The inspiration of the perseverance and hard work of Karla ‘Ranger’ Trujillo

Karla “Ranger” Trujillo
Karla “Ranger” Trujillo
(Mara Mahmood


This is a story about Karla “Ranger” Trujillo. For as long as she can remember she wanted to be a student at a university, but not just any university. She always pictured herself at Cal and that goal became a reality. She came to the university after spending 22 years as an undocumented Native-American person and student. In that time, she developed a career as a photographer, artist and community activist while earning two associates degrees at Mira Costa College.

In her educational journey, her life experience played a key role in her ability to transition at a time of heightened stress and insecurity. It takes patience and perseverance to spend two thirds of one’s life working on getting access to higher education. At moments, it seems impossible, due to the deep cracks in the immigration process. However, she used the time she was without permanent resident status to curate multiple art projects, exhibit her photographic art pieces and was invited to be a guest speaker for the Solana Beach School Board and city council. During this time, Karla was appointed to the role of Program and Marketing director for the nonprofit organization La Colonia de Eden Gardens Inc (LCEG, Inc.). Her job included developing and implementing the Teenology Rangers, an informal learning program based on science, art, nature and service. The experience she gained from waiting on the immigration system has been critical in allowing her to use her creativity in helping co-create and strengthen in-person and virtual equitable learning environments. The many hats she has acquired and the many social landscapes she occupies provided Karla with tools to face the challenges of shifting to online learning during a deeply stressful time.

After many years of struggles in pursuit of higher education, her path brought her to Cal in the fall of 2020. She was thrilled to begin this long-awaited journey and like many others, she completed her first year at Cal as a transfer student, in a virtual world. Karla takes satisfaction in being a scholar who has been able to combine theory and practice while implementing it in real time. During her first and only year on-campus, she pursued her commitment to learning and service. Recently, Karla learned that she will be able to carry on co-creating equitable learning environments as a recently accepted Ph.D candidate at the University of Colorado, Boulder, in the Learning Sciences and Human Development program. In addition, she also been awarded the prestigious Miramontes Doctoral Fellowship. Karla has been fortunate to combine all of the aspects of her identity and lifelong learning, while embodying the values of a Golden Bear, in service to people in need during the intensified inequities of Covid-19.

Being a Cal student from her bedroom in Solana Beach gave her an opportunity to blend her interdisciplinary university training with community practice, in her own backyard, through a joint effort between Cal, UC San Diego and the nonprofit and community partner LCEG Inc. LCEG Inc.’s work allowed them to look for ways to continue linking individuals to their larger constructed social landscapes during stay-at- home orders.

Karla worked with community partners developing and implementing Pop-Up Art On the Go, drive-through art shows where art pieces that had been created by local children and families from La Clase Magica, the internationally-renowned LCEG Inc. after-school program, were installed and displayed in a central location so people could drive by safely and see how this opportunity to participate in a community art project helped LCEG Inc.’s families cope with the stresses of the pandemic. She also helped in designing, organizing and implementing LCEG Inc.’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Team, feeding over in excess of 53,000 meals. During this time frame, Karla also worked with the international University Community Links network (UC Links) in transforming after- school activities from in-person to virtual, creating innovative opportunities for university-community partners to share strategies and engage by way of conferences, youth summits and virtual office hours. She has co-learned and co-constructed alongside an interdisciplinary, intergenerational network of national, international and California scholars.

One of Karla’s key achievements while at Cal, was being selected as a Ronald E. McNair Scholar. which allowed her to further integrate her anthropological training with the learning sciences through a summer research project titled “Tangibly Embedded - A profound obligation, to self and others, during and beyond stressful times.” This project gave Karla the opportunity to use practice in linking theory with the real-world applicability of research-based practices and principles. Cultivating and engaging with people and places that embrace diverse ways of experiencing.

The fall of 2021 was a deeply stressful time for Karla. It was her first in-person experience as a Cal Golden Bear. She left behind people and communities that she has always been a part of. Being away from her close social landscape was difficult to adjust to, at first. So what did she do? Karla threw herself into work by taking 14, official, units but also attending graduate preparation course work for the McNair’s scholar’s program. Often, accessing classes via Zoom as she walked across campus in preparation for her next responsibility. Strawberry Creek is a major landscape feature at Cal and one of the primary reasons why the site was chosen in the 1860s as the location for the campus. It became her go-to destination, in balancing her mental, emotional and spiritual health. It was one of the best ways to get through a semester full of coding, writing, editing, submitting research for publication, mentoring, working for UC Links and applying to graduate school. One of the highlights of all this work was an experience that clarified her interest in pursuing graduate school, an in-person presentation of her research project for the McNair Scholars Research Conference at Florida International University.

Karla is making up for lost time and turning her goals into tangible realities. She looks forward to her journey in attaining a Ph.D, to apply knowledge in removing obstacles for co-learners, of all ages. This goal is not just for her, but anyone who doesn’t have access to the same opportunities as her, but desires to belong to equitable places of learning. The service component of her life has paved the way for her never-ending desire to share the spirit of knowledge, in its many forms, with others. Sustaining her by way of new learning and growth in this ever-changing world.

If you would like to send well wishes to Karla or support her in any way, contact LCEG at You may also make a tax deductible contribution for her benefit at or via check payable to LCEG, Inc. at P.O. Box 565, Solana Beach, CA 92075.

— Karla “Ranger” Trujillo helped write this story