Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Student Spotlight: Michelle Alas Molina ’25

Student Spotlight: Michelle Alas Molina ’25

Hometown: Walnut Creek, California

Concentration: International and Public Affairs and Latin American and Caribbean Studies

Born in El Salvador, Brown sophomore Michelle Alas Molina emigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area with her parents when she was two. She says her background has made her "passionate about immigration and education" and drives her mission to "ensure equity and access for all to a good education and to help immigrants navigate bureaucratic systems despite language barriers." Alas Molina says she would eventually like to become an immigration attorney to help others with stories similar and dissimilar to hers.

As a high school student, Alas Molina rigorously researched colleges to find an institution where she could take the learning she did in the classroom and apply it to real-world problems. She said the thing that most attracted her to Brown was the University's Open Curriculum. "I have so many interests; international relations; languages; education; Latin American and Caribbean Studies. And I knew I could do all of it at Brown," she said. "Other schools have a more rigid structure when it comes to academics."

When it came time to pick a concentration, many of the same factors attracted her to the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs' International and Public Affairs (IAPA) program concentration. Alas Molina said she sees the concentration's policy and governance track as the perfect vehicle to help her achieve her long-term goals of helping create a more equitable and just world. 

Alas Molina said she has found Brown and Watson faculty incredibly supportive. She also said she is glad to be at an institution where the administration takes student input so seriously. "I've been working with the Watson Student Advisory Council," she said, "The Watson staff is so eager and willing to listen to what we have to say as representatives of the Watson student body." 

Alas Molina also praised how Watson and Brown have afforded her experiential opportunities to work on social justice issues while she completes her studies. "Right now, I am working with the Student Clinic for Immigrant Justice, and we get partnered with an attorney on asylum cases," she said. "And if you're part of a club and want to sponsor something like a voter registration drive, you can submit your proposal to Watson, and they will fund the project."

Alas Molina was also recently inspired by a week-long trip to Tougaloo College, a historically Black college in Jackson, Miss. The trip was made possible by the Brown University-Tougaloo College Partnership and the Swearer Center.

"I learned more in that one week than I have learned in any week in a classroom," she said of the trip. In addition to meeting students at Tougaloo and touring the college, Alas Molina and other Brown students toured the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum (together known as the Two Mississippi Museums). They also attended the "MLK Night of Culture" sponsored by the museums on King's birthday and enjoyed authentic soul food at the legendary Bully's Restaurant in Jackson. The group also visited the Emmett Till Academy and the Emmett Till Interpretive Center, where they learned about the rich history of the civil rights movement and Black organizing in Mississippi in the wake of Till's brutal murder.

In addition to learning about the history and the continuing efforts for racial equity, the students' experiences were rooted in community care. "We reveled in a lot of Black joy," said Alas Molina. "We got to spend time with Black and Brown kids from Jackson who did art, dance, and sports after school in the iServe Project of the Jackson Arts Commission, showing how important it is to invest in the arts education of our young students," she said. Regarding the "MLK Night of Culture," Alas Molina said, "it was a really joyful celebration. There were spoken word performances and two painters on the sides that were painting at the same time as the performances were going on. It was really amazing."

Alas Molina said the learning she did on the trip brought the historical events to her in ways that reading about them hadn't. "It's seeing what you learn in your history textbooks. You're there in the room where it happened. It was an incredible educational experience," she said, "I don't think that you can get that learning from just a classroom."

Experiential learning has been central to Alas Molina's Brown education, and she plans to continue taking advantage of the opportunities Brown and Watson afford her. Last summer, she interned at the Rhode Island Center for Justice. "I was doing work on housing, criminal justice and education, and it was funded through Brown," she said. Alas Molina said plans to apply her learning in and out of the classroom at Brown, along with her love of languages, to do legal, non-profit and translation work after graduating.

—Pete Bilderback