Spring 2022 Graduate Spotlight: Jean Sano Santana, MPAff

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May 20, 2022
Jean volunteering at an event with TFN
Jean volunteering at the Trans Day of Visibility Rally with the Texas Freedom Network.


When making the decision to move from the Dominican Republic for graduate school, Jean Sano Santana considered the sunshine.  Born and raised three miles from the Caribbean coast in the city of Baní, they wanted to avoid cold temperatures while attending school in the United States - and Austin was about as south as they could get in the Global North. 

The warm temperatures, in addition to the curriculum offered at the LBJ School, is what eventually convinced him to make the move to the 40 Acres.  

“I had the opportunity to take many electives,” Jean said. “I was thinking of not only LBJ, but I had the opportunity to take courses outside the department – there are so many great schools at UT Austin, and believe me, I took advantage of that.”  

This weekend, Jean and seven other students will graduate with the Nonprofit Studies portfolio certification from the RGK Center. As his time at the LBJ School comes to a close, Jean reflects on his journey thus far and impactful experiences both on and off campus.  

In the Dominican Republic, Jean graduated with a bachelor's degree in International Business, later working for the Dominican Political Observatory in the Political Parties and Electoral Systems Office. There, they conducted comparative analyses among Latin American countries’ political systems to inform the electoral reform in their home country. Before being accepted to the LBJ School, Jean had moved to work with the United Nations Development Program as the Inclusion and Human Rights Technical Assistant. Here, his work focused on development programming for sex workers, substance abusers, the Black community, LGBTQIA+ people, and people living with HIV.  

After working on a variety of social issues in DR, I had many interests - so I decided to focus on philanthropy,” Jean said.  

After four years of conducting research, they came to graduate school with the goal of developing skills that would be applicable in community-facing work. One way of maintaining that focus and finding opportunities to make an impact in the community was joining the Nonprofit Studies portfolio program at the RGK Center.  

Doing the Nonprofit Studies portfolio was something that centered me,” said Jean. “It gave me a framework and support system to complement what I wanted to learn.” 

As part of the portfolio program, Jean took both “Nonprofit Program Evaluation” and “Mobilizing the Community and Engaging Volunteers” with LBJ School professor Dr. Patrick Bixler as well as “Nonprofit Management” with professor Walter Moreau, which he describes as some of his most impactful courses.  

I learned skills that made my work useful and impactful,” said Jean of their time in Dr. Bixler’s courses. “He’s invested in bringing in community members to the courses and connecting the student body to the community.”  

Jean describes attending community events while taking these courses at which he would recognize all of the nonprofit partners and attendees present from his time researching or working with them through Dr. Bixler’s or Professor Moreau’s classes 

Other courses at the LBJ School also offered Jean the chance to engage with community organizations, such as Dr. Rajeev Patels’ Policy Research Project, which Jean and their classmates collaborated with an external client, the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems, to conduct research on city-level food systems policies in the United States.  

“Just having that interaction with the client helped prepare me for how to negotiate, navigate, and sometimes put limits on project deliverables,” said Jean, who recently accepted a full-time consulting position with Boldly Go Philanthropy after graduation.  

~ ~ ~  

In their second semester of grad school, Jean joined the Policy Alliance for Communities of Color (PACC) student group at the LBJ School and served as the group’s secretary. Jean supported the group in planning several events throughout the semester, including “Caribbean Roots of the Black Freedom Struggle” with Dr. Peniel Joseph and “Philanthropy in Communities of Color” in conjunction with the RGK Center.  

Jean asks a question at the Philanthropy in Communities of Color event.

Jean asks panelists a question at the Philanthropy in Communities of Color event in March.

"I definitely recommend to be connected to organizations,” Jean said. “Graduate school can be pretty isolating, so my advice for incoming students is to do stuff here in Austin, which is an amazing place to be.” 

Outside of the UT Austin campus, Jean got involved with the Austin community by attending Chamber of Commerce meetings and volunteering at local nonprofit events, like the Trans Day of Visibility Rally with Texas Freedom Network.  

Jean was curious to explore the Hispanic culture of the city, especially as a place that is home to many from a Mexican or Central American background, in comparison to his experience in a Spanish-speaking Caribbean country.   

“It’s been weird because people do not read me as Hispanic – they usually read me as a Black, African-American who learned Spanish,” said Jean. Visually, people can tell that I am Black, but within these communities it comes as a surprise when I acknowledge that I am also Hispanic, and it doesn’t make sense to me that both identities can coexist.” 

“I’ve been able to see different perspectives of what being Hispanic means, and whether I was connected with that identity or not,” Jean said. “I had fun learning and being around all of it.”  

~ ~ ~ 

After graduation, Jean will remain in Austin and begin his new position as an Impact Advisor with Boldly Go Philanthropy, a consultancy firm that supports philanthropists, foundations, corporate givers, wealth advisors, and community foundations by powering their ability to solve social issues and address inequalities. For Jean, there’s still much to explore in Texas, as he will continue to seek opportunities to engage with immigration work at the Texas-Mexico border.  

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