Brandon Paez is a third-year clinical and counseling psychology student at Colorado State University, the student chair of the President’s Multicultural Student Advisory Committee, a teaching assistant for a course titled “Controversial Issues in Psychology,” and, at his core, a change maker.
Paez is very active on campus, and in addition to the many roles he plays at CSU, he, along with his collaborator Courtney Haag, developed Food Ops, which uses existing CSU programs to help students struggling with food insecurity.
Food Ops, started in Fall 2019, connects RamRide, Rams Against Hunger and the Food Bank for Larimer County. Paez and Haag’s idea was to use RamRide to provide students, faculty, and staff with rides home from the monthly CSU Mobile Food Pantry and to take weekly trips to the Larimer County food bank on Friday afternoons.
CSU is already a leader in tackling food insecurity on campus, but Paez says that while “it’s a great start, it’s not enough. Food is such a fundamental part of our lives. We can’t be good students if we’re hungry. We can’t do good work at our jobs if we’re hungry. We can’t support the local economy if we’re hungry.”
Making an idea a reality
Paez and Haag’s idea started in Thomas Conway’s Composition 300 class last fall. The assigned project asked that they “advocate for something.”
The two students connected with PMSAC, Social Work at CSU, and Off-Campus Life. It only took about two weeks to get the idea from conception to implementation.
“Courtney and my little project went kind of far,” he said. “Of course, that included a lot of hard work, long nights, and cups of coffee, but we were able get it done fast and I think it’ll be one of the pinnacles, one of the most impactful experiences of my college career.”
Haag agrees that it was hard work, but that their collaborative effort is what got the project done.
“Brandon was all-in from the beginning,” she said. “We shared the work, but I couldn’t have done it without him. Whenever I felt discouraged, he invigorated me again, and whenever he thought we hit a wall, I told him: ‘We can’t give up yet!’”
Advocating for others
At the same time, Paez joined PMSAC, a diverse student group on campus that communicates student needs directly to the CSU administration. Now, as the student chair of the group, Paez is excited to keep making change at CSU.
“We want to uplift those voices that aren’t traditionally heard by people in power,” he said. “PMSAC is definitely an effective route to create change. It’s really nice to talk to administration and sit down with President McConnell – even once in her own living room – and really speak to her, get her direct eye contact and her ear, really, about what we see students need the most at CSU.”
Paez was also selected as one of the LGBTQ+ Scholars in 2019 for his advocacy for LGBTQ+ inclusion in the residence halls. He has also served as a student leader in the Pride Resource Center.
Paez’ demeanor, even outside of the classroom or academics, lends itself well to creating social change.
“Brandon is hard working and intentional,” said Haag. “He makes everyone feel welcome and makes people feel included in groups. He never takes the spotlight and ensures everyone is heard. If there isn’t enough space in a conversation or situation, Brandon gladly gives up his power and influence to uplift another person.”
Though making change as an individual can sometimes be disheartening, Paez encourages other students to get involved at CSU.
“Brandon is soulful,” said Haag. “He puts his every effort into the task, person, group or community and does not stop. He also uses his resources well to inspire other students and influential members. His passion is contagious in a way that makes other people want to act. Just looking at Brandon, you would never know how successful he has already been because he is quick to uplift a peer’s success over his own.”
As a psychology student, Paez hopes to bring advocacy into his professional life.
“In my opinion, a responsible psychologist is informed about the state of the world and the complexities of the human experience,” he said. “Nothing is really black and white, and psychologists really work in that gray area. It’s important when you work with people from different identities and backgrounds to know that their experience is maybe different than yours.”
Paez hopes to go on to graduate school for a psychology doctorate program and discovered his love for teaching this semester as a TA for the Controversial Issues in Psychology class. Whatever course of action he takes, many at CSU are rooting for his success.
“Brandon shows up,” said Dora Frias, director of El Centro and former director of the Pride Resource Center. “He listens with compassion, empathy and understanding. He then always looks for ways that he can support, advocate and use his spheres of influence to effect change for his communities and others. Whatever Brandon seeks to do out in this world, I know that he will always have a positive impact on his communities. I have no doubt that Brandon will do great things in this world and I am excited to watch him in his brilliance.”
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