Dominique Badajoz was drawn to the University of Iowa by the prospect of learning more about her Native American heritage with the nearby Meskwaki community. She also found an academic track that is preparing her for a dream job at Apple.
Sara Epstein Moninger
Justin Torner

Dominique Badajoz accepted admission to the University of Iowa sight unseen. When the junior from California graduates in 2022, she will leave campus with a highly marketable degree—and a greater understanding of where her family came from.

Badajoz, who is double-majoring in informatics and studio art, was born and raised in Newport Beach, California. But she has roots in the Meskwaki Sac & Fox Tribe of the Mississippi, headquartered in Tama, Iowa. Her maternal grandfather moved his family from Iowa to Southern California when her mother was 2 and didn’t share much about their Native American heritage while Badajoz was growing up.

Curious to learn more, Badajoz applied to two schools in Iowa—the University of Iowa and Iowa State University­—and Iowa was first to admit her. Moving to an unfamiliar setting while also being a first-generation student proved challenging, but Badajoz quickly found a community in Iowa Edge, a transition program for incoming UI students from underrepresented backgrounds.

“Iowa Edge gave me everything,” she says. “It introduced me to the Latino Native American Cultural Center, the Native American Student Association, and friends who I now call family. It prompted a series of events that have led me to where I am. I’ve really had a chance to grow up here, and I didn’t have to hide the fact that I was first-generation or Native American.”

While participating in Iowa Edge, Badajoz learned about a variety of student organizations and resources and toured the university’s multicultural centers. She now is president of the Native American Student Association and a programming assistant at the Latino Native American Cultural Center (LNACC). She also has returned to Iowa Edge as a peer leader.

Badajoz didn’t expect to be so involved in campus activities. She says she was shy in high school and didn’t consider herself a role model. The extracurricular opportunities have helped her grow—personally and professionally.

“I was always interested in technology … I never thought Iowa would prepare me for that—I still joke about Iowa and how I’m landlocked here—but I am finishing a major that will get me a job in the industry.”

Dominique Badajoz
University of Iowa junior studying informatics and studio art

“I thought I would get a degree and go home. But getting involved in these different organizations and centers on campus has helped me in so many ways,” says Badajoz, who also utilizes TRIO Student Support Services programming designed to support first-generation students. “I have many faculty and staff I can turn to for help, and the two peer groups I’ve worked with in Iowa Edge have taught me more than I’ve taught them. In fact, if it weren’t for the younger students I’ve had the privilege to work with, there is a strong chance I wouldn’t still be here today.”

Not only did Badajoz encounter a welcoming community on campus, she also found academic programs in informatics and art that she thinks could lead to her dream job as a graphic designer in user experience at Apple.

“I was always interested in technology, but visiting my brother, who is a software engineer in Silicon Valley, influenced the direction of my career. I want to help design websites, logos, and social media pages,” she says. “I never thought Iowa would prepare me for that—I still joke about Iowa and how I’m landlocked here—but I am finishing a major that will get me a job in the industry.”

A welcoming community in which to learn and grow

Being involved in the Latino Native American Cultural Center and the Native American Student Association, Dominique Badajoz has found vital support, made lasting friendships, and gained invaluable experience.

When she leaves Iowa and embarks on a career—she hopes to land on one of the coasts—Badajoz will have a newfound appreciation for her ties to the Meskwaki and for Native American culture in general. One of the friends she met on campus is Meskwaki and introduced Badajoz to her family, something that proved very meaningful.

“Family has always been a huge part of my life. In fact, my friends in high school didn’t understand why I spent nearly every weekend visiting with different aunts and uncles and cousins,” says Badajoz, who is earning a minor in Native American and Indigenous studies. “I have since learned how important family is to the Meskwaki community. Even though I wasn’t connected with them for the first 18 years of my life, it was interesting to find that we share those same family values.”

Stephen Warren, associate professor of history and American studies, taught Badajoz in a class called Native American Foods and Foodways. He says he admires her patience and fortitude in her quest to learn about her heritage, adding that Iowa has much to offer in Native American studies.

“A Big Ten university typically has an expert on a specific cultural group. In Native American studies at Iowa, we have one of the world’s leading experts in literature in Phillip Round and one of the most recognized historians in Jacki Rand. We also have three experts on Native American history as well as scholars in anthropology. And with the State Historical Society of Iowa and the Office of the State Archaeologist, students at Iowa can explore many different facets of Native American culture and histories.”