Marjon Saulon graduated from the University of San Diego's Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies with a master’s degree in social innovation in 2021. We reached out to catch up on the latest in Marjon's life including learning more about his new role in Governor Gavin Newsom's office to serve as the Northern California Regional Coordinator of External Affairs.
Marjon Saulon on graduation day in 2021
What life experiences led you to study and work in the field of social change?
There are two experiences that have shaped the work I do today. The first is my experience as an immigrant. Though I’ve now set roots in the Bay Area, I had spent many years growing up in the Philippines and Taiwan. Having seen my parents sacrifice and move countries in search of better opportunities made me very sensitive to the struggles that immigrants and underrepresented communities face in the United States and across the world.So, by the time I got to college, I was looking for a sense of community and belonging. I found that community in the AAPI and Filipino American community in San Diego and started exploring opportunities to engage in local government and advocacy. I found that I was passionate about civic engagement and learned that politics and public service was my vehicle to contribute to society.
Why did you choose the Kroc School over other programs?
I chose the Kroc School for several reasons. One was that the MA in Social Innovation program provided me with the flexibility I needed at the time to take courses in business, nonprofit, and government. I not only wanted to learn the theoretical aspects of social change, but the skills needed to contribute to it, such as fundraising, research and development, and media advocacy.
Another reason was because of the financial and professional support I received from faculty and staff. Before I started class, I was selected to be part of the inaugural class of Practice Fellows at the Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice. I was also able to serve as a Graduate Assistant for Professor Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick, who taught me the fundamental skills of memo-writing and academic research.
What is your new role? What is exciting about it?
I was recently appointed by Governor Gavin Newsom to serve as the Northern California Regional Coordinator of External Affairs. In this role, I will help connect the priorities of Californians to the Governor. I am deeply appreciative of the opportunity and am most excited to meet with diverse community members across the region to understand the issues they are facing and how the administration can help. Prior to joining Governor Newsom’s administration, I worked as a policy advisor for Alameda County Supervisors Wilma Chan and Dave Brown, where I worked on issues related to workforce development, social services, and fund development.
How did the MA in Social Innovation program help prepare you for this role?
The MASI program helped prepare me for a career in public service in many ways. First, thanks to the advice of my professors, I learned that I wanted to create change within institutions. This allowed me to focus on the classes and skills that would equip me for a career in public services, such as policy analysis, grant writing, and effective verbal and written communication.
Second, the professors in the MASI program pushed me to go beyond my comfort zone and develop my voice as a writer. During the 2020 election season, for example, I was encouraged to write about my passion for civic engagement and to share it with the local media. It provided me with opportunities to not only improve my journalistic skills but to better understand how to advocate for underrepresented communities.
Third, the program provided me with several career-building opportunities. As a Practice Fellow at the Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice, for example, I learned how to conduct evidence-based research related to climate change and public safety, and got to learn about the importance of coalition-building with local officials and community organizations. My work as a Graduate Assistant also taught me how to become a better advocate for myself and the communities I represent.
What advice would you give to someone just beginning in this field?
Build your confidence by taking baby steps. Before I started working in government, I learned about the basics of journalism by interviewing and writing about a small-town mayoral candidate in 2018. That experience eventually led to me writing about civic engagement as a regular contributor at the San Diego Union-Tribune, which gave me more credibility and confidence as a professional.
Lastly, make genuine efforts to develop and maintain your professional relationships. Every person you interact with in graduate school can be a potential business partner, reference, or mentor down the road. Do your best to keep in touch and offer ways to help.
Anything else you would like to share?
I’m always happy to give back. Feel free to email me or send me a message on LinkedIn if you have any questions!