“You don’t really understand what you’re studying until you understand the international implications as well.”
For Alma Sida Ontiveros ‘19, this was a guiding principle from her first day on campus until the day she graduated after double majoring in Spanish and French, with certificates in European Studies and Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies. As a participant in the Wisconsin International Scholars (WISc) Program, Sida Ontiveros had ample opportunity to weave global engagement into her academic experience.
When Sida Ontiveros first came to campus, her goal was to study education, eventually working toward a Ph.D. Even as a freshman, she was already thinking long-term. She wanted to forge a new education system for the U.S., and she wanted to study abroad to glean ideas from the strengths and challenges of education systems around the world.
Joining WISc was a natural fit for Sida Ontiveros, as she knew she would be able to make good use of the study abroad component and a cohort of like-minded peers.
“Having this international interest really aligned well with the WISc program,” said Sida Ontiveros, who was also a participant in the Precollege Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence (PEOPLE). “They offered scholarships for studying abroad, but having a community of people who understand the importance of having international interdisciplinary studies drew me into it.”
During her freshman year, Sida Ontiveros’ academic goals took a sharp turn. After searching for part-time work, she landed a job as a legal aid at a firm specializing in immigration law. As a person who came to the U.S. from Mexico at a young age, and having several family members who come from an immigrant background, Sida Ontiveros was quickly drawn into the field.
“I realized how much I really like helping clients, meeting with families, getting to know their stories, and being able to help them in some way,” she said. “My languages helped in that office because there were a lot of people who only spoke Spanish. There were also people from Senegal, for example, who only spoke French, so I was able to help translate for them to an extent.”
Sida Ontiveros changed her goal from an education Ph.D. to a J.D. However, she still found ways to enhance her learning with international experiences. After her freshman year, she spent her summer in Buenos Aries conducting human rights research alongside Spanish Professor Ksenija Bilbija through the Hilldale Undergraduate/Faculty Research Fellowship. During the spring semester of her sophomore year, Sida Ontiveros studied abroad in Paris. Upon returning, she added French as a second major.
“Having come into UW with the idea of studying abroad, it was great to actually do it,” she said. “I was able to do it because of WISc, which was the main source of funding for me.”
Since graduating, Sida Ontiveros has enrolled at the University of Wisconsin Law School, where she will study immigration law. After graduating, she hopes to stay in Madison and continue working with families, individuals, and organizations. More than ever, she maintains the importance of a global perspective and understanding.
“Starting with education and my goal of having a PhD, I knew international work would be important,” Sida Ontiveros said. “Even now with law I can’t truly understand immigration law without first understanding where all of these migrants came from and their story, and the politics behind them as well. Gaining an understanding about where you are in the world and how the world interacts around you broadens who you are and how you see everyone else around you.”