As 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. He encouraged Alvarez to consider doctoral studies and left a post-it note on her desk with contact information for his PhD advisor, Kathy Escamilla, CU Boulder professor of education.
Alvarez held the note in hand, stunned. Throughout her studies as an undergraduate and master's student in bilingual education, she had studied and was inspired by the work of Escamilla. She said, "I knew I had to try."
Now, 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, promoting biliteracy and challenging the injustices faced by emerging bilingual students.
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 sometimes unkind attitudes.
"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 University of Texas Austin as assistant professor of bilingual and bicultural education. First as a teacher and now as a researcher and instructor, she looks forward to continuing to pay it forward.
"I feel a strong responsibility to help students like me find pathways to lead them to well deserved opportunities."