With Whittier College now open to in-person learning for the first time in over a year, there are lots of new faces on campus. One of those faces you may see is the new director for the Office of Student Engagement, Brittney Plascencia-Saldana. Plascencia-Saldana started at Whittier on Aug. 16, 2021, and has been working hard ever since. Plascencia-Saldana graduated from Mount St. Mary’s University with a Bachelor’s in Psychology, and a Masters in College Counseling and Student Development from Azusa Pacific University. As she settles into her role as the OSE Director, she is also working on her Ph.D in Higher Education at Azusa Pacific. “Whittier is very similar to my alma mater, and I knew I would thrive in a similar setting,” she wrote in an email to the Quaker Campus.
Plascencia-Saldana said that she was drawn to Whittier due to the teamwork she witnessed from the Senate executive board of Whittier College, amazed at the care and dedication that these student leaders had. This is not her first time coming to Whittier College, however: “In 2013, I applied to serve as a Graduate Intern and visited the campus for an interview, and, while I did not get the role, I was grateful to visit this beautiful campus,” she wrote. Her return to Whittier as the OSE Director is something that she partially credited to Christine Hernandez, the Interim Associate Dean of Students. Plascencia-Saldana and Hernandez had been coworkers prior at Mount St. Mary’s, where they worked together for four years.
Plascencia-Saldana has been involved with student leaders since starting her position. “Working with Program Board is joyous, as, collectively, they have shown me what collaboration can do for communities, and, with the current leadership, I have seen them lead with integrity and compassion. Also, event-planning sparks joy, and I love seeing how an idea, with the support of a team, can shift [a] sense of belonging for a community that is looking to make connections. Their innovation and creativity teach me a lot!” she wrote. Plascencia-Saldana has been looking forward to making more connections with student leaders, and hopes to make more room for students to grow more confident in their roles. “Once students lead with confidence, it is outstanding to see how transformative it can be when everyone is facing a leadership obstacle but no longer feels unprepared for it, so, if our department can give students tools which they apply can also apply professionally, it creates knowledge, awareness, and skills for Poets,” she said. As someone who works with student leaders, she says that she is mindful of imposter syndrome, and the effect it has on students. Her goal in the long run is to ensure that students are able to grow in a safe space so that they might grow into braver leaders, and to make them feel safe when they are vulnerable.
Plascencia-Saldana has only officially been in her role for a little over a month at the writing of this article, but she already has her gaze set on the future. “In the future, I hope to make student life more inclusive, as I have a passion for serving minority communities. As an equity-minded leader, I have been surprised by allies and their similar commitment and openness to leading change, which will bridge existing equity gaps,” she wrote to the QC. With Plascencia-Saldana coming in right as students return to campus, she is determined to make those spaces for Whittier College students. “In communication with colleagues and students, it seems that what is needed now is visionary leadership to revitalize student life while keeping our community safe. Being on campus today is not how it once was, so it is my plan to create a new sense of community that has a thriving student culture, and to contribute to that initiative. I have hope that what we build together can be better and it can be inclusive with our focus on healing and restoration.”