Sierra Najolia ’18 came to Dominican to study history and prepare for a career as a dentist. Half way through her freshman year she discovered that science was not her passion, so instead she followed her heart and pursued a career in the history field.
Not only has Sierra found a job – she will start working full-time at San Francisco’s Walt Disney Family Museum after commencement – but thanks to supportive faculty, enlightening coursework, and meaningful community work she also has found her passion.
At Southern California’s Adolfo Camarillo High School Sierra excelled at leadership and academics, serving as the school’s Junior State of America chapter president, running varsity cross country, and loading up on AP courses. She also interned at a local children’s dental office.
“I loved interning for the dentist, so that’s what I thought I wanted to do – until I discovered other options,” she recalls.
It was Dr. Jordan Lieser’ public history course in the School of Liberal Arts and Education that showed Sierra the variety of career options available for history majors.
“In that class I found that there were so many options for careers,” she recalls. “Museum work is a form of public history, and in that class I started to become interested in working at a museum.”
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Sierra later added Communications and Media Studies as a second major, drawn to digital storytelling and documentary filmmaking. She also discovered a passion for community service after taking Professor Emily Wu’s service-learning colloquium “The Power of Forgiveness.”
“I’d never done service-learning but I thought that I’d give it a try,” she says about her work on an oral history project with Marin’s Vietnamese American Community.
“I became really committed to this community –the majority being immigrants from Vietnam or survivors of the Vietnam War,” she says. “As a history enthusiast, I loved hearing their stories and I made it my goal to preserve and create a platform for their stories to be heard.”
Sierra remained involved with the oral history project for the next two years, with much of the work forming her senior thesis. The oral history archive can be found on YouTube under the page Marin Vietnamese American Oral History Project.
“I enjoy service-learning because my major is my content but my work in the community is my context. I can bring what I learn in school and apply it to my community,” says Sierra, who will be Dominican’s first student to graduate with a minor in Community Action and Social Change. “I truly believe that unless you apply what you learn in school to enact change in the community, then what’s the point of a degree? I see my degree as an opportunity to help others and to connect to a larger picture.”
Sierra knew Dominican was the right fit even before she set foot on campus. “I wanted to go to college in Northern California and I wanted a small school,” she says.”My high school is probably larger than Dominican but I knew my learning style and I know that I learn better in smaller groups. I knew that I would not thrive in a large lecture hall setting. During a Dominican campus visit day I heard that this was the place to be if you want one-on-one time with professors.”
Currently she works part-time at the Walt Disney Family Museum. When she graduates in this spring, not only will Sierra have a full-time job waiting for her. She also will have a supportive group of family members cheering her on.
“I have multiple aunts who have already made their plane and hotel reservations. I’m the first person in my family to graduate from college, so it’s a big ordeal.”