Alumni Experience //
An Educational Journey

How Barbara Ibarra Keyani, `72, became part of the first wave of Hispanic enrollment at UC Santa Barbara
Keyani Barbara Ibarra Keyani, '72 in her office at the Santa Barbara Unified School District.

Barbara Ibarra Keyani’s office at the Santa Barbara Unified School District is filled with color – with traditional art, works by students and photographs she’s captured with her camera over the years as the District’s head of communications and administrative services. Every day, out coordinating coverage at different school sites or spending long hours writing and editing the daily District eNews, she works toward inspiring fellow District employees, school parents and the Santa Barbara community to support educational initiatives and opportunities.

Growing up in Modesto, California, Barbara Ibarra was the first in her family to go to college – a goal that seemed out of reach due to the personal challenges she faced. Her father, the family patriarch, refused to allow her to leave home after she finished high school. “The women in our family worked in cutting sheds and canneries,” she said. “My father told me if I went away to school, I could never return home again.”

He meant it. Devastated, Ibarra went to the local community college in Modesto, California. She worked for three years to earn credits and save money – wanting to make it on her own yet struggling with the pressure of her father’s ultimatum.

“One thing that happened during my detour was a job I had during high school and community college,” she said. “I worked for Self-Help Enterprises, a non-profit that helped farm labor families build their own homes. I went from being their part-time secretary while I was in high school, to doing community work with small groups of farm labor families. I worked with them during the pre-loan phase and when their low-interest loans were approved, I also worked along side them during the construction phase when they collectively built their own homes.”

As time passed, her father relented. Ibarra credits her mother for guiding her father to change his mind. She immediately applied to UC Santa Barbara where she majored in sociology.

The EOP program and the efforts of former Director of Admissions Bill Villa '69 were instrumental to her acceptance at UC Santa Barbara. “In 1970, when I transferred to UCSB as a junior, I didn't realize that I was part of UCSB's long-term goal of being a Hispanic-serving institution,” she said. “EOP's Bill Villa and Yolanda Garcia provided guidance, encouragement, and a supportive environment where we -- largely first-generation Hispanic students -- could gather. In retrospect, I realize how unique and purposeful that environment was.”

Soon after she began her academic career at UCSB, she met her future husband Tom Keyani, an Iranian Ph.D. student who loved photography.

Ibarra graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 1972 and went on to earn a master’s degree in city planning at MIT in 1974. “At MIT I was a HUD intern in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP),” she said. “In addition to our regular classes, the Department did a good job bringing the underrepresented students together on a regular basis, to make sure we were doing okay.”

Keyani Barbara Ibarra Keyani, '72 and Jose Hernández, '86 at the Dream Luncheon

In her DUSP class, Ibarra was one of three Hispanics accepted that year. “It was much, much harder than anything I could have imagined,” she said. “but it was also incredibly gratifying to listen to professors whose books I had read. Those two years were the most academically challenging years of my life.” 

Many decades after achieving her educational goals, Barbara Ibarra Keyani is proud of being part of the first wave of Hispanic students at UC Santa Barbara. She has lectured about her experience as a first generation Hispanic student at several conferences. This past weekend, she attended the Dream Luncheon, overjoyed to witness alumni like former astronaut José Hernández and current students gathered to celebrate the University’s achievements in creating opportunities for the community. “Congratulations UCSB, a Hispanic-serving university, for identifying and investing in generations of Hispanic youth," she said.



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