Celeste Alsina graduated from Denison University last spring with a bachelor’s degree in communication and educational studies and a minor in Spanish. She received the university’s Distinguished Leadership Award and Clyde Shumaker Award for Excellence in Communication in 2015. She was a senior interviewer in Denison’s Admissions Office, and as part of her studies, she volunteered for several educational programs in Ohio. This fall, she travels to Maracaibo, Venezuela thanks to a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Grant.
When did you first develop an interest in education?
When I started college, I was undecided on my major and had no intention of being an educational studies major. My parents are both educators—my mother teaches art to children, and my father teaches Spanish to adults and prepares individuals for the GED—yet despite this connection it had not crossed my mind that I might also have it in me to be an educator. In my senior year of high school, I was awarded a Posse Scholarship, a four-year full-tuition scholarship to Denison University. This meant that I would spend the rest of my high school and college years beside nine other Posse students. My Posse became attuned to the possibility of a future for me in education before I did. They would subtly hint, or insist, that educational studies was the major for me. At the end of my sophomore year at Denison, I reflected on my service work, extracurriculars and role within my Posse, and I soon realized I had dedicated myself to learning from and motivating those around me. I was drawn to the educational studies program at Denison because it offered opportunities to practice theories in the classroom setting and to view the education system through a critical lens.
Would you describe your field work while you were in school?
I had several experiences teaching and learning in the communities of Newark and Heath, Ohio. I first worked with a 1st grade classroom at Benjamin Franklin Elementary, specifically in reading and math. It was my first time executing lesson plans and leading group work in a classroom. The following year I worked with Newark High School students in a program called Closing the Achievement Gap, which works to advance high-potential students toward graduation. My final project, Born to Read, placed me at a Montessori school that aims to increase the literacy practices of children from infancy to elementary school.
What was the nature of your professional presentations at various conferences?
In February 2014, I traveled to the New Voices, New Perspectives Conference at the University of North Texas to give a presentation on an autoethnography entitled “The Silencing of Anger: A Narrative of a Mother-Daughter Relationship within a Triangulated Family Dynamic.” This project combined evocative and reflective pieces to make sense of my family’s dynamics and the behaviors I had witnessed in others and myself. In May of that year, I presented on a panel of researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who had explored the topic of masculinity through ethnography. My research paper and ethnography in communication studies, “Intersections of Culture, Gender, and Sexuality: Negotiating the Evolution of Roles,” explored how sexuality and gender are interconnected and how their performance can evolve throughout a lifetime. I interviewed a man who identified as a heterosexual in the earlier part of his life and came out as a homosexual later. The interview reveals the compromises he made of himself to fit the discourses surrounding him—discourses of Latino ethnicity, religion, family and profession.
What do you think are some of the greatest challenges facing the educational field today? How might this impact your work?
There is a need for students to receive differentiated instruction and scaffolding in the classroom. Due to large class sizes, budget cuts and other obstacles, often students who need material presented in an alternate way or extra time on material go unattended. An area that is particularly at risk because of this lack of attention is literacy; there are students who enter the classroom without having had much exposure to books or vocabulary. I want to work toward guiding my students to develop a love of reading and learning by working one on one with them and creating curriculum that takes into account students’ backgrounds and learning differences.
What is the focus of your Fulbright grant?
I will be working as an English teaching assistant for a binational center in Maracaibo, Venezuela. At binational centers, individuals are able to learn the English language and American culture. I will teach classes with students of all ages and give presentations to expand students’ understanding of the United States. The secondary project I proposed is to create community dance groups through which students can learn and teach dance. I am also interested in learning traditional dances of the region.
Were there people or activities at Parker that influenced the choices you’ve made since graduating?
While at Parker, I found my voice as a learner and community member; because of this, I arrived at college ready to engage with my campus and community. It was the stellar education I received that prompted research projects on equity in education and an interest in college access. While at Parker, I served as one of the heads of a committee, Students United, and guided conversations on diversity and identity. I continued to participate in similar conversations throughout college and worked toward creating safe spaces on campus for such conversations to take place, particularly for Latino students. I started performing Latin dance at Parker; a group of students would get together a couple days a week and come up with Latin dance choreographies to perform at Morning Ex. I found dance to be a powerful way of bringing a community together. I founded Sazón Latin Dance Group during my first year at Denison: more than 20 dancers learned, choreographed and performed dances such as salsa, tango, samba and more. While abroad, I hope to continue bringing students together through this outlet.
What are some of your favorite Parker memories?
I greatly appreciated the traditions at Parker, such as class retreats, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Democrafest. One of my favorite memories was participating in Homes of Hope, a trip that took place during Cookies. We went to Ensenada, Mexico and helped build homes for three families. I formed relationships with the other students and teachers on the trip, but most important, with the family we were visiting. Getting to know the parents and children was a privilege. The moment I remember most was serving as the translator for the group. I am fluent in Spanish and English, and it was during our closing circle, when I had to translate each person’s words of gratitude, that I was most moved. In only a few days, each group had come to appreciate the other, despite, for the most part, having a language barrier.
What other ways do you enjoy spending your time?
I am attempting to get through a reading list before I start my grant. Right now I am reading Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie. I have also made art throughout my life, probably thanks to my mom, and lately I have gotten into knitting scarves.