Zaira Barajas ‘18
BA in History
History major Zaira Barajas ‘18 started her time in the College of Arts and Sciences on the pre-med track, choosing Stony Brook because of its reputation as a leading research university. After a rough first semester, Zaira realized that pre-med did not truly interest her. The following spring, she took a class in European History to fulfill an SBC requirement, and immediately noticed how engaged she was in the class. She decided to continue taking history classes, soon realizing that she wanted to focus her studies on Latin American history. Once she learned about the minor in Latin American and Caribbean Studies (LACS), she tacked it onto her history major in hopes that she could learn more about her own culture. She eventually changed her concentration in history to Latin American History. “It felt so refreshing to learn about the missing puzzle pieces of my own history,” she remembers. “Growing up as a Latina in the US, I didn’t really feel represented in American history, and dedicating my studies to learning from a Latin American-centric perspective, I’ve developed a better understanding of my own culture, but also what it means to be a Latina in the US.”
Zaira chose this major because she enjoys studying history, but she also appreciates the community that has been built among the history majors, especially those focusing on Latin American history. She likes how easy it is to meet and talk to other LACS students. “Being in a small classroom environment made me more comfortable participating in discussions with fellow classmates,” she explains.
Zaira feels that the professors are extraordinarily caring and helpful as well. Professors Eric Zolov, Janis Mimura and Elizabeth Newman, as well as PhD candidate Ashley Black, were the most inspiring for her. “In their classes, I didn’t feel like my sole purpose was to take notes to study for an exam,” she says. “Being in their classroom felt like a small window into their own passions and interests.”
As a student ambassador, Zaira acts as a representative for the University at meet-and-greet events for prospective freshmen. She participates in many events, including Commencement, allowing her to become very involved on campus and learn more about student life. Zaira thinks of networking as one of the main benefits of getting involved, and it helped her to meet some of her closest friends, also student leaders: “Having that support system filled with people who are fellow student leaders has been one of the most rewarding experiences because I receive so much encouragement and enthusiasm and I try to give it back as much as I can.”
Following graduation, Zaira wants to apply for a Fulbright Scholarship, as well as travel with the Peace Corps. She hopes that she will go somewhere in Latin America or the Caribbean. “I feel like I have been studying from afar for so long that I would really love to do some fieldwork in any of those countries to get hands-on experience,” she says. “I’d love to learn how the countries I’ve studied have been impacted by their histories.”