to MSAN.
“I love seeing the empowerment some of these conversations through MSAN give students,” says Garbuno. “I appreciate how MSAN is so student- centered. Students are the ones on the ground and in the schools and experiencing what’s happening right now. People are tired of having to go through so much — and MSAN gives you a feeling of empowerment and that change is possible.”