Having grown up in a neighborhood where many of his friends did not go to college, senior Diego Reynoso is very familiar with the challenges facing students from low-income communities.
Now, as the second person in his family to graduate from college, Reynoso hopes to use his education at Notre Dame to empower Latin American communities and marginalized people.
His time at the College of Arts & Letters and the Institute for Latino Studies, he said, gave him the skills, resources and support to do so.
“I’m doing this for my family because they never had the opportunities I have right now,” he said. “Doing as much as possible to help those who come from similar situations means the world to my family.”
“At the College of Arts and Letters, I was able to study and do whatever I need to do without any regrets, which really opened up me and allowed me to focus on what really matters to me: helping the people. An arts and humanities degree really helps me stay focused on the human aspect in everything I do, and I think that will apply to any opportunities I have after college.
“I started a new family”
With a specialization in political science and economics, Reynoso has sought to focus on the human aspect of each of his academic disciplines.
“Political science really focuses a lot on people, and it’s this aspect of political science that really intrigued me,” Reynoso said. “Economics has allowed me to focus on the justifications used by both the business and the individual to make decisions that impact society as a whole. effects of policy in a different, more rational light. “
In his second year, Reynoso decided to add a minor in Latin Studies after a conversation about Latin politics with the director of the ILS.
Luis Fraga, Reverend Donald P. McNeill, CSC, professor of Latin transformative leadership, Joseph and Elizabeth Robbie professor of political science.
That year, Reynoso was also chosen to be part of the Latino Studies Scholars Program, a merit-based scholarship and university initiative run by ILS, which has proven to be an invaluable resource.
“After I became a Latin American Studies Fellow, I started a new family,” he said. “I live 30 minutes from Notre Dame, but it’s a completely different world. The people here are very different from those I grew up with, and receiving this scholarship and joining the ILS family has allowed me to meet like-minded students who are also interested in helping Latinos in the future.
ILS also allowed Reynoso to form closer ties with the professors, some of whom became mentors for him in terms of discernment and career development.
“They really helped me through every fight. Whenever I tried to find an internship, they were there to give me resources, ”he said. “They did their best to help me, and it gave me a whole new set of opportunities.”
The institute put Reynoso in touch with people in the nonprofit and criminal law fields to further explore his career options and interests.
In the spring of his freshman year, Reynoso participated in the Washington de Notre Dame program – a semester of study in the nation’s capital – and did an internship at the Georgetown Law Center. There, he helped two public defenders investigate their cases and gained a better understanding of the field, which boosted his interest in studying law.
Reynoso’s passion for criminal law comes from watching friends go through the criminal justice system, where he feels many of them have been written off as not deserving a second chance.
“What they don’t know is that they didn’t have a first chance to start,” Reynoso said. “They come from poverty, from single parent families and from places where crime may seem like the only option for survival. And when you understand that, you don’t see them as criminals anymore, you see them as friends. I feel like I have to help them the best I can, and I think the criminal law is the best way to do it.
“I see myself in them”
While at Notre Dame, Reynoso participated in the College Mentors for Kids program and was involved with the Boys and Girls Club of South Bend – an opportunity he discovered during a summer service apprenticeship program. through the Center for Social Concerns.
“I understand where the children are coming from and I see myself a bit in them,” he said. This kind of thing motivates me and keeps me focused and helps me understand what I’m doing and who I’m doing it for.
Additionally, Reynoso worked for a small non-profit organization in San Juan, Puerto Rico, designing and leading an after-school program for high school students as part of the ILS Intercultural Leadership Program the summer following his sophomore year. . The after-school program helped students complete a 40-hour service requirement needed to graduate from high school.
In addition to the immersive experience, the CCLP offered a course focused on deepening the impact of the service on the entire community.
“They and CCLP both do a really good job of connecting the little thing you do to the big picture,” Reynoso said. “Trying to get kids into the after-school program was difficult and at times overwhelming. But, at the end of the day, you have to remember that if you can help even one child graduate from high school, you can give them the opportunity to do something bigger.
Prior to law school, Reynoso would teach social sciences and religion at college in Denver for two years through the University’s Catholic Education Alliance. He looks forward to building on the various youth development experiences he has had at Notre Dame.
“Most of my activities have focused on low-income inner city children, and that’s also what ACE focuses on,” Reynoso said. “You go right in and start helping disadvantaged children in one of the most crucial ways you can – through education – because once they have an education, they can create opportunities for themselves. “
Supported and encouraged by the ILS family, Reynoso has already found many ways to serve disadvantaged communities and hopes to continue to do so after his ACE experience. He credits the flexibility of an arts and humanities education for allowing him to follow his passions and engage in a wide variety of opportunities over the past four years.
“At the College of Arts & Letters I was able to study and do whatever I need to do without any regrets, which really opened me up and allowed me to focus on what really matters to me – helping people, ”Reynoso said. . “An arts and humanities degree really helps me stay focused on the human aspect in everything I do, and I think that will apply to any opportunities I have after college. “