We had the good fortune of connecting with Ivan Valdovinos and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ivan, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
I started my brand because I wanted to increase access to graduate school education for marginalized and underrepresented students particularly Latina/o/x students. According to the Education Trust, only 5% of Latina/o/x adults have attained a graduate level degree. As a first-generation, low-income Latino male from rural Washington State, I faced many challenges and barriers accessing graduate school education. Due to my first-generation college student status, I did not know what graduate school was until my third year at university. Through participation in federally-funded college access programs that supported students like me, I was able to learn about Master and PhD programs and how to leverage those degrees to bring about long-lasting intergenerational change via research, policy, and practice. From the moment I joined the Ronald E. McNair Achievement Program at Washington State University, I knew that I wanted to reform education to improve the lives and shape the futures of students who looked like me.
These statistics coupled with my lived experiences accessing graduate school education ignited my passion for helping others access graduate school education, so I decided to start my YouTube channel during the summer of 2020. My channel focuses on teaching people how to apply to and gain admission to competitive graduate school programs with a focus on getting into the Ivy League. Some of my most watched videos are the ones where I share the application materials that got me into the Harvard Graduate School of Education. It is important for me to be as transparent as possible with my audience because that is what is needed when you are trying to tackle the graduate school application process—a system that was not designed for first-generation, low-income rural Latinos. Due to the limited free resources available online, I decided to share all aspects of my graduate school application. This included reading the statement of purpose that got me into Harvard as well as the curriculum vitae that I submitted with my application. I also shared all the documents (i.e. writing sample, statement of purpose, resume/cv) that got me into multiple doctoral programs. Once admitted into these programs, I decided to share the funding packages I received since I knew that many students make their graduate school decisions based on funding. In addition to the free content that I provide on YouTube, I offer a Statement of Purpose Review Service on Fiverr where I provide constructive feedback for graduate school essays for my clients. Moreover, I also partner with higher education college access programs such as the Ronald E. McNair Program where I am contracted to design and facilitate workshops focused on the graduate school application process. Overall, my hope is to use my platform to inspire and assist people from around the world through the graduate school application process.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Immediately after earning my Bachelor and Master degrees, I began working as the Director of a federally-funded college access program at a rural community college in Washington State. In this role, I had the honor of working with over 400 first-generation, low-income students to help them overcome the barriers they faced navigating the community college system. Specifically, I created educational opportunities such as transfer mentor programs, scholarship workshops, and organized transfer visits that advanced the success of these students. Every year, we achieved over ninety percent retention, graduation and transfer rates. Despite our great success, I am most proud of making a direct impact on my students. Often times, my students faced challenges outside of academia that prevented them from reaching their educational goals. Therefore, I partnered with local food pantries, homeless shelters, and immigrations firms to help address my students’ personal needs outside of school. Additionally, many of my students—mostly low-income, children of immigrants—faced structural barriers particularly those rooted in immigration policy that prevented them from reaching their educational goals. So, I created retention plans for my students that not only focused on academic pathways, but also external supports outside the college. I believe that I have had great success not only with my personal endeavors, but also with the impact I make on my community because my holistic approach to tackling pressing educational issues. I first think about the needs of each individual student before designing and implementing any policy or practice. Then, I think about the greater impact my initiatives can make on the program and institution. It is important for me to listen to my students in order to design programming and policies that directly impact them. This is one aspect of my skillsets that sets me apart from others.
My journey to becoming an educator and transformative leader in higher education reform has not come easy. The education profession is a career path that is not highly sought after by many men, especially men of color. When I was in undergrad and graduate school, I did not encounter many faculty of color. Therefore, I made it my goal early-on in my career to change that—to work at a higher education institution so that students of color could see themselves reflected in me. It is important for student of color to see themselves represented at their institutions not only as a source of motivation, but also because these professionals of color design policies and practices with their students of color in mind. In order to overcome barriers as a professional of color, it is vital that one builds a support system of other professionals of color and allies early on in their careers. This support network will help with the transition into the profession and with support to make the necessary impact you want to make at your institution. When there is a critical mass of professionals of color, then change can happen at a quicker pace and with the right intentions.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
In September 2021, I moved to San Diego, California from small town Washington State. San Diego has a lot to offer from the food to its beach, hikes, sporting events, and nightlife. Whenever my family is in town, I make sure to combine adventure, a beach experience, and food. A typical weekend would look like this:
Day 1 (Saturday)
Our first stop of the day is going to my favorite Mexican seafood spot called Mariscos El Golosito. Here, we buy Agua Chile and Shrimp ceviche to take to Mission Beach, where we will spend the morning enjoying the sun and water. Usually, my nephews boogie board, while the adults (my brother-in-law, sister, fiancé, and I) chill on the beach. Once we pack up, I take them to the nearby Belmont Park, where we enjoy some amusement park rides. I usually force them to ride the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster with me. In the evening, I take them to Old Town’s Casa de Reyes to enjoy traditional Mexican food and live music.
Day 2 (Sunday)
We begin day two by going to the Cave Store in La Jolla. The Cave Store has a tunnel with 144 stairs that leads to Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave. This is a cool short 15-20 activity that the whole family will enjoy. Who would have ever thought that a souvenir shop would contain a tunnel that leads to a cave? Shortly after visiting the Cave Store, it is time for some brunch. My go to brunch spot in La Jolla is Snooze, an A.M. Eatery. They have the best pancakes! In the afternoon, I like to take my guests to Cabrillo National Monument. This U.S. National Park—yes, I said national park—has great views of San Diego. You can even spot some whales during mating season. It is a must do activity when you are in town.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Many of my successes could not have been possible without the support of my family, specifically my mother. Whenever, I have a crazy idea (and I have many), I talk it through with her and she always encourages and supports my ideas without hesitation. For instance, I have always dreamed of traveling the world, but due to some of my family member’s immigration status, I was not able to travel to new places during my childhood. When I started my undergraduate career, I was devoted to studying abroad and I made it happen during the spring 2014 semester. In January 2014, I traveled to Madrid, Spain where I would spend 5 months sharpening my Spanish language skills and learning about the Spanish culture. A few weeks into my arrival, my mother Skyped me and told me that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I immediately wanted to leave Spain and forego this opportunity to support my mother, who had always supported me and my crazy goals. She did not allow me to go back home and told me that everything would turn out okay and she wanted me to live out my dream of traveling the world.
When I decided to start my YouTube channel, my mother was on board. I had no prior experience with filming, editing, or producing any type of videos. I just decided to press record on my iPhone 10 and decided that my content was more important than the production, and I was correct. At first, I was not getting many views and was afraid and shy to share my videos on my personal social media platforms. Nevertheless, my mother who only speaks Spanish would watch all of my videos which were in English. She understood that YouTube runs on an algorithm and that watch time, likes, and other forms of engagement were important for my success. So, she would watch every minute of my videos without understanding anything I was saying in order to support me. Because of her unwavering support, I want to dedicate this ShoutOut to my mother, Sandra Gutierrez, who is the rock of my life.
Other: Fiverr Freelancing: https://www.fiverr.com/share/yVeZ5e