News | 3 May 2024

Inspiring Futures: Humanities Public Fellow Makes a Difference with the Community Foundation


Serena Ramirez, a Humanities Public Fellow at THI with the Community Foundation Santa Cruz County, is a double major in Intensive Psychology and Critical Race and Ethnic Studies, with a minor in Politics.

The excitement was tangible on April 13th as community leaders, innovative thinkers, scholars, and activists took the stage at a sold out TEDxSantaCruz, for which Community Foundation Santa Cruz County was the presenting sponsor. This year’s theme “Rising Together,” focused on addressing issues of climate change, racism, poverty, health care, homelessness, and educational inequalities and was co-sponsored by The Humanities Institute (THI), UCSC, the Baskin School of Engineering and other partners. Playing a special role behind the scenes was a Humanities Public Fellow at THI, Serena Ramirez, a double major in Intensive Psychology and Critical Race and Ethnic Studies with a minor in Politics. As the 2023-2024 Humanities Public Fellow with the Community Foundation, Ramirez has had the tremendous opportunity to work as a ​​Community Engagement Intern under the mentorship of Jenny Kurzweil, Community Foundation Communications Officer. In this role she has been gaining a wealth of experience helping the foundation with its mission to connect people, ideas, and resources to inspire philanthropy and help everyone in Santa Cruz County thrive now, and in the future. One highlight has been her work on communications, graphic design support, and event planning to make TEDxSantaCruz a great success. 

Ramirez is being mentored by Jenny Kurzweil, Communications Officer at the Community Foundation Santa Cruz County.

Ramirez published a piece for the Community Foundation’s website, where she reflects, “Working with the Community Foundation and TEDxSantaCruz has taught me how vital nonprofit work is in bringing people together. Through cultivating a culture of empathy and empowerment, our local nonprofits foster positive change that reverberates through every corner of our community.”

Her growth and contributions are thanks to the incredible mentorship she has received at the Community Foundation from Jenny Kurzweil and other members of the team. Kurzweil explains, “From the start, my goal was to help Serena step into her potential, and recognize how her skills and intellect could translate into nonprofit work. So at TEDxSantaCruz, seeing Serena dive into work with both feet on a cold, rainy, overwhelming, intense day and watching her experience some of the joy that her work had helped shepherd, was really gratifying for me. It was wonderful to see her wheels turning as she realized how important her back-end role was in making such a wonderful, huge, successful event happen.”

Alongside TEDxSantaCruz, Ramirez has been getting a range of other work experiences as a Humanities Public Fellow with the Community Foundation this year. She has also been helping community grantees with their applications, supporting with data and administrative work for their scholarship program, and writing original content for the Community Foundation Impact Stories page.

Humanities degrees can seed professionals that really change the world.

Kurzweil describes how working with Ramirez has been an opportunity to shepherd her into the nonprofit world and help her grow her professional confidence. She shares, “I remember as a former humanities student myself, that I had a friend who post-graduation wore a t-shirt that said, ‘I have a degree in English, would you like fries with that?’ I think this is one myth about humanities degrees that THI’s Public Fellows Program helps to dispel because humanities degrees can seed professionals that really change the world. So, I was excited to show Serena what it looks like to actually work at a nonprofit—to understand how rigorous academic training can be applied to a completely different context– working in a database, writing content for a lay audience, and managing communications platforms.”

Serena Ramirez with THI’s Research Programs and Communications Director Saskia Nauenberg Dunkell (middle) and the Humanities Division’s Experiential Learning Coordinator Kylie Rachwalski (left) at TEDxSantaCruz on April 13th.

This is exactly what the Humanities Divisions’ Employing Humanities initiative, which includes the Public Fellows program at THI, aims to do. As part of a cohort of Public Fellows in the Humanities Division at UCSC, Ramirez is getting support with her professional development and the chance to reflect on her experiences, the connections with her coursework, and plans for her future.  

For Ramirez’s part, she has noticed her academic skills and interests dovetailing with and growing in the nonprofit world, especially in her role writing blogs for the Community Foundation website. She shares, “I can see that I have strengthened my writing and communication skills tenfold. Although writing is a significant component of my degree tracks, and I have written blogs for previous internships, I hadn’t written pieces that would be so widely seen before. ” For Ramirez, collaborating with Kurzweil on writing helped her understand the importance of dialoguing and feedback, and the value of working with a mentor on writing projects: “While my writing in my courses is very academically rigorous, I am given more creative freedom with the blogs I produce for the Community Foundation. This is both freeing and intimidating at the same time. At first, I was fearful of Jenny’s criticism, but with Jenny, I always felt supported and validated. She reminded me throughout the process that the editor was only as good as the content produced, and worked closely with me to incorporate specific syntax and prose to elevate my work rather than tear it down.” Kurzweil has also been impressed with Ramirez’s receptivity as a writer, sharing “Serena’s capacity to respond to my advice and suggestions with openness and non-defensiveness has reminded me, too, about the importance of collaboration and growth. I really feel like our mentorship relationship has been a reciprocal one.”

Ramirez has also noticed an impact on her experiences in the classroom: “As an Intensive Psychology and Critical Race and Ethnic Studies major, I have been so inspired to see how the Community Foundation works with local organizations that pride themselves on inclusivity and diversity. The Rise Together Fund at the Community Foundation, in particular, focuses on advancing racial equity in Santa Cruz County. ” As Ramirez reads about theories of liberation in her Ethnic Studies coursework, she also gets to see how “funds served by the Community Foundation help the fight to dismantle colonial structures by providing resources and platforms for BIPOC to thrive.”

Ramirez’s ongoing projects as a Humanities Public Fellow with the Community Foundation has inspired her to continue pursuing this work after she graduates. She shares, “I hope to pursue my master’s degree in Public Administration and eventually work within the nonprofit sector. The Community Foundation has shown me that nonprofit leaders are genuinely first responders in times of crisis and injustice and that they provide community assistance when no one else would.” She also encourages other UCSC students to pursue Humanities Public Fellowships: “The experience I have gleaned from the Community Foundation has allowed me to narrow my professional focus and pursue a career path I am passionate about. It is so important to leave the university and pursue opportunities in local institutions like the Community Foundation to get a feel for what the job market is actually like. You will be able to learn in a hands-on environment and determine whether or not the degree you are pursuing is aligned with your true career interests.”

A program like THI Public Fellows is integral because it provides material support for students to get real-world experience in professional settings and learn more about what options await them after graduation.

Kurzweil, too, reflected on the importance of hands-on experience for undergraduate students, saying “Santa Cruz is really lucky to have brilliant and talented youth from all over California and the country come to Santa Cruz and be part of UCSC. But it’s very common for university students to stay insulated within the campus community. A program like THI Public Fellows is integral because it provides material support for students to get real-world experience in professional settings and learn more about what options await them after graduation. I wish every university had a THI.”

For Ramirez, who will be continuing in her role as a Humanities Public Fellow through September, the experience has provided rich community, the chance to build new skills, and a path for the future. She shares, “I’m so fond of my memories at the Community Foundation and so grateful for how much Jenny has helped me grow professionally. I will continue to encourage every UCSC student to pursue a THI Public Fellowship”

Banner image: Serena Ramirez on the red carpet at the 2024 TEDxSantaCruz event on April 13th.

To learn about more Public Fellowship opportunities at The Humanities Institute, visit our page

The 2023-2024 Undergraduate Humanities Public Fellowship at THI with the Community Foundation is generously supported by the Helen and Will Webster Foundation.