Q&A with National Center for Urban Education’s new Executive Director
In February 2018 the National Center for Urban Education named Maria Luisa Zamudio, M.A. ’04, as the new executive director.
The National Center for Urban Education is grounded in social justice and works to cultivate and sustain innovative, resilient, and effective educators for urban schools and their communities.
José Alfredo Guerrero, program coordinator for the Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline, recently interviewed Zamudio in an effort to get to know her and explore some of her ideas, background, and experiences.
The following is an excerpt from the interview.
JG: Let’s get started with who you are! Your background. Where are you from and how did you come to work for Illinois State University?
MLZ: I am from Mexico. I was born and raised in Tampico, Tamaulipas, Mexico and I came here in my 30s to learn English in the year 2000. I got my bachelor’s in Mexico in business administration and I worked in banking for eight years. I lived in my hometown of Tampico, by the Gulf, and then moved to Mexico City and lived and worked there for four years. Then, I decided that I didn’t want to do banking anymore because I wanted to do something more meaningful and this is when I decided to come to the U.S. to learn English.
JG: Being that you’re originally from Mexico, does your family mostly reside here in the U.S. or do you have most of your family still in Mexico?
MLZ: My family is in Mexico. My mom, my sister, my brother, and his family—and I have one brother in Texas living in a border town with his wife. I also have a nephew who is in Germany right now. I’m the one who’s further north, and all my family is pretty south. Actually, my family is a group of Latino friends here. You know, you have to have that as well. It is important. I’ve been here 18years, being a part of this organization (ISU). I travel a lot and I have a good group of friends in Chicago and I’m always doing something either at school, advising, or study abroad.
JG: So, you came here as a student first?
MLZ: Yes, so I did my one year of English learning, then I learned about graduate programs and decided to do graduate school here at ISU in literature and culture. While I was doing that I started working in the bilingual program through a grant. That was something that I could relate with my former experience at the time—banking, numbers, budgeting, and all things money. This time, however, in a meaningful way because I had never worked in education before so I started to like it. I was mostly working with in-service teachers. There were so many teachers coming in from Spain and Latin American countries to teach in the Elgin area, and I worked directly with them and some of the teachers on campus as well.
JG: This was your first time working within the field of education and you decided to keep on this track based on that experience as a grad student?
That was my role at the time as a grad student. Then, I got involved with ILACHE (Illinois LAtino Council on Higher Education) and other organizations dealing with Latinos in higher education and I became very interested in that topic and decided that I wanted to go into administration for higher education. I went back to administration; I started my Ph.D. in administration in higher education in 2008 working with grants and such.
JG: After working through grad school and your Ph.D., what did you find yourself doing within ISU?
MLZ: I was lucky enough to be working on the grant with someone who is also Latino, Dr. George Torres. He actually started the bilingual program at ISU in working with grant programs and he opened that door for me. I consider him my mentor. After I graduated and was hired full time here at ISU in 2004 the grants ended, he retired, and we submitted more grants. We received two in 2011 and 2012, both from the U.S. Department of Education. I felt comfortable enough to say to myself, “This is your responsibility. You have two programs. $2.8 million in six years and now you have the chance to make a difference with that,” with paraprofessionals in this case. I started two programs in 2011–2012. The programs were meant to recruit and transition paraprofessionals into teachers. These are people who are already in the field working for so many years, but they do not have the credentials and licensure to be full-time teachers. We were seeking bilingual and English as a second language (ESL) paraprofessionals to become ESL/bilingual elementary educators. Our aim was for 102 participants with both grants, to be divided into cohorts.
JG: Did you reach your goal?
MLZ: We graduated 86 overall. We put some good people out there and some of them have moved on to working on their master’s and even their Ph.D.’s. We worked mostly in the northern Chicago area of Waukegan, Grayslake.
JG: That’s amazing! What are you excited about the most as you embark on this new adventure with the National Center for Urban Education?
MLZ: I’m excited because it’s a new challenge. I have worked with urban areas, Latino students, communities, and there is so much that I need and want to learn. If you don’t keep learning and growing, than you’re dead. I am not starting this program; I am joining a program that is already established and is already an amazing program. I can bring my experience and my new ideas, a togetherness that reflects, “Oh! This what I think. What do you think? Let’s bring something new together.” Also, the institutionalizing of the program is something that I would like to be able to try to do. I am excited to ask questions, to come and sit and get to know everyone, but I’m still teaching and have to finish this before I can get started.
JG: What are you teaching?
MLZ: Multicultural literature education. It’s a course that everyone needs to take in the college of education, but mostly students who are doing their ESL/bilingual certification. We talk about the diversity of schools and within schools, how teachers need to work with parents and communities, and how to best serve these communities as teachers. We talk about how the population is changing. Diversity in all ways, in terms of gender, sexual orientation, languages, and such. How these changes affect their teaching and how to be prepared to be open to all of these differences within the classroom.
JG: When I first met you, back during the interview process, you mentioned confianza as being an important part of your work process. What exactly does that mean for you within this role?
MLZ: Something that I learned in my previous job is just that—“ganarte la confianza.” I know universities and communities can work differently, but we have to work towards gaining each other’s respect. I think it’s something that is important for me that I gained culturally. Getting to know who you’re going to be in partnership with, in business, is important. You have to build that relationship, face to face, over the phone, even. Human contact is super important. If you don’t make the time and allow yourself to do that, you will not build that confianza and that applies to your team, your partners, districts, teachers, students, everyone. You have to be personable and approachable. I hope I can bring a sense of that to the team, too.
Zamudio will be traveling to Mexico to visit her family before she begins her post as executive director in July.