Deanna Perez ’22 Continues Her Educational Journey at Harvard

Alumni5 Min. Read

Emboldened by her experience on Mayflower Hill, the recent Colby graduate works toward her dream of becoming a college dean

Deanna Perez ’22
Deanna Perez '22 is attending graduate school at Harvard brimming with the confidence she gained as a student on Mayflower Hill. “Colby has prepared me well. I am ready," she says.
By Bob KeyesPhotography by Joseph Bui ’22
August 4, 2022

Deanna Perez ’22 had not planned to apply to Harvard University for graduate school. It was more a curiosity than a burning desire.

“Why not,” she asked rhetorically. “Why not apply and see what happens?”

She applied, and Harvard said yes.

In June, less than a month after graduating from Colby as an education studies major, Perez began a one-year master’s program in Education Leadership, Organizations, and Entrepreneurship with a concentration in higher education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her career goal is working as a college dean or administrator so she can focus on issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Enrolling in graduate school at Harvard is the latest step in what has been an inspirational educational journey, and a remarkable success story, for the scholar from Houston, Texas.  

“Her story is about hard work and overcoming challenges,” said Masi Ngidi-Brown, director of DEI Co-Curricular Programs and associate director of the Pugh Center. “She kept plugging away, and she would not give up.”

Her story also serves as an example of the power and potential of Colby’s FLI Program, formally known as the First-to-College/Low-Income Program for Student Success. The program is designed to provide the foundation and building blocks for success during a student’s time at Colby and beyond, Ngidi-Brown said.

That Perez had the confidence—“or the audacity, one might say”—to apply to Harvard reflects well on Colby’s FLI Program, he added. “That is what we want all of our FLI students to feel like during their journey at Colby, that a place like Harvard is within their grasp. We want them to take advantage of the liberal arts experience, to be involved, to grow as leaders, take charge, take ownership, and really craft their own agency. That is what Deanna has done,” he said.

The next cohort of FLI Program students—a total of about 85 students from across the country—will arrive on campus in mid-August for orientation. That’s two weeks before most incoming students, to allow more time for acclimation to campus and the college environment.

Perez admits, barely a step along her journey was easy. She struggled with her confidence during her first year, and her sophomore year was interrupted by the pandemic. At every step, she met the challenge by taking on more work and responsibility on campus and off. She served as a research assistant to Professors Mark Tappan and Lyn Mikel Brown throughout her sophomore and junior years, helping them explore various trauma-informed education practices in rural communities.

Among her accomplishments, she participated in developing and piloting a community-based storytelling project with middle-school students to capture the experience of marginalized members of the community.

“Deanna impressed me from the start as a bright, energetic, committed student,” said Tappan. “She immediately became a central member of the team. We were working with Latinx students and families, and Deanna’s ability to speak fluent Spanish was a major asset to the team. She was a very quick learner—responsive, responsible, and conscientious to us and to the members of the team.”

 “I feel much better prepared entering my master’s program than I did entering my bachelor’s program. Colby has prepared me well. I am ready.”

Deanna Perez ’22

During her senior year, she mentored 10 first-year FLI Program students to help with their transition to college. Throughout her time at Colby, she was a member of Students Organized for Black and Latinx Unity (SOBLU) and served as co-chair of the communication committee for two years. She was a member of her class council and a Colby Cares About Kids mentor.

In addition, during her summers she completed education-related internships back home in Texas. These consisted of working with the Houston Independent School District coordinating  outreach to various colleges and universities to identify the resources they provide for undocumented students and presenting her findings district leadership. She created lesson plans on various soft-skill topics for students, and created video lessons for faculty instructional support throughout the district.

Perez worked as a summer research assistant at the University of Texas in Austin focusing on student experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic, and she taught an interdisciplinary social justice curriculum to incoming middle-school students through AmeriCorps. 

She credits Tappan for helping her succeed academically. He encouraged her to sign up for his Education and Social Justice course, and pledged to help her. “He became my support system,” Perez said. “He said, ‘You should take a class with me. I will provide you with all the support and resources you need to succeed.’”

Among other things, the class introduced Perez to the relationship between education and social justice in the United States and explored the dynamics of power, privilege, and oppression. That area is a specialty of Tappan’s, whose research interests include equity and social justice in elementary, secondary, and higher education.

The course was life-changing for Perez. She found herself intensely interested and engaged in the topic, and the more she studied the dynamics between public and private education, the more she wanted to learn. 

She spent the spring semester of her senior year teaching English at Waterville High School, earning a certificate that qualifies her to teach in Maine and elsewhere. But she does not intend to teach. She wants to be a college administrator so she can share the experience and wisdom of what she has learned through her own college experience.

 At Colby, she was able to grow and thrive as a student thanks to the peer and professional support that she found in the FLI Program and at the Pugh Center, which provides a place for members of the Colby community to discuss issues of race, ethnicity, culture, gender, and anything else.

And now, she is continuing those conversations at Harvard. The master’s program at Harvard typically takes students with a couple of years of professional experience, who want to take a year off and go back to school. “But occasionally they take folks right out of college, like Deanna, who show exceptional promise and potential,” Tappan said. “I can’t wait to see what she takes away from her year in Cambridge, and where it leads her next”

As she immerses herself in the experience of being a graduate student at one of the country’s most prestigious universities, Perez is brimming with the confidence that she gained during her four years at Colby. “I feel much better prepared entering my master’s program than I did entering my bachelor’s program,” she said. “Colby has prepared me well. I am ready.”

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