Hector Cervantes

Hector Cervantes


Degree: Master of Urban and Regional Planning

Graduation Date: June 2020

Hometown: Santa Ana

Tell us a bit about your background and path to the MURP program. Why did you choose the School of Social Ecology? And the MURP program specifically?

I was born in the San Fernando Valley, but my family moved to Santa Ana when I was three years old. I have lived in Santa Ana since.

My end goal was to strive for higher education, going above my bachelor's degree. I transferred to UCI from Santa Ana College in the fall of 2016. After a conversation with my friend Jacobo, who introduced me to the program, I began reaching out to other friends in the School of Social Ecology, some of whom were urban studies majors. After much encouragement from my friends at UCI, and my own inquiry into different routes I could possibly take, urban planning seemed the most fitting with both my academic and personal experiences. My first goal was to pursue a Ph.D. and become a professor. I saw that path as a way for me to help students sitting in the same seat I was once in. I wanted my teachings to revolve around the critical issues affecting my community, all while influencing the narrative of stories being told about Mexican-Americans in the U.S. However, after more research, I learned urban planning would be a better fit for me to accomplish such goals because it will expand avenues for me to give back to my community through direct interactions. Housing, transportation, and community development issues directly impact the everyday lives of people in Santa Ana.

During my undergraduate work, my path was also influenced by Professor Rudy Torres, a faculty member in the Department of Urban Planning and Public Policy. His courses taught me about the intersectionality of economic development, housing, and community development and their role in producing socially sustainable cities. From him, I learned that historical context is very important in the urban development processes, which illustrated that my history background would inform my practice as an urban planner.

The more I learned about the UCI MURP program, the more my interest grew. I was sure this was the place for me. I graduated with a bachelor of arts in history this past June 2018. I will start the MURP program this fall, and expect to complete it by June 2020.

How do you envision your degree from UCI opening doors for you and benefitting your career?

I envision my degree giving me the opportunity to be a part of the City of Santa Ana Planning Department. Entering the planning department will allow me to interact with local community organizations fighting to bring equitable development to the city that raised me. I plan to use policy to incorporate criminal justice issues into urban planning through a community development approach. Finally, I hope my degree will open doors for me to teach at Santa Ana College, where my personal transformation and academic career began.

You have been involved in a number of community service activities. Can you tell us about some of that work?

My recent involvement with Underground Scholars Initiative (USI) at UCI is the work I am most proud of. USI is a group of formerly incarcerated and systems impacted students that provides support services and a safe space for formerly incarcerated students on campus. A group of us got together to start the UCI chapter winter quarter of 2017. Since then, I have been on a panel where I gave testimony about my experience with the criminal justice system and was hired to do related policy advocacy work with the Human Rights Watch. This November, I will be tabling with other USI members at the Orange County Reentry Partnership Resource Fair. I am also helping put together an Illuminations film screening of the documentary “From Incarceration to Education,” on campus.

Hector is the recipient of the 2018-2019 Watson Fellowship. Congratulations!

About the Watson Fellowship: Original architect and urban planner for the Irvine Company, Raymond Watson played a key role in building the city of Irvine and the University of California, Irvine. Since 2006, the Watson Fellowship Fund has helped UCI’s MURP program attract strong students who are committed to fostering strong and vibrant communities through planning.

Photo: Patricia DeVoe