Empowering Youth

Mariela Nuñez-Janes
Mariela Nuñez-Janes (Photo by Michael Clements)

Mariela Nuñez-Janes' story is all about helping migrant and Latino youth tell theirs.

That's one reason the associate professor of anthropology won the UNT Foundation's 2017 Community Engagement award, which she received at UNT's Salute to Faculty Excellence award ceremony.

Nuñez-Janes — a Venezuelan native who joined the UNT faculty in 2003 after earning her master's and doctorate from the University of New Mexico — was recognized for her research addressing the educational and social injustices young Latinos often face.

"I came to the U.S. at age 13, so I went through the educational system in great part here in the U.S.," she says. "That experience raised a lot of questions for me. As an undergraduate, I found anthropology and realized those experiences had a name."

As a professor, Nuñez-Janes began working on various projects — including "IamWe," a digital storytelling program that paired UNT students with Denton High School students — to help foster self-empowerment in the youth she researches.

She also collaborates with the North Texas Dream Team, a youth-led organization that focuses on improving educational opportunities for undocumented students. In the years to come, she says she wants to continue to help migrant and Latino youth pursue their goals without fear.

"I take my responsibility very seriously," Nuñez-Janes says. "I want to be able to use the knowledge I have, and the little power I have, to help them open doors to share their stories."

"Rule of Three": Nuñez-Janes' top three tips on how to make a difference in your community

UNT associate professor of anthropology Mariela Nuñez-Janes has dedicated her career not only to making a difference in the lives of the migrant and Latino youth she researches, but also to making a positive impact in the communities in which they live.

During the 2017 UNT Salute to Faculty Excellence award ceremony, in which Nuñez-Janes received the Faculty Community Engagement Award, psychology professor Yolanda Flores Niemann noted that the projects she "passionately and effectively leads across organizational cultures and boundaries build bridges among community institutions" as well as improve lives.

Nuñez-Janes provides her top three ways to make a difference in your community.

  1. Listen very deeply.
  2. Stay informed and educate yourself about all aspects of an issue. It's important to be able to contextualize the things you may be hearing.
  3. Use your head and your heart. It is important to act with your feet on the ground, but also with empathy and compassion. That's easier said than done, but one thing to focus on is the language you use -- are you being unintentionally negative? For example, I use the term "undocumented" instead of "illegal." Sometimes, it's the small things.

As an associate professor of anthropology, UNT's Mariela Nuñez-Janes has worked on various projects to help migrant and Latino youth tell their stories. One of those projects is "IamWe," a digital storytelling program that paired UNT students with Denton High School students to help foster self-empowerment. Though the program recently ended, the stories live on. Check them out here.

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