In the weeks leading up to the NISTS 2023 virtual annual conference, we're highlighting the transfer stories of this year's National Transfer Student Ambassadors. All four students will attend the conference in Portland and participate in a student panel conversation. You can read more about Oso's story and meet the other 2023 ambassadors on the NISTS Blog.
Look I started Cinderella broke, I was the bud of every joke. Now they’re begging me to see my world through a telescope. Thinking back to my high school days, I had this little voice in my head saying I couldn’t do anything I was doing. So my anxiety, PTSD, and depression was booming so I started drinking and doing drugs foolishly, like if that was going to help me through it, yet oftentimes it just ruined it.
Yet, if I stayed sober, it was just awkward. I guess that shows how low my confidence was. I truly felt lost at this point of my life. MAN. I was a lost soul.
Walking this world, slurring my words. As the word went around me in the streets that I was being a troublemaker, mischievous child. My world started to look like it was over now, time started slowing down.
I didn’t want to go back to jail, so the fire started burning out of me. As I thought about giving up on my dreams it seems like that’s when everything came to be.
As I turned back to education, I decided to blow it all away.
Today was the day the phoenix was able to spread its wings bursting into flames. As today is the day I am flying to new terrain.
Hello, my name is Juan Bran-Gudiel, but I like to go by “Oso.” I am a fourth-year transfer student at UC Santa Barbara, CA (UCSB), working on getting my BA in Chicanx Studies with a minor in Applied Psychology. Being in the foster system and formerly incarcerated, I was inspired to play my part in dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline. I hope to work with at-promise youth who are impacted by multiple systems.
Since my arrival at UCSB, I have been working to connect the local community with the university by reaching out to youth and advocating for the statewide Underground Scholars Initiative. Being a part of the Underground Scholars program at UCSB, I have been able to work as the recruitment coordinator. I have worked to help formerly incarcerated students transition and acclimate into UCSB’s rigorous academia. I have been a research assistant working with a professor to investigate how resources impact students’ college performances.
I am a mentor to incoming freshmen through the PROPEL program at UCSB in which I was part of the initial cohort in launching and mentoring young scholars. I am also part of the board of directors for a new honor society at UCSB known as the Alpha Alpha Alpha honor society (Tri-Alpha). I am always on the go, as I am a father to a beautiful daughter while earning a 3.92 GPA. I also play goalie in lacrosse for the UCSB Gauchos team. In the future, I plan to earn my master’s in Social Work (MSW) and a PhD working towards bridging the gap between the system’s impacted youth, higher education, and the carceral system.
Many youths place importance on being in a gang rather than on education. A large number of them either don’t graduate from high school because they drop out (pushed out or pushed through), go to jail, or unfortunately get murdered. I am determined not to end up like any of my peers (another statistic). I have a strong sense of my purpose and life now. I am motivated to strive to be the best person I can be through my activism and social justice work.
My college journey didn’t start like that of most individuals; I never had anyone persuading me to go into higher education until I was in community college. Nor was it my dream to attend college. Many people may think an adolescent’s life is carefree and simple, but that is not the case in the cities where I lived (Santa Clarita Valley and Los Angeles).
I couldn’t get a job, let alone retain a job, as I had a hard time adjusting to a new lifestyle from getting into trouble to trying to be a productive member of society. Having to care for my daughter and provide for my family, I was given an ultimatum to either get a job or go to school. It was mind-boggling that such an ultimatum was set upon me. Yet I was even more terrified of what I was getting myself into and what I was going to do with my life, as I knew I didn’t want to continue in the path that I was on. All I knew was that I was going back to higher education.
It took some time to decide on my major and career as I tried to figure out what field of study would allow me to pursue a career in working with foster youth who are in and out of the carceral system. Sociology and Ethnic Studies found me after I enrolled at Los Angeles Valley College (LAVC) in the fall of 2015. I took a sociology class to meet a general requirement, and I was able to connect to the material being taught that shed light on societal structures. My professor Laura Scott became a mentor to me, as she took an interest in my success. With the help of Professor Scott, I found my purpose and became aware that working with individuals who are impacted by the system was a possibility.
After many trips to different campuses from Camarillo to San Diego and even Las Vegas and Arizona, I still couldn’t see myself walking in those halls pursuing a bachelor’s degree. I was starting to think that going to Cal State or a UC just wasn’t in my path. After meeting with a few individuals who became my mentors, I was convinced to take one last trip to UC Santa Barbara, where everything changed once I set foot on such a beautiful campus (Paradise).
Upon my return to LAVC, I did some research and found that UCSB has a rich activism history driven by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) who pioneered the way in 1969 to ensure that our generation would have a whole Chican@/Latinx department at the university. Learning about activist legends such as Dolores Huerta, Cesar Chavez, Cherrie Moraga, Celia Rodriguez, Mario Garcia, Ralph Armbruster, and Ida Hurtado lit a fire in me, a hidden passion that gave me the hunger to know more about my ancestry and roots. I knew I had a purpose to fulfill at UCSB, but I was unaware of the difference and impact I was yet to make within the campus and the community. I am certain that my life experiences and academic history have prepared me to succeed as I continue my education.
A lot of small but vital information goes unspoken when transferring and deciding on a new place to call home for the next few years. Being from Los Angeles (LA) and attending low-funded educational institutions that were predominantly BIPOC, I found that adjusting to the rigorous workload from a semester system to a quarter system was another beast on its own. Yet the culture shock and imposter syndrome were even worse; I wasn’t prepared for this and it truly took a toll on my mental health. Transferring in the summer of 2020 (the beginning of Covid-19) brought challenges, as I was unaware that I had to pay out of pocket if I moved into the university housing prior to school starting.
Owing over $8,000 that my package wouldn’t cover was unexpected and quite frustrating as I tried to navigate the university’s website. I wish someone would have told me (so I could have prepared myself mentally) of the rigorous workload and the difficulty of acclimating to a new lifestyle in comparison to LA. Another thing I had to learn quickly upon my arrival was that I would have to learn to advocate for myself (seeking resources) and for future generations to come as we’re setting the path for others to follow behind us.
I started with sociology during my time at community college and, when transferring to UCSB, decided to switch majors to Chicana/o/x Studies with a minor in Applied Psychology. Having taken both sociology and ethnic studies, I have learned about societal structures, institutions, and the justice system and how positive changes can take place through activism and restorative justice programs.
“Beyond the Wall: The Prison Art Resistance,” UC Santa Barbara Library.
Juan Bran-Gudiel, “1000th Chance,” video.
Ryan P. Cruz, “US Santa Barbara Library Showcases Art Made Behind Bars,” Santa Barbara Independent, February 2, 2022.
Ryan P. Cruz, “UCSB Program Helps Formerly Incarcerated Students,” Santa Barbara Independent, December 23, 2021.
Underground Scholars Abolition Radio, “Gaucho Underground Scholars Credible Messengers & Alternatives to Violence Project Santa Barbara,” video.
Emelia Risha, “Gaucho Underground Scholars Host Formerly Incarcerated Student Day,” Daily Nexus, November 18, 2021.
“2021-2022 Inaugural Leadership Board,” UC Santa Barbara First-Gen Community.