After more than a decade embedded in her postsecondary studies, Christine Zabala is looking forward to more of the same — continuing to work with college students and teaching to transform higher education.
I continue to feel passion for working in higher education, because there is still so much work left to be done. No institution is perfect and working in higher education to break down barriers to success for marginalized students is critical."
“Earning my PhD has been the culmination of a very long time in higher education —11 years, in fact,” she said. “It feels like the end of a very long journey, in one regard, but the beginning of a lifelong journey in higher education that is just starting.”
Zabala completed both her undergraduate and master’s degrees in English and Literature in Texas, where she’s from. As a master’s student and graduate instructor, Zabala discovered she loved working with college students, as a teacher and a writing tutor. After spending a year as a professional writing tutor and adjunct instructor, she decided to return to higher education to earn a doctoral degree in education, so she could further develop her practice in working with college students.
“I was drawn to CU Boulder because of their emphasis on social justice as well as the high level of research from this institution,” she said.
As a doctoral graduate in Literacy Studies in the School of Education, Dr. Zabala is commended for her deeply reflexive approach to teaching, one of many reasons she was selected for the Outstanding Graduate Award for Teaching by the School of Education faculty.
In her time at CU Boulder, she led and supported several research projects, coordinated CU Boulder’s Online Composition Hub, and was a graduate instructional leader for the Center for Teaching and Learning.
It’s not surprising that some of Zabala’s most impactful memories of her doctoral studies stems from teaching. In particular, she enjoyed and grew as an educator by teaching School and Society, EDUC 3013, a required diversity course for Arts and Sciences undergraduates and the School of Education’s most-enrolled class.
“Doing the important work with students of unpacking systems of oppression in the U.S. school system, exploring our complicity in those systems, and working on how to change them has been a learning and growing experience both for myself and for the folks enrolled in my courses,” she said. “The experiences and conversations from those courses are one of the things I value most from my interactions here.”
Zabala’s dissertation, “The Role of Queer Literacies in a Required Diversity Course,” incorporated that growth by studying her own teaching and investigating the impact of curricular and instructional innovations related to critical pedagogies and queer literacies in EDUC 3013. Her work explores how failure and discomfort in teaching and learning can and must be reframed as necessary aspects of undergraduate courses, particularly when the content requires students and instructors to do the vulnerable work of critical examination of self, others, and systemic oppression.
Zabala’s passion for transforming higher education has been an undercurrent throughout her decade-long studies, but that work is ever-present and ongoing.
“I continue to feel passion for working in higher education, because there is still so much work left to be done,” she said. “No institution is perfect and working in higher education to break down barriers to success for marginalized students is critical.
“As the child of an immigrant from Mexico, I know how the education system continues to function as a space for white supremacy in many regards, and it will take educators who are dedicated to making systemic changes to shift that reality.”