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Asking the Hard Questions: Daniela García Estrella, ELOE'22

The Intellectual Contribution Award recipient for Education Leadership, Organizations, and Entrepreneurship reflects on her time at HGSE and looks toward the future.
Daniela Garcia Estrella

Daniela García Estrella

Photo: Jill Anderson

The Intellectual Contribution Award recognizes graduating Ed.M. students (one from each Ed.M. program) whose dedication to scholarship enhanced HGSE’s academic community and positively affected fellow students. Daniela García Estrella will be honored with the Intellectual Contribution Award for Education Leadership, Organizations, and Entrepreneurship (ELOE) Program during HGSE's Convocation exercises on May 25.

Professor Ebony Bridwell-Mitchell and Senior Lecturer Jennifer Cheatham, faculty directors of ELOE, comment on García Estrella’s selection: “At the heart of the ELOE Program is our core belief that a connected, collaborative, and committed community of students can further each other’s impact in education by bringing greater access, equity, agency, and excellence to the field. Daniela García Estrella came to HGSE with the goal of deepening her leadership skills to pursue a career in student support within higher education. In her time here, Daniela has come to embody the ELOE Program ethos, as demonstrated especially by her contributions to ELOE’s Program Core Experience and especially in her Micro Learning Community.

"In the words of one of her ELOE cohort mates, Daniela has dedicated herself to ‘pushing both her own learning and her peers’ learning through thoughtful questions that drive the conversation forward.’ Over and over, Daniela has shown how she uses what another ELOE student described as her ‘analytical way of thinking,’ noting that ‘her courage to use her voice has enabled others to feel more comfortable expressing their authentic thoughts.’ The themes of intellect, advocacy and empowerment come through in a reflection from yet another ELOE colleague sharing that Daniela is ‘one of those peers that when she raises her hand, you know a deeply thoughtful and layered question or comment is about to enter the room and challenge us all to think about things differently.’

"Daniela, with this Intellectual Contribution award, we honor you for asking the hard questions, for greatly expanding your own learning and competencies, for your authentic voice and ability to encourage that in others, for your analytical prowess, and for living the ELOE ethos in the classroom and beyond. We are grateful for the ways you have strengthened the ELOE community and we are already proud of all the ways you will positively impact the field.”

We spoke to García Estrella about her time at HGSE and how the pandemic has changed the education landscape:

What were the goals that brought you to the Ed School — and have those goals changed?    

My interest in higher education stems from the challenges I faced in undergrad and the on campus support I received during that time. I came to the Ed School to understand how higher education institutions operate and to explore potential career paths in higher education. Prior to HGSE, I wanted to transition into student affairs or take the initial steps towards creating my own scholarship foundation. However, this year has highlighted my affinity for a student facing role and am potentially interested in moving into a role in financial aid post graduation. My goals have shifted as I recognize that I need to work on my continued self-development to best support students in a student affairs capacity.

Is there any professor or class that significantly shaped your experience at the Ed School? 

[Lecturer] Joe McIntyre! I loved that he always made time for his students, gave a piece of Harvard advice, and welcomed questions. He also baked treats for his students which made HGSE feel like home. I took a statistics class in undergrad, but it never fully clicked. Despite this, I decided to give statistics another shot and learned so much from Joe! I am most proud of learning to code in R for the first time and going outside my comfort zone. His class, along with Carrie Conaway’s S057, made me fine tune my analytical skills and nurtured an interest in data.

[Also,] Equity and Opportunity: Language in Context helped me reflect on my immigrant experience, the linguicism I have faced, and my intersecting identities. It gave me the tools to talk about my experience as a third-culture kid while also teaching me the importance of defining what equity means to me. This enables me to assess the extent to which my definition of equity aligns with an organization’s mission. Many organizations fail to recognize the importance of defining equity because they assume that everyone utilizes the same definition. As a future leader, I plan to bring this intentionality to the organizations I serve. 

"Many organizations fail to recognize the importance of defining equity because they assume that everyone utilizes the same definition. As a future leader, I plan to bring this intentionality to the organizations I serve."

How has the pandemic shifted your views of education?  

I was already cognizant of the inequities that existed in education before the pandemic, but I think it helped others understand just how inequitable it is. On a basic level, I am concerned about the students who are facing food insecurity because they cannot access the food they would otherwise receive at school. Through a developmental psychology lens, I worry about students’ social-emotional learning and mental health because of the social isolation. Additionally, Zoom makes it harder to incorporate a universal design for learning, so many students are getting left behind because they learn differently, do not have access to the internet, or space to study at home. The pandemic serves as a reminder that schools do not only provide academic services, but much needed social services as well.

What surprised you about your time at HGSE?

I was surprised to see so many talented and natural leaders experience impostor syndrome. I am all too familiar with this feeling and it was refreshing to see that I was not the only one. I also admired people’s willingness to be vulnerable and have candid conversations. This helped me open up to people and be part of a community I knew I could count on. I am grateful for the friends I met and the opportunity to learn from some of the best professors.

Despite your busy schedule, you always make time for …

Family, cooking, dancing, and Netflix.