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Ph.inisheD as a Student… Continuing to Advocate for Educational Equity

Dominic Ledesma BA ’04, PhD ’21 is originally from the east metro area of the Twin Cities, Minnesota. He graduated from Woodbury High School before attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison, graduating in 2004 with Bachelor’s degrees in Spanish and Italian and a certificate in Chican@/ Latin@ Studies. He then moved to Mexico to pursue a Master’s degree in Translation and Interpretation from La Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara (UAG) in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico.

In 2010, Dr. Ledesma returned to UW to work for the Mercile J. Lee Scholarship Program (formerly Chancellor’s and Powers-Knapp Scholarship Programs). During this time, he started his doctoral studies in the School of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership & Policy Analysis (ELPA). He successfully defended his dissertation in early May. His dissertation defense was attended by over 130 people on Zoom. His dissertation is titled “From language access to communicative equity: Understanding the role and impact of language access accommodations for linguistically diverse parents in K-12 public schools” with the Spanish title of “Desde el acceso lingüístico hacia la equidad comunicativa: Una examinación del papel y el impacto de servicios de apoyo lingüístico para padres multilingües en las escuelas públicas de EE.UU”. Dr. Ledesma’s dissertation earned him Dissertation of the Year, an award sponsored by his department.

The Powers-Knapp Scholarship Program was one of the main reasons why Dominic chose to pursue his undergraduate degree at UW-Madison. As an undergraduate, he was also involved in the Multicultural Student Center (MSC), La Colectiva, and Union Puertorriquena (now known as Latinos Unidos). He was also instrumental in bringing Latinx Ball back to campus in the early 2000s. Dominic was hired as a student assistant with the Chican@/ Latin@ Studies program and worked under then Student Services Coordinator, Miguel Rosales. This position, he describes, was instrumental in shaping his passion for supporting the needs of undergraduate students. Reflecting on his undergraduate experience, Ledesma shared, “The many student orgs that operated out of the MSC created a sense of cohesion among BIPOC communities. Even though there were particular student-based and group-based identities, it never felt like Communities of Color were fragmented. This was a good thing, we learned a lot with and from each other. One way or another, I could identify with all the other Brown, Black, and Indigenous students on campus and that was powerful.” Dr. Ledesma grew up in a mixed heritage and bicultural household but wasn’t raised bilingually. He appreciated meeting other Brown students who grew up both similarly and differently than his experience. Meeting other Latinx students with different backgrounds helped validate his experience on campus. He shared, “there was often an intrinsic interest to build relationships and promote community, especially since there were so few of us. And that felt good.” Dominic points out that this sense of community aided him both in the classroom and later on professionally because it formulated the basis for a strong professional network. Dr. Ledesma actively sought out other faculty and staff members of color who helped him feel connected. Prior to his time as an undergraduate, Dominic had not grown up in an environment where he was frequently exposed to college-degree holding Latinx professionals. He commented on how this impacted him, sharing, “…to see other faculty members and professionals who were also Brown and had last names like mine was very powerful. To have my identity as a child of an immigrant, as a mixed race individual, and as a working class student understood really helped me understand my own experiences prior to university.”

When asked what being a Latino Badger alumn means to him, Dr. Ledesma comments that “It was powerful to know that as a Powers-Knapp scholar, the university was directly investing in me.” And while Dominic acknowledges that the UW has certainly made progress in being accessible and supportive to more students of color, he mentions that there is still work to be done. Dr. Ledesma explains that he undoubtedly feels a sense of pride “as a Brown face and professional from this prestigious university” but he understands that not everybody feels this way. He considers it his responsibility to ensure that others feel like the campus is their home, just like he was made to feel during his time as an undergraduate.

At this time, Dr. Dominic Ledesma is still enjoying the feeling of being “Ph.inisheD.” He currently serves an interim role as the Division of Extension’s inaugural director of the Office of Access, Inclusion, and Compliance (OAIC). He describes this role as being both challenging and rewarding. Dr. Ledesma feels prepared to use the tools, skills, and knowledge he obtained during his PhD to continue his work and advocacy for educational equity and inclusion. However, this is only one of Dominic’s two full- time positions! The other? Being a full-time husband to his wife, Lucía, and father to his daughter, Citlali.

UW Homecoming week is October 25–30. Learn more about all the in-person and online events — and continue the tradition.