Knight Light is a new column where students who are involved with the Center for Community Engagement will be highlighted for their work and contributions to the NJCU community.
It feels as if Kiara Espinosa is everywhere. In her third year majoring in Political Science, She works for the office of Student Outreach and Retention (SOAR), and serves as the Community Engagement Officer for the Honor Council. She is also a part of the ChangeBuilders program which fosters community involvement by placing students in internships and assigning them community service hours. The program is run by the Center for Community Engagement. Espinosa works tirelessly as an organizer and an agent for change.
Espinosa describes the impact her upbringing had on her growing love for community activism.
“I’m from North Bergen, New Jersey which is a pretty humble town made up of mostly Hispanics and Arab Muslims. Growing up in a Cuban-Italian household my parents were obsessed with different cultures and it rubbed off on me. Eventually this fascination with different cultures kind of morphed into a love for social justice and activism when I was coming of age during the Black Lives Matter movement, Israel-Gaza conflict, and the Syrian refugee crisis. Generally, I’ve grown to look at the world through an intersectional lens of who is experiencing privilege, who isn’t, and why in a given situation. That background and world view is I think why I’m so big on leadership and community engagement.”
Espinosa’s list of involvement is admirable. In the past, she has done volunteer community service for Senator Menendez’s election campaign. She has also done work with Jersey City Councilman Soloman, both at City Hall directly, as well as working with his aide for his political campaign. Espinosa says she’s learned a lot from her volunteer work,“…it’s not until you get involved in local politics that you truly realize the extent to which the small day-to-day things are affected by local politics.”
When it comes to the NJCU community, Espinosa has worked to bridge the gap of the Honors Program and the Center for Community Engagement. Honors students are required to complete 30 hours of community service per year (15 each semester). Now with the help of Dr. Tim White, director of the Honors Program, and Rob Quinones of the Center for Community Engagement, incoming honors freshman are now enrolled directly into the ChangeBuilders program.
“Originally, students were doing their own thing.” says Espinosa. “Unfortunately, there was no real structure. Students were having a hard time fulfilling their requirements on a consistent basis. I sat down with Rob to try and figure out a way to make the process easier, and the next week Dr. White did the exact same thing. Now the students thankfully have a form of structure in which they can use to stay on course with their commitments of community engagement.”
Espinosa stressed the importance of giving back and diversifying your outlook on the world.
“In giving back you learn a lot more about yourself and the people around you. There’s a difference from knowing to actually being present and making a difference. I learned through my volunteer work the disparities between different communities and it motivated me to continue to do the work.”
Espinosa plans to dedicate time to canvassing for the upcoming presidential election. “It’s a really important election and every vote really counts,” says Espinosa. “So it’s a big goal to not only educate people on the candidates but motivate them (and make sure it’s accessible for them) to vote!”
“The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” — Coretta Scott King