New dean of College of Arts and Sciences a proponent for diversity

By Madison Pfeifer | October 23, 2018 11:59am

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The new Dean of College of Arts and Sciences, Herbert Medina, is a first-generation college student who immigrated from El Salvador.
by Annika Gordon / The Beacon

When Herbert Medina was eight years old, his family, with hopes for a better economic life and more opportunities for their children, immigrated from El Salvador to Los Angeles. 

No one in his family spoke English. Medina quickly picked up the language at school, but his parents had a harder time learning it. Medina’s parents were elementary school teachers back home, but they did not have sufficient degrees to teach in the U.S., which forced his parents to find manual work.

“My mom cleaned houses and my dad did any type of work that he could find,” Medina said. “We were very poor and it was difficult growing up.”

As an immigrant, Medina is a strong advocate for diversity, which he said he hopes to bring to UP’s campus. He officially began work as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in July, replacing former dean, Michael Andrews, who left in 2017 and is now at a campus of Loyola University Chicago in Rome, Italy. 

Medina spent the early years of his life in El Salvador with his parents, who instilled in him the importance of an education. This, along with growing up an immigrant, shaped his values.

Now, as the new dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and a proponent for diversity, he said he felt proud to see the silent protest that members of the UP community put on in response to Fr. Paul Scalia being invited to campus for the annual Red Mass dinner.

After the protest, he sent out an email to the College of Arts and Sciences faculty asking that all faculty members be open to engaging in dialogue with students about the protest and reminding faculty members that the CAS is accepting of all students.

“Our community would not be the strongly woven family that it is without our embrace of all who comprise it,” Medina said in the email. 

It was a long journey for Medina to get where he is today. Not having a lot of money was difficult for his family, but during the tough times, he remembered the importance of education that his parents taught him while growing up in El Salvador.

“My one constant was just always trying to do well in school,” he said. “Even though we didn’t have many economic means, I knew that if I kept going in the education route I would eventually be able to do something.”

Medina went on to become a first-generation college student and receive his bachelors of science in mathematics and computer science from the University of California, Los Angeles, and his master’s degree and PhD in mathematics from the University of California, Berkeley.

After receiving his degrees, he became a professor of mathematics and served as the associate dean for faculty and staff development and student success at the College of Science and Engineering at Loyola Marymount University. 

“I wasn’t looking to leave LMU, but I saw the ad for the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and I began to learn more about UP,” Medina said. “I began to see that the values I have as an educator really line up with the values of UP — being student-centered, educating the whole person and social justice. There were all these things that just resonated with me.”

by Annika Gordon / The Beacon

Seeing students succeed drives his work as a dean at UP.

“I think I’m most passionate about working on issues that have to do with student success,” Medina said. “I love seeing students thrive — that’s why I’m an educator, that’s why I took this position.”

And as an educator, his focus is on students. He values their opinions and inputs, and hopes to meet and interact with more of the student body while at UP.

“Dr. Medina stood out to me as someone who cared deeply for and showed great respect to his students,” Associate Professor of Mathematics Hannah Highlander said. “His humble demeanor also made him very approachable.”

While he has not had much time to get to know many students yet, Medina met with the ASUP College of Arts and Sciences senators this year, who he will be working closely with throughout the school year.

“He was very receptive of all our ideas,” sophomore CAS Senator Megan Musquiz said. “And he’s really excited to get his feet into this and just start working with us and the staff of CAS.”

Although he has only been dean for a few months, Medina has enjoyed his time so far. He hopes to encourage students in the next few years to be the driving force in shaping the future of UP. 

“Introduce yourself and say hello,” he said. “Don’t be shy. This is your university. I want you to be empowered to take control of your education and push it forward and dream of things you want to do.”

Madison Pfeifer is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at pfeifer21@up.edu.

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