UCI held its inaugural Latino Excellence and Achievement Dinner (LEAD) in 2018, bringing together the campus community in celebration of student success and research excellence in Hispanic and Latinx communities. The COVID-19 pandemic pushed the event online in 2020 and 2021, and this year’s 4th annual celebration recognized the additional hardships brought on by COVID-19. LEAD Co-Chair Adelí Durón, director of the UCI Latinx Resource Center, spoke of the “disparate impact of COVID-19 on Hispanic and Latinx communities.” Yet as the recipients of the LEAD Award for Graduate Student Excellence reveal, students persevered, including the awardee from the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS) — software engineering Ph.D. candidate Adriana Meza Soria.
“Latin students confront many barriers in this country — language issues, economic issues, disconnection from our deep roots, and more,” says Meza Soria. “The LEAD award acknowledges our effort to overcome these barriers.”
During the virtual ceremony, Meza Soria touched on her own personal hardship and loss this year. “Many times I wanted to give up, but the voice of my mother inside my head was my reason to continue,” she said. “Mom, thank you for being that voice.” She then spoke of her father. “I want to dedicate this recognition to my father, Eduardo Meza, who, as many others, passed away during this pandemic. Every grad student needs a friend, and dad, you were mine. Gracias.”
Mesa Soria wants to keep others from giving up, inspiring them to continue fighting to reach their full potential. “Receiving this award encouraged me to keep following my dreams,” she says. “It reminds me the Latin community wants me to thrive, and that they need my support.”
Before coming to UCI, Meza Soria worked as a software engineer in Mexico. Now as a doctoral student in the Department of Informatics, she works in the Software Design and Collaboration Laboratory (SDCL) and is being advised by Professor André van der Hoek. “For my research, I study and build tools for software developers,” she says. “My work looks into software design meetings with the goal of creating smart tools to preserve important parts of design discussions.” She just completed a summer internship at IBM, and since 2018, she has been volunteering for UCI’s Mexico Graduate Research Education Program (MGREP).
“I feel that giving back to the Latin community is a fundamental aspect of my professional growth,” she says. “Through my contributions to the [MGREP] program, I support fellow Mexicans who want to come to UCI to further their education.” She adds that that “as a future scholar, I seek to give back to the Hispanic community by creating safe environments where we can learn how to contribute to building a better world.”
— Shani Murray