Mother-Daughter Aggies Advocate for Civic Engagement

Mindy Romero (B.A., political science and sociology, '01; Ph.D. '14) and Isabella Romero (B.A., communications, '17)
Mindy Romero (B.A., political science and sociology, '01; Ph.D. '14) and Isabella Romero (B.A., communications, '17)

Mindy Romero, B.A., Political Science and Sociology, '01; Ph.D. '14

Isabella Romero, B.A., Communication, '17

Isabella Romero (B.A., Communications, '17) has been preparing for a career in civic engagement since the third grade. That was about the time her single mother of three, Mindy (B.A., Political Science and Sociology, '01; Ph.D., '14), first enlisted Isabella’s help in a political campaign.

“She had me phone banking in Spanish,” Isabella said, smiling at the memory.  “My mom taught me that our vote and opinions matter. And that they give us a voice and the tools to show politicians how we feel on social and fiscal matters.”

Isabella’s early induction into political life occurred right here in Davis; she and her mother lived in town while her mother completed her undergraduate degree in political science and sociology, and eventually her Ph.D. Today the two are both Aggies: Mindy is the founder and director of the California Civic Engagement Project (CCEP) housed at the UC Davis Center for Regional Change. Isabella graduated in 2017 with a degree in communication, a major she says has enriched her childhood experience in civil engagement with new tools.

Social Media as a Tool for Engagement

“I study communication because social media has made skills like media literacy more critical than ever before,” said Isabella, whose research explored how social media might better involve youth in becoming more politically active. “That is why I will fight for media literacy in schools in order for new generations to be armed with the right set of tools to discern fact from fiction and become educated consumers of media." 

As she looks to continue her mother’s work in engagement and civic education, Isabella sees her honors thesis on social media and opinion leadership as a good first step.

“It’s because of my mom that I found my passion studying new communication technologies, specifically social media, and how they have furthered engagement opportunities for youth and underrepresented communities,” said Isabella. “She’s an inspiration to me every day as she fights for more people to engage with politics.”

Needs of Community Drive Research

It turns out that Mindy, too, has been preparing for this work since she was a little girl, back home in Modesto, California. As the child of a father with a fifth-grade education, living in a community that was struggling, she could see even then what needed changing.

“People in my community were not doing well. Elected officials were responsible for helping us but I realized that hardly anyone in my community was voting,” Mindy said.

Jumping forward a few years, Mindy’s conviction only deepened after becoming a transfer student at UC Davis and working to complete a double major in political science and sociology. Her childhood goal remained as strong as ever: to inform and engage voters. In 2010, in the midst of her graduate work as a political sociologist, this homegrown academic superstar founded the CCEP, whose research on civic and political participation is often nationally recognized.

“As a researcher, I had long been frustrated by the lack of publicly available and accessible voting data. You can’t make change unless you have access to the data. There is power through data and research: you need to get it into the hands of people who can use it to inform their work and their communities. The California Civic Engagement Project was a contribution I could make,” Mindy said.

From the high school classroom to the chambers of the California legislature to the U.S. Congress, Mindy’s work has informed young people and policymakers alike. Its impact has both breadth and depth, as well as something else: tremendous personal connection. After giving a TED talk in 2016 about the power of the youth vote, Mindy received over 150 tweets from high schoolers inspired after seeing the video in their classes to raise their voices and to vote. And they weren’t just any high schoolers.

“These were students from a high school that is actually 28 miles from where I grew up. These students were me. And they were saying they didn’t know students like them could do this,” Mindy said quietly, remembering. “I got to meet all of them and it was a privilege—just one of the biggest, most meaningful highlights of my work.”

In June, Isabella graduated with highest honors, just like her mother did 16 years ago, committed to using what she learned here at UC Davis to make change everywhere.

— Geralyn Murray for the College of Letters and Sciences magazine