New ASI president embraces leadership, family, and advocacy for Sac State’s diverse student body
September 13, 2022
Salma Pacheco knew Sacramento State was her destiny.
Even when scheduling complications threatened to derail her freshman year, prompting her dad to question her college choice.
“With tears streaming down my face, I said, ‘Yes.’ I was made to go to Sac State,” Pacheco said.
“I knew I was made to come here to affect the change that students need. Not every student advocates for themselves, not every student feels they have a voice, and I know I have a very strong voice to advocate for them.”
Pacheco is the 2022-23 Associated Students Inc. (ASI) president, and creating a community of caring and support for students is high on her agenda. Her upbringing in a strong, loving, close-knit family drives much of what she does.
“Student government is super important to me because it allows students to have the space to talk to us and be a liaison between them and their administration,” Pacheco said. “It’s overwhelming and nerve-wracking when they have problems and no help or guidance.”
Her leadership role commences as the University celebrates Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) Week and Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15-Oct. 15. Sac State earned HSI designation after its enrollment of Hispanic/Latinx students surpassed 25% of the total student body in 2013.
The University also earned the Seal of Excelensia designation for its commitment to accelerate Latinx student success in higher education.
“I found through student government, I have a huge passion for advocating for the minority community and those who are under-represented." -- Salma Pacheco, ASI President
The youngest of four sisters, Pacheco grew up in Pacoima, a working-class neighborhood of Los Angeles.
Her strong, independent mother was ambitious and attended night school to learn English and computer skills while raising a family and working full time at Whole Foods.
“My mom is the epitome of time management,” Pacheco said. “Every time I sit in the AIRC (Academic Information Resource Center) very late at night, complaining how I can’t finish my paper, I just think about my mother, who was able to give me the most fortunate upbringing I could’ve possibly asked for, while doing things to make herself better to make more money to help raise us.
“If she could do that, then I can finish my paper.”
When the girls were little, their dad stayed home to shuttle them from school, to club meetings, to volunteer work and swim practice – beginning at 4 a.m.
“He’s a girl dad, so he’s our strongest supporter,” Pacheco said. “If I have an issue, he’ll dissect the whole thing and have amazing ideas on how to handle the situation.
"It did take him a while to learn how to do our hair.”
Choosing a college was easy for Pacheco.
A Political Science major who one day wants to work in “The Building” – her name for the state Capitol – Pacheco watched her older sister first succeed at Sac State and later in the seat of California government as a lobbyist for the Los Angeles City Chamber of Commerce.
“I saw the connections and relationships she built here, and how she forged a career for herself, and I fell in love with that,” Pacheco said.
“Also, my favorite color is green,” she said, referring to the bold Sac State color.
Overachiever is an understatement when it comes to Pacheco, who took so many college courses in high school that she was mistaken for a transfer student when she arrived at Sac State.
“Salma is bringing a lot of great energy and asking a lot of questions,” ASI Executive Director Sandra Gallardo said. “She’s been very motivated, working through the summer and meeting with President (Robert S.) Nelsen and Vice President for Student Affairs Ed Mills to get her agenda started.”
Pacheco joined clubs such as Phi Alpha Delta and Ignite, which helps women become involved with politics. She also worked with Mujeres Ayudanda la Raza, a nonprofit organization supporting Latina students.
“It helped me build a lot of friendships with people who look like me and have similar experiences,” Pacheco said. “I believe it helps students be successful if they have a sense of belonging.
“I have friends from all walks of life thanks to Sac State being so diverse. But it was beneficial to have a place to practice my Spanglish,” a hybrid that combines words and idioms from both Spanish and English. “It was definitely helpful to feel like I was still me, and that we were acknowledged.”
In spring 2022, Pacheco and Laura De La Garza Garcia ran unopposed and were elected ASI president and executive vice president, respectively, advocating for students, particularly underrepresented minorities on campus.
“I found through student government, I have a huge passion for advocating for the minority community and those who are under-represented,” Pacheco said.
De La Garza Garcia is from Monterey, Mexico, and lived in Michigan for several years before her family eventually settled in Manteca.
“Moving to California was a huge culture shock,” De La Garza Garcia said. “In a good way. You see people who look like me, not necessarily in leadership because that is something I recognize is still missing. But you’ve got people from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds.”
The ASI Board of Directors recently set goals for the 2022-23 school year during a strategic planning retreat.
“They have their fingers on the pulse of the University since they’re students themselves,” Gallardo said. “So it’s always great to see them create these goals and work through how they will accomplish them in the coming year. There’s a lot of great energy, and I’m excited for this group.”
In addition to student advocacy and mental health issues, one of the board’s priorities this year is to consider how to help students find jobs after graduation.
“Students were online for two years, and they didn’t have access to internships or networking so they’re struggling to find jobs,” De La Garza Garcia said. “We want to bridge that gap by working with partners on campus, highlighting the opportunities that are already there that students don’t know about.”
Both women want to hold University leaders accountable and ensure students are supported.
“We are the voice for more than 30,000 students,” De La Garza Garcia said. “We’re advocating for students, and trying to make the campus better.”
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