Lea Marzo Wins Staff Excellence Award

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Lea Marzo has won the CoS Staff Excellence Award for her phenomenal work in SoM. Congratulations to Lea and thank you for everything that you do for SoM!

Exceptional Staff Member and Staff Excellence Awards:

There is one $1,500 cash award and two or more $500 cash awards each year for demonstrated excellence in each of the following areas:

  • Outstanding performance above and beyond the call of duty (Commitment)
  • Exemplary teamwork
  • Impact on the strategic goals of the College (Building Communities of Excellence, Catalyzing Discovery and Solutions and  Amplifying Impact)
  • Consistently excellent service to the School or College


An Interview with Lea Marzo

Can you tell us about your journey so far?

People beam at me with envy when I tell them I grew up in beautiful southern California which is mainly seen as a city for tourists. However, in my small neighborhood, there are approximately 15 different gangs within a 15-mile radius. Inequality is not just seen it is felt. As a first-generation student, I have always felt different. I was raised by a single mother of four in a Filipino and Native American family in a predominantly African American community in Southeast San Diego. The backdrop of my community and the public school I attended during the summers starkly contrasted with the predominantly white, affluent, cultural-capital rich Catholic school that I attended on a scholarship during the academic year. It was in my immersion in these completely different socioeconomic environments that not only taught me to critically navigate through various cultural environments, but also heightened my interest in how marginalized students find ways to be successful while dealing with institutionalized racism.

Being a biracial other in a black working-class community gave me the perfect ethnographic lens to analyze social stratification, poverty, race, and culture. In high school, I left two hours early to take the trolley and bus to the other side of town. On this ride, you can notice the shift as the graffiti lined walls and broken windows gradually change to manicured sidewalks and well-maintained businesses as you rode from one part to the other. In addition to my scholarship, my mother worked out some deal with the principal to get “two for the price of one,” so my brother and I could get a better education. She worked bingo every Friday night as well as a full-time teacher’s aide to pay for our tuition. During summers, I attended the local public school where my mother worked and learned early on that not everyone is afforded a “good” education. This realization has fueled my passion for helping underrepresented communities have access to higher education.

I became a single mother at the age of 20, determined to achieve my goals and make sure my daughter had a bright future, I decided to finish my Bachelor’s degree. While working as full-time as an Academic Advisor the Education Studies Department at the University of California, San Diego I completed my general education courses at San Diego Mesa Community College and transferred to UCSD working out a schedule with my job to be a full-time student as well. It was during this time that I became an institutional agent for my students as well politically active in my community. I organized a student group called “Teachers 4 Change.” This group worked to recruit STEM students to get their teaching credential and work in low-income K-12 schools. I mentored high school students at the UCSD Preuss school and scored senior projects. I volunteered at UPTE, a national union to work for better wages for administrative positions. I also created “Preps for Success” that mentored known gang members and ex-offenders in my community. This involved preparing resumes and helped people complete the necessary applications for GED programs and community colleges.

During my Master’s program at San Diego State I was the treasurer for the Sociology student group. I mentored incoming master’s students and was a Teacher’s assistant. I taught Sociology 101 to incoming Freshmen students using a critical caring pedagogy.  This combines a feminist, non-hierarchal teaching approach where the students and instructor sit in a circle and there is reflexive teaching and auto ethnographies.  The teacher learns about the students, their lives, and backgrounds as well as shares their background.  Being from a low-income community myself allows students from similar backgrounds relate to me and feel comfortable sharing.  Once students feel cared for, we can foster a learning environment of trust and encouragement. I hope to be able to utilize this style of teaching from entire career.
Currently, I work full-time as the Assistant to the Chair II at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the School of Math and teach classes online for Post University. I recently completed my Ph.D. in Sociology with a concentration in Race and Urban Studies at Georgia State University. I also got married last October! My current goal is to work in Higher Education Administration focusing on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

What is your work in the SoM?

I work at the Asst. to the Chair II for the School of Math. In this role I assist the chair in administrative duties as well as oversee the front desk staff and the Visiting Honors Program.

Can you tell us about your other efforts at Georgia Tech?

I routinely collaborate with campus leaders to spearhead and prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Specifically, I strategize with college leadership to develop and implement initiatives such as a college-wide Code of Conduct, conflict resolution training, DEI best practices, and student-focused events. I was recently invited by the Dean of the College of Sciences, to join the Budget Reform Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion working group. This group created 12 budget recommendations focused on diversity reform and hiring initiatives and presented to the President of Georgia Tech and DEI stakeholders.

Additionally, I currently serve as a member of the College of Sciences Staff Advisory Council where we promote staff engagement by arranging monthly speakers, host staff engagement events, and offer professional development opportunities.

