Two years ago, John Joanino used his own money to start a scholarship for teens in need at his old high school in Riverside.
He did so because he understands where they’re coming from – an underfunded school in a low-income neighborhood wracked by gang violence. Like many of them, Joanino didn’t expect to go to college.
Ever since high school, Joanino said he wanted “to be that light” for students like them.
“My path to UCLA … is one that constantly reminds me that I need to serve others,” he said. “My responsibility as a student here is really for the greater good of the higher education community.”
Joanino, a third-year sociology student, is the presidential candidate running with the LET’S ACT! slate in this week’s Undergraduate Students Association Council election.
His guiding vision is one of a more affordable UCLA, a vision born while he was in high school and refined with advocacy work in college.
Joanino comes from a family of Filipino immigrants and lived with a single mother and his older sister. Some nights, Joanino didn’t know if they would have food on the table.
Throughout the strife, however, he said his desire to help others kept him going.
He stayed up until 2 a.m. to make sure his sister, Jaki Joanino, came home from work. He also helped his relatives write their resumes, she added. He organized holiday food drives for fellow students.
“(John Joanino is a) corners-of-our-campus kind of a guy,” said Becky Porter, a student activities director at John W. North High School, where Joanino attended. “He would reach out to everyone.”
As a student representative to the Riverside Unified School District Board of Education, Joanino spoke up for his underfunded high school, she added.
“He brought to light the fact we didn’t feel that we were being treated equally in comparison to other campuses,” Porter said. “That was kind of the beginning of our movement to bring money to our school.”
Joanino also initiated talks about bringing the first sports stadium in the high school’s 48-year history, Porter said. A stadium is now being constructed.
At UCLA, Joanino continued his advocacy work. He served as a campus organizing director and is currently a legislative liaison for the University of California Student Association Board of Directors, mobilizing students to advocate for more funding to the UC. He honed his knowledge about student fees while serving on the UCLA Student Fee Advisory Committee, Academic Senate Council on Planning and Budget and UC Council on Student Fees.
“(As president) I can be that advocate not only on a campus-wide level, but a state-wide level against fee increases (and) against legislation that would not prioritize higher education,” Joanino said.
He also worked in the USAC President’s office, General Representative 1 office and External Vice President’s office over the course of three years. He got involved with the student groups Samahang Pilipino and Afrikan Student Union and was a resident assistant for two years, where he enjoyed connecting with students from different backgrounds, he said.
If elected, Joanino said he would work to make UCLA more affordable, address campus safety, expand student resources like study spaces and bring Los Angeles leaders to campus.
“We do have the power to make real change as long as we speak up about the issues that impact us, and we’re not complacent,” Joanino said. “That’s something I really hope to do as USAC president.”