What is your Hispanic Heritage: Puerto Rican
What area of Florida do you live in: Valrico, FL (Hillsborough County)
What is your profession: Spanish Instructor / Undergraduate Director of Spanish at USF
Meet Roberto and other Lideres at the Hispanic Heritage Celebration at 3rd Annual FORD Taste Of Latino Festival on Sunday, Oct 17th @ Centro Asturiano! (www.TasteofLatino.com)
Latin Times Magazine: Tell us about what you do for a living and how you got into it
Roberto: I have been teaching in higher education full time for 11 years, although I started earlier as a Teaching Assistant at USF. For the past 8 years, I have been the Coordinator of the Spanish program at USF Sarasota-Manatee (USFSM), where I developed a Minor in Spanish, and directed a Study Abroad program to Mérida, Yucatán. I also helped found and currently advise the Latin American Student Association at USFSM. After the consolidation of the USF system, I have had the chance of collaborating with my colleagues in the Tampa and St. Petersburg, particularly now as the Undergraduate Director of the consolidated Spanish program.
As far as how I got into teaching, I owe too many people who have helped me along the way. I must start by recognizing the essential role Ms. Patsy Sánchez and her late-husband, Prof. José Feliciano-Butler had in my life, as they recruited me to go to USF as a high schooler