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Into Africa, Back to UCLA

  • By Mark Davis
  • Published Mar 1, 2005 8:00 AM

When Dani de Jesus '00 returns to campus this month for the Young Alumni Reunion, she'll have stories to share with her classmates. Some people dream of adventures. De Jesus pursues them.

Her sense of adventure brought de Jesus to UCLA, she says. That same spirit led her to postpone plans for a career in law enforcement after graduation, opting instead to head for a classroom — a very remote classroom.

De Jesus went to Ghana, where she served as a volunteer teacher in a small village called Ho, a position she found through UCLA's EXPO Center. Once there, de Jesus says, she found inspiration all around her, from fellow volunteers, her pupils and the exotic surroundings.

In class, de Jesus did her best to foster a sense of adventure and a love of learning in her pupils, especially the girls. At recess, she says, she saw them playing as equals with the boys, but in the classroom they reverted to submissive roles, rarely speaking out. De Jesus encouraged them to participate and answer questions. When responses were mumbled, she asked them to repeat their answers loudly and clearly to help them build confidence.

De Jesus' enthusiasm reached beyond her students. In one activity, she asked students to write down their dreams on construction paper stars, and a local teacher asked for a star of her own. She wrote down her desire to become an accountant — an expansive dream, de Jesus explains, in a culture where traditional gender roles discourage women from reaching for professions in the financial industry.

Energized by her experiences, de Jesus explored her own dreams once she returned home. A conversation with a fellow alumnus led her to a film industry job. As a development associate for Craig Anderson Productions, de Jesus currently helps produce projects, primarily for CBS.

De Jesus says her trip halfway around the world strengthened her ties to UCLA, where she found so much inspiration. She says she welcomes any chance to revitalize herself, reconnect with fellow alumni and ideally help inspire new generations of Bruins. Her activities have included serving on the Alumni Association's board of directors and returning for the Young Alumni Reunion.

“It's really important for me to feel connected to people, places and things, which is so crucial to post-collegiate life,” she explains. “Coming back to the UCLA campus continues to give me those opportunities for making connections with alumni, students and faculty, as well as this school, which has given me some of my best life experiences.”