Published: May 8, 2017

Adriana AlvarezAs a teacher in El Paso, Texas, Adriana Alvarez saw pursuing a PhD as nearly impossible until one fateful day when a professor from the University of Texas at El Paso asked to visit and observe her classroom. 

The professor Rey Reyes, a CU Boulder graduate, was impressed, and he encouraged Alvarez to consider doctoral studies. He left a yellow post-it note on her desk with contact information for his PhD advisor, Kathy Escamilla. Alvarez held the note in hand, stunned. Throughout her studies as an undergraduate and Master's student in bilingual education at the University of Texas, she had studied and was inspired by the work of Kathy Escamilla, CU Boulder professor of education.

“I admired her research, relentless advocacy, and passion for the field of bilingual education,” Alvarez said. “I knew I had to try.”

As a PhD student in the CU Boulder School of Education, Alvarez continues to add to the work of mentors like Escamilla. Her research has been focused on working with Mexican immigrant families and their children. In her dissertation, “Senderos Familiares: Building Pedagogical Pathways to Advance Strength-based Perspectives and Inclusive Family Engagement in Bilingual Classrooms,” she combined her keen intellect with her passion for identifying and learning about new pedagogies designed to better understand the linguistic, social, and cultural strengths of immigrant families. Her work promotes biliteracy and it challenges the injustices faced by emerging bilingual students and immigrant families.

Alvarez grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico with close ties to the U.S.-Mexico border. Her family moved to El Paso when she was 11. As an emerging bilingual student and recent immigrant, she often felt isolated in school where students were reprimanded for speaking Spanish and encountered lower expectations and unkind attitudes from some teachers. 

“Although it was a difficult experience and process, I am convinced it has also become the motivation that drives my strong commitment to improve bilingual education programs and the educational experiences of linguistically and culturally diverse students,” she explained. “I became a bilingual teacher in El Paso to help emerging bilingual students see that their bilingualism is a wonderful characteristic that should be fostered and maintained.”

Next year, Alvarez will join the faculty at the University of Texas Austin as Assistant Professor of Bilingual/Bicultural Education. First as a teacher for 11 years and now as a researcher and instructor, she looks forward to continuing to “pay it forward” on behalf of bilingual students and immigrant families. 

“The gift I have received of attending CU Boulder to study with the most distinguished scholars, the financial support through the many scholarships and opportunities —Miramontes, Clifford Houston, Janette Klingner, student travel awards — and the support of many friendships and colleagues leaves my heart with the greatest gratitude and a strong commitment to give back through good work in the field,” she said. “I feel a strong responsibility to help students like me find pathways to lead them to well deserved opportunities.”

Adriana Alvarez

The Denver Channel featured Adriana: