Drumheller Fountain

Networking for Change

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Nancy Joseph 06/01/2022 June 2022 Perspectives
Will Sanchez sitting on a bench on the UW campus.
Will Sanchez planned on majoring in physics at the UW. Then he discovered the Department of Comparative History of Ideas. Photo by Danielle Barnum Photography. 

Will Sanchez spoke no English when he started kindergarten. He was born in California — the first in his family born in the US — but his family returned to Mexico when he was a toddler. Then, right before he started elementary school, they moved to Washington state.

“I was only able to make it through kindergarten because of friends in school who spoke Spanish,” Sanchez (BA, Comparative History of Idea, 2022) recalls of his grade school in Federal Way, Washington. “When I needed to go to the bathroom, friends would ask for me. So initially my translators were other kids.”

Sanchez’s early language challenges led him to a volunteer role promoting a Washington state Language Access bill (House Bill 1153) this past year. The bill, which recently passed, calls for greater access to interpreters and other language resources in schools. That opportunity was one of several that Sanchez pursued during his time at the University of Washington. 

A Validating Major

While Sanchez struggled with English early on, he loved mathematics. “That was a new language for everyone, so it felt like the playing field was more level,” he says. He arrived at the UW planning to major in a STEM discipline. He explored various STEM majors and was set on physics — until he discovered Comparative History of Ideas (CHID), which focuses on the interrelation of ideas and society.

In CHID...faculty understand that everyone has different experiences and all of those experiences are valid.

Will Sanchez BA, Comparative History of Ideas, 2022
portrait of Will Sanchez

Sanchez was introduced to CHID while taking an interdisciplinary course taught by faculty from various departments. He remembers thinking that CHID professor Phillip Thurtle “had such a passion behind what he was talking about.” The next quarter, Sanchez took his first CHID course. The content and approach to learning resonated with him.

“In CHID, it feels like we’re talking about things that are relevant to our lives,” Sanchez says. “Faculty understand that everyone has different experiences and all of those experiences are valid. It feels like all the teachers just want the best for everyone. Deciding to major in CHID was one of the best choices I’ve made.”

Building Community Connections

Beyond academics, Sanchez learned how to network during his time at the University. He has become skilled at introducing himself to potential mentors — and pursuing the opportunities that result.

One example: When he told a UW professor that his career goals involved working toward positive social change, the professor put him in touch with State Senator Claire Wilson, who put him in touch with Kaitie Dong at OneAmerica, the largest immigrant and refugee advocacy organization in Washington state.

Will Sanchez doing a handstand in front of UW's Drumheller Fountain.
During a mentorship program, Sanchez and classmates discussed the prevalence of imposter syndrome among minority students. "That led to focusing on how bringing our different perspectives could be our superpower," he says. Photo by Danielle Barnum Photography.

Given Sanchez’s personal history, Dong suggested he volunteer with OneAmerica on passing the Language Access bill. Helping spread awareness of the bill became a major focus of Sanchez’s past year. Dong also encouraged Sanchez to give testimony about his own experience as a first-generation K-12 student with language access challenges.

“That’s when I reflected on the way that language impacted me growing up,” Sanchez says. “I realized that my mom didn’t get to voice her opinions about my education due to language access. In my parent-teacher conferences, I had to be her interpreter, even though the conversation was about me.”

Sanchez has made other community connections as well. At a meeting of a local community group, he met State Representative Jesse Johnson, who represents Sanchez’s district. Sanchez introduced himself and requested a follow-up phone conversation. During that phone conversation, “I asked him how he figured out what he wanted to do so young,” Sanchez recalls, “and how to make the most of mentorship relationships.” The chat ended with Johnson noting a dearth of Latino political representation in Federal Way and encouraging Sanchez to think about that.

“That really sparked in me the dream of maybe running for office one day,” says Sanchez, who spoke with Johnson again weeks later, this time to promote the Language Access bill on OneAmerica’s Lobby Day.

Preparing for What's Next

Despite his success networking on his own, Sanchez also participated in several networking programs offered by the UW. His senior year, he took two mentorship courses through the UW Career & Internship Center, and he signed up for Huskies@Work, a UW Alumni Association program that pairs students with alumni mentors. He also participated in C21@Microsoft, an externship program exclusively for College of Arts & Sciences students, offered by the Center for 21st Century Liberal Learning (C21). The latter paired him and two other students with a mentor at Microsoft to discuss early career development and the transition to professional life. 

Now, with everything I’ve learned, I want to get out into the world and really make a difference.

Will Sanchez BA, Comparative History of Ideas, 2022
portrait of Will Sanchez

The students in Sanchez’s C21@Microsoft mentor group had varied career goals, yet they found common ground in unexpected ways. “The other two group members were international students from China, and we spent one meeting talking about imposter syndrome, and how minorities tend to feel that more than others,” Sanchez says. “That led to focusing on how bringing our different perspectives could be our superpower. Thinking about it that way made me more confident in myself.”

As Sanchez prepares for future leadership roles, he is already a leader to his parents and siblings as the first in his family to go to college.

“When I was young, I was always told, ‘Do good because your siblings will follow in your footsteps,’” Sanchez recalls. “I remember not liking that and thinking, ‘Why was I born first?’”  He laughs. “But it also motivated me. It got me to the UW. Now, with everything I’ve learned, I want to get out into the world and really make a difference.”

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