Latino Studies Instrumental in Lives of Majors, Minors, & Grad Students

Author: Institute for Latino Studies

Despite the pandemic currently embroiling most of the world, Notre Dame students this May are celebrating their degree conferral and other end-of-year accomplishments as a particularly long and trying semester winds down to a halt.

The Institute for Latino Studies, like the rest of the university, continues to support students in their educational endeavors.  This year, we are awarding certificates to twenty graduating seniors who majored and minored in Latino Studies. In addition, we congratulate Juan Valdez -- now Dr. Valdez -- for receiving his PhD in Political Science under the guidance of ILS director and Notre Dame Professor, Luis Fraga, and affiliated Political Science Professor, Ricardo Ramírez.

Since 2005, the ILS has provided students with the ability to both major and minor in Latino Studies, in addition to offering many different opportunities for volunteering, networking, and professional development. Last year, the ceremony for majors and minors provided seniors a chance to reflect on their experiences at the ILS and the role of the institute in their undergraduate careers. Over 100 family members and friends celebrated in Bond Hall last May.

For graduating senior Sarah Grace Konkey, the Institute has expanded her notion of global communities in all their diversity. The South

Sarah Grace Konkey
Sarah Grace Konkey

Bend native says she is grateful for the range of ILS-sponsored courses she was able to take during her time at Notre Dame, in addition to participating in one of ILS’s hallmark initiatives, the Cross Cultural Leadership Program, otherwise known as CCLP.

“As an anthropology major, the human experience is at the core of my studies,” she says. “I believe at the core of studying humanity is the ability to celebrate differences and appreciate commonalities as a community. This is something that has been reinforced through my experience with Latino Studies.”

Another senior, Erin Marie Albertini, recalls how transformative participating in CCLP’s Chicago site was for her during freshman year.

“I realized that what I wanted out of my education was to become better at building meaningful relationships on a foundation of trust -- and this is what a Latino Studies minor had to offer,” she says.

“So,” the aspiring physician adds,“while continuing to take all of the classes for my minor in Spanish, furthering my language skills, I was exposed to the cultural and relational side of learning that I hoped for: improving my cultural competency and ability to empathize with Latino populations.”

Particularly meaningful for her were the three classes that saw her engaged in Community Based Learning in South Bend, at Holy Cross Elementary School and the local nonprofit La Casa de Amistad. There, she was able to “advance my understanding of Latino youth, with whom I hope to work in the future, better than I ever could have in a traditional classroom.” 

Erin Marie Albertini
Erin Marie Albertini

Her senior year she participated in the Border Immersion Seminar offered by the ILS in partnership with the Center for Social Concerns and the Department of Sociology. 

“This was the most profound learning experience of my life,” she said. “And our trip to the Arizona borderlands in January will live on in my memory as a defining moment of my educational career.” 

For his part, Juan Valdez is excited (and relieved) to be able to continue the next part of his professional journey after receiving his PhD this May.

Valdez, whose research focuses on American political development and the role Latinos have played in democratizing politics at the local level, will jump into a position as policy advisor for the city council of San Antonio, which the Texas native calls home.

Valdez Juan Phd
Juan Valdez, Ph.D

Through the ILS he was able to participate in the graduate working group, an initiative that brings together graduate students in different fields at Notre Dame to talk about their Latino Studies-related work. 

The space allowed him to “really develop my ideas and provided space for me to explore my projects and receive feedback from faculty and other graduate students.” He credits this experience and his ILS mentors for the National Science Foundation fellowship he was awarded during his time at Notre Dame.

“It wouldn’t have been possible without the support I received from ILS.”

To enrich your experience at ND with a supplementary major or minor in Latino Studies, contact Dr. Karen Richman, ILS Director of Undergraduate Studies at