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Meet O​livia Quintanilla

Olivia Quintanilla wants to ensure students know that ethnic studies classes offered at MiraCosta College are more than just a requirement. They are a way for students to learn about themselves and other cultures that are often overlooked.

“Ethnic studies is a story of all of us,” explains Quintanilla, MiraCosta College’s first full-time ethnic studies faculty member. “It’s recovering and centering the histories, cultures, perspectives, and experiences of underrepresented communities.”

Since Quintanilla was hired at MiraCosta in the Fall 2022, she has been designing and teaching courses such as Introduction to Ethnic Studies and proposed new courses in Native American and Indigenous Studies, Chicana/o Studies, Black Studies, and Pacific Islander and Oceania Studies. The new courses are set to be offered this fall, pending final approval.

MiraCosta’s innovative approach to ethnic studies resulted in its selection as one of four community colleges in the state to be honored by the California Community Colleges Board of Governors with an Exemplary Program Award for outstanding efforts in promoting and advancing ethnic studies programs.

Quintanilla said she was honored to be selected for the ethnic studies position after efforts by a workgroup of faculty and students led to the creation of MiraCosta’s Ethnic Studies department. Her own path to her career mirrors the experience of many MiraCosta College students.
Quintanilla’s family was originally from Guam, although she grew up in San Diego County communities. Her family was low-income, and she thought college was out of reach for her until she took an assessment test at San Diego Miramar College and discovered she was college material.
After attending Miramar, Quintanilla transferred to San Diego State University and learned about its ethnic studies program. She had found her passion. Quintanilla earned her Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies at the University of California, San Diego, and was in a post-doctoral program at the University of California, Santa Barbara when she heard about the opening of the new Ethnic Studies program at MiraCosta.

“Ethnic studies is a personal connection for me,” she said. “It’s really meaningful to come in and lead the next stage of this work.”

Although ethnic studies is a requirement for California State University campuses, Quintanilla said she wants to create enthusiasm about the classes and encourage students to pursue a degree in ethnic studies, such as the major offered at CSU San Marcos. She said students from underrepresented populations who take ethnic studies classes have a more positive view of their education.

“Students feel seen,” Quintanilla said. “They’ve expressed to me that they feel more invested in their education now that they know they can study things through an ethnic studies lens. They seem inspired and invested in the topic.”

Quintanilla said she appreciates the support from staff and students as she navigates her position in the ethnic studies department.

“I’m really living out my dream job,” she said. “Every day, I can’t believe this is my job and this is my work.”

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