Q&A with Mara Welsh Mahmood

How did you first get involved with UC Links?

I first got involved with UC Links when it started in 1996. I was a graduate student at UC Riverside and there were two faculty members, Mary Gauvain in the Psychology Department and Sharon Duffy in the School of Education, who were interested in starting a UC Links program.

We partnered with a local elementary school, working with a sixth grade teacher, the principal and another school administrator. I taught the undergraduate course and I was the site coordinator for the after-school program. So I did everything from crawling around on the ground to try to wire computers to working with the students on the computers after school. I always joke that everything that I know about Microsoft Word, I learned from sixth graders. They knew way more than I did about how to use all of its fun features.

I finished my PhD in developmental psychology in 1997 and jumped at the chance to work as the Director of Site Development and Evaluation in the UC Links Statewide Office at Berkeley.

You’ve been involved for quite some time. Can you share some moments that keep you energized?

Those moments happen every time that I'm out visiting programs, whether it be in an undergraduate course or after-school program. Witnessing the powerful transformations that occur among students is very moving for me -- especially how transformative it can be for students to experience a non-hierarchical learning environment, shifting traditional roles of power, and as a result experience the roles of expert and novice as fluid and changing based on activity. When I talk with undergraduates, they tell me about how much they learn from working with the P-12 children and youth. The kinds of things that they’re quoted as saying in the reflections from our site visits describe these realizations and are things that I've heard firsthand since starting my journey with UC Links in 1996 -- and still can still move me to tears!

That's a super powerful experience for the P-12 students, as well – to be knowledgeable in that sense and to be seen as experts and that they are the ones who are in some ways teaching the undergraduates about how these programs work. Oftentimes, the P-12 students participate in these programs throughout the whole academic year, but a new group of undergraduates starts participating each quarter, or each semester. And so the P-12 students are the ones who are teaching the undergraduates what it means to participate in the culture of this after-school program.

So much of what keeps me going is the community – the leaders at the GSE and UCOP who are committed to this work and have supported it for almost 25 years and the passion and the commitment of everybody within the UC Links network to doing this work.


About Mara Welsh Mahmood

Mara has been involved with UC Links since 1996, when she was a graduate student at UC Riverside, teaching the UC Links undergraduate practicum course and serving as the site coordinator for the UC Links program at a local elementary school.

Upon earning her PhD in developmental psychology in 1997, Mara joined the UC Links statewide office as the Director of Site Development and Evaluation, where she stayed until 2004, when budget cuts forced the program to eliminate staffing. She went on to teach at UC Davis and worked as a consultant with the Glen Price Group, where she evaluated 21st Century Community Learning Centers (after-school programs); facilitated strategic planning projects; and developed grant proposals for local and statewide agencies and organizations. Mara has studied and written about learning within and across multiple contexts including K-12, higher education, after-school, as well as out-of-school learning in São Paulo, Brazil. She returned as Associate Director of UC Links in 2018.

In her spare time, Mara enjoys going to the beach, spending time with family and friends, and walking with her dog. She tends to a flock of plastic pink flamingos and has been known to “flock” people in the dead of night with other mothers, planting the flamingos in people’s yards for special occasions.