To Empower Underserved Communities

Why student Joana Pantoja Scharinger wants a certificate in college admissions and career planning

When I asked College Admissions and Career Planning certificate student Joana Pantoja Scharinger how the Community Impact Scholarship will help her reach her career goals, she provided me with this poem as a response:

i stand
on the sacrifices
of a million women before me
what can i do
to make this mountain taller
so the women after me
can see farther

legacyrupi kaur


“Ultimately, I hope that by deepening my knowledge and skills, I can contribute to creating taller mountains for every Latinx and immigrant so they can see a vast horizon of possibilities,” she explains.

Joana’s Backstory

Originally from Brazil, Joana earned two bachelor’s degrees from two different universities there—one in clinical psychology in 2004 and a second in philosophy in 2006. She attended both programs simultaneously—philosophy classes in the morning, psychology classes in the evening—and strongly believes that the two majors complemented each other.

Then, with a never-ending passion for learning, in 2009 she earned her first master’s degree, this one in clinical psychology from Universidade de Brasília. You read that right. Her first master’s degree.

From 2005–2011, Joana worked as a mental health therapist for Anankê, Centro de Atenção à Saúde Mental, also in Brasilia, Brazil. She provided individual and group counseling to patients who live with severe mental health issues, as well as participated in weekly case conferences, treatment planning and clinical discussions to provide holistic care to her patients.

“What drew me to psychology was my passion for helping people and an eagerness to understand the complexity of human behaviors and psychological conflicts. I discovered a natural talent for being a meticulous listener and assisting individuals to overcome emotional and behavioral barriers,” Joana tells me.

After five years working in mental health, Joana felt the need to expand her organizational psychology knowledge, gain some international experience and fulfill an “old desire to live an international life.” She recalled her time—back in 2000—when she had briefly lived in San Francisco to study English at a school located on the Golden Gate University (GGU) campus. Fascinated by the city's diverse culture and liberal and open-minded residents, she knew she would be back.

And she did—applying and being accepted into Golden Gate University, graduating in 2015 with an M.S. in Human Resource Management.

During her second master’s studies, a short-term job as an international admissions and student recruiting assistant for the university changed her world. Joana gained experience in:

  • assisting prospective and current students;

  • providing detailed information about university academic programs, admission requirements and school policies; and

  • recruiting and advising international students while attending an educational fair in Brazil.

It was this introduction to college admissions counseling that later led to a passion for career counseling: “It was just the perfect fit for my combined experience in counseling, recruiting and passion for helping people.”

Let’s explore that passion. After all, it is what made Joana an easy choice for our Community Impact scholarship award as she pursues the college admissions and career planning field.

Higher Education and Immigrant Communities

“As a career counselor, higher education is part of my continuing professional development. It provides an opportunity to reflect on my daily work and sharpen my critical-thinking skills. It is also an excellent way to acquire advanced skills in a specialized field, learn industry trends and join rich class discussions with other practitioners.

“I also see higher education as empowering. Education can be a transformative process when it allows individuals from all communities and backgrounds to equip themselves with skills and knowledge that provide access to opportunities that were once inaccessible.”

Regarding the latter, she readily taps into her own experience, making her all the more eager to help those who are struggling.

“As a Latina and former international student, I have experienced what it's like to go through challenges that this population faces as they navigate the education system and job search,” she says.

“I learned that the immigrant community lacks solid support in career development. In the most recent four years, things have been particularly challenging, with constant changes in the work authorization and immigration policies. As a result, more projects and organizations are focusing on developing career support for this population.

“Personal and community impact is something I am passionate about, so I have also been supporting the immigrant community by volunteering with several nonprofit organizations,” she says.

One example is Upwardly Global, an organization for which Joana volunteers her time as a career coach. “Upwardly Global is a nonprofit organization that provides career services to immigrants and refugees and assists them in entering the U.S. job market.”

Similarly, Joana volunteers at The National Career Development Association (NCDA). “The NCDA has a committee dedicated to understanding how career practitioners can better support international students. I serve as a member of the International Student Services Committee, and I am a researcher on its multicultural and social-justice competencies project.”

Other volunteering experiences include Brave and Cafe Kind, for which she provided mentorship and career advice to female immigrants on how to enter the U.S. job market.

But in many cases, before these communities can get a well-paying job, they must acquire a college degree or certificate. According to the California School Boards Association website, the Latinx community constitutes 50 percent of California K–12 students. But what does that mean for college-bound?

“This percentage is not reflected in colleges and universities, which indicates the need for dedicated support in the college admissions space,” says Joana.

She hopes that with the knowledge she will gain from the Certificate Program in College Admissions and Career Planning she can help change those statistics.

“I want to deepen my career planning education and gain knowledge in college admissions so I can be equipped to follow my passion of providing hope and empowerment to the immigrant community. One of my current career goals is to contribute to the inclusiveness and mobility of these individuals.”

Making Her Ascent

Joana is enrolled in the spring 2021 section of Career Planning for College Admissions.

“My goal is to pursue the college admissions and career planning certificate to complement my psychology and human resources background. Beyond theory, I hope to gain the experience of attending a prestigious school and joining rich class discussions with faculty and peers.”

This statement sums up Joana and her dedication to her evolving career:

My mission is to utilize the path I have walked on to assist the ones behind me. That includes all international students who I proudly serve in my current job, especially immigrants from the Latina community.

Just as it’s UC Berkeley's mission to create a more inclusive society for Latinx students, I also aspire to contribute to the mobility of this population by providing guidance, training, resources and advice as they enter colleges and competitive job markets.

I want to empower individuals from this population to confidently pursue their career goals and make informed career decisions.