How about your work in the DEI Committee?

Serving as the co-Chair for the DEI Committee is a rewarding experience. It allows me to bridge my academic background with my current position. I hope that I can continue this work throughout my career.

Can you tell us about your Ph.D. thesis work?

“American’s Finest City” is also home to approximately 91 gangs and over 4000 gang members (Burks 2014). That was my lived reality growing up in Southeast San Diego. In my neighborhood alone, there are approximately 15 different gangs within a 10-mile radius. Growing up, I knew several young men and women who died or became incarcerated as a result of gang-related violence.

When I moved away from San Diego to work on my doctorate, I was hoping to escape that life and embrace a new chapter. However, after reading Victor Rios’s Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys, I was inspired to do my dissertation on San Diego gangs. Something Rios wrote shook my core. As he reflects on his ethnography of gangs in Oakland, California, he writes, “One of my graduate-school professors warned me, ‘Go native, but make sure to come back.’ When I returned from the field, I told him, ‘I took your advice and went native in the academy, but I made sure to go back to the community where I come from.’” (Rios 2011:15). Being disconnected from my neighborhood allowed me to reflect. I no longer wanted to escape; instead, I yearned to be engaged in the community with the hope of affecting change. In this moment I realized that becoming a sociologist is not just a personal goal, but can also be a vehicle through which I enrich my community.
Although I write this work and submit it to the academy, I want it to be accessible for mass consumption. I write this work for my participants. My hope is to be the vehicle through which my participants tell their stories. Being back in my community has allowed me to reflect on the importance of empowering others and keeping the door open for those behind me. The purpose of this study is to challenge the governing narratives, to challenge those in power who label these young men and women, and to allow their stories to be told from their standpoint.

Set Trippin’: An Intersectional Examination of Gang Members

Typically, when most people hear the word “gangs,” the usual connotation is that of boys and men. However, recent studies show that women and girls make up about 30% of the gang population and that most gangs are mixed gender (Curry 1998, Miller and Brunson 2000, Sutton 2017). The experiences of gang-affiliated women remain under-theorized and understudied. Moreover, studies in criminology often dehumanize gang members and advance archaic ideas of inherent criminality. By utilizing a critical race theory (CRT) framework, I analyze how gang membership results from the intersection of racist practices and U.S. laws (Bell 1995, Crenshaw 1995, Ladson-Billings and Tate 1995, Solórzano, Ceja and Yosso 2000). This exploratory study demonstrates the complexities of how minoritized neighborhoods create a climate ripe for gang membership. By centering gang narratives, I highlight the myriad ways that people living in Southeast San Diego navigate gang culture and identity, gender expectations, and criminalization. Through a feminist standpoint lens, I employ the “docent method,” a qualitative place-based approach, to accompany 30 men and women gang members and affiliates on a walking or driving interview (Chang 2017). This unique methodology facilitates participant-led, ethnographical analysis, and in-depth interviews. My work challenges the one-sided, male-dominated research seen in gang literature. Providing gang members the opportunity to share their stories helps them to reclaim their identities. Findings from this study indicate that Black gang members share “Black extraordinary adolescent trauma” within hyper-segregated gang communities, often resulting in a collective identity. Black women gang members use their gang-affiliated identities as a tool to navigate violence within their neighborhoods. Furthermore, family socialization is an underutilized approach to understanding gang membership. I argue that place-identity, shared gang identity, and "Black extraordinary adolescent trauma" bond young men and women into "gang kinship networks." In addition, I offer alternative narratives to the stereotype of violent gang members. While on the one hand, there are instances where men gang members adopt conventional patriarchal norms of masculinity, on the other hand, they can exhibit caring attitudes towards people within their gang kinship network. Finally, I argue that low-income minoritized youth are subject to “legal violence” routinely practiced by local law enforcement and probation officers (Menjívar and Abrego 2012). The legal jurisdictions of gang documentation, gang injunctions, and policing practices interlink with social conditions to cause social suffering (Menjívar and Abrego 2012).  These punitive laws create additional barriers and obstacles for documented gang members, trapping them in the cycle of re-offending, and blocking Black and Latinx youth from upward mobility. Therefore, I call for sociologists to include gang membership as a neighborhood effect and to fund more research utilizing a critical race theory lens.

How did you manage to earn a Ph.D. while doing excellent work in the SoM?

It was not without difficulty :)

Honestly, I’m not really sure. There was a lot of long nights and long days. I worked on my dissertation whenever I had free time, weekends and late nights. I just figured it out. I learned early on how to be resilient and to juggle many hats.


  • Workflow Status:Published
  • Created By:sbarone7
  • Created:04/12/2022
  • Modified By:sbarone7
  • Modified:07/22/2022


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