Jenny Ballesteros

Jenny Ballesteros.

President's Scholar

Political Science
College of Social Science

Why did you choose your major?

I come from a small, agricultural town in California called Castroville. Most, of the people who make up the population, are low-income and Mexican immigrants or of Mexican descent. Growing up in that community, I witnessed discrimination, poverty, gang violence, and injustice. During my senior year of high school I decided I wanted to make a difference in my community and communities similar to mine.  I just wasn’t sure what career would allow me to make the biggest impact while being the best fit for me. After some research, I chose to major in Political Science because it would open the doors to various careers where I could fulfill my goal of uplifting my community. Specifically, it gave me the opportunity to choose a career either as an activist, politician or as an attorney. 

What does receiving this particular award mean to you?

Because I come from a low-income community, my school district lacks resources. Therefore, my high school did not fully prepare me for college. I remember struggling in my first semester at SJSU because I did not have the skills to succeed. I had to teach myself how to study, how to take good notes, how to effectively read through scholarly articles and much more. Receiving this award signifies that all my hard work has paid off. It is my compensation for all the long, tedious hours I spent studying. I am extremely proud of myself for receiving this award and it is proof that I can achieve anything I set my mind to.

Who has had the greatest influence or impact on your life? In addition, tell us about a SJSU faculty member who contributed to your academic success

My parents have had the greatest influence on my life. They migrated from Mexico in their early teens and have been working hard ever since. Growing up, I witnessed all of the sacrifices they have had to make to get me where I am today. On top of that, they have been victims of injustice multiple times because of their legal status. Witnessing their inability to seek justice has ingrained in me a passion for immigrant rights and social justice. 

A lot of professors who are a part of the Political Science department have contributed to my success but in particular Professor Mary Currin-Percival. Professor Percival gave me the opportunity to work on a research project with her. That opportunity has meant a lot to me because she believed in my abilities and trusted that I would be an asset to her team. Most importantly, the experience has enabled me to picture myself as capable of doing my own research in the future and having an impact on academia. She has also shown an interest in my future aspirations and has always been willing to advocate for me. I will always be grateful for her mentorship and overall positive attitude.

Describe an experience that has shaped who you are today

During my junior year in high school, my dad was injured on the job and was let go shortly after. This was a very stressful and difficult time for my family. It was not easy for my dad to find another job because of his legal status. I remember being angered at the situation because I believed it was unjust that my dad had been let go (without any compensation) because of his injury.  The incident sparked my interest in pursuing a law degree because I wanted to help other people in my community who found themselves in similar situations. 

Ever since then, I have dedicated myself to the immigrant rights movement. I have led protests, have organized the community and have educated myself on the impacts of the criminalization of immigration. I currently work as a paralegal and help people obtain different forms of immigration relief. This year I will be taking the LSAT and applying to law schools. Although the work is emotionally draining, it is what I love doing and I can't picture myself doing something else.

What would you say to other students to encourage or inspire them to attain academic excellence?

Coming from an underprivileged community, I would tell students that find themselves in a similar situation, that it is definitely possible for them to attain academic excellence. It is not easy, however. It took me three years of trial and error to finally attain the skills necessary to get A’s in my classes. In order to prosper in institutions of higher education, you have to be willing to do more than the bare minimum. It requires stepping out of your comfort zone by participating often in class and showing up to your professors’ office hours. 

The most important thing is finding what motivates you. What is your passion? Why do you want to obtain a degree? Every time I felt overwhelmed, I would remind myself of why I was doing this in the first place. Having that clear mindset was what allowed me to successfully navigate my undergraduate career. 

What makes you a Spartan?

What immediately caught my attention of SJSU was its diversity. I enjoyed having classmates who were from various backgrounds and who offered different perspectives. I loved that everyone was bringing together their unique ideas with the purpose of making our communities a better place. I have also always felt a strong sense of community and acceptance from my peers and the faculty at SJSU.  SJSU provided countless opportunities that empowered me and have shaped me to be the person I am now.

I have similar ambitions for my community. My goal is that by helping people obtain an immigration relief, I will uplift them and open the doors to opportunities that were not once possible. In doing so, my hopes are that it will empower the entire community. This is what makes me a Spartan. 

Nominated by Professor Melinda Jackson

Professor, Political Science

"In addition to her outstanding academic record, Jenny is an active member of our department, and the broader community. Jenny has interned in Washington DC, and as a Communications Fellow with SIREN (Services, Immigrant Rights, and Education Network) here in San Jose. She is currently working as a Research Assistant with Dr. Mary Currin-Percival, and has applied to the UCLA Law Fellows Program, which supports outstanding potential law school students from underrepresented backgrounds. Balancing academics with internships, research, and community engagement, Jenny has impressed us all with her enthusiasm and passion for public service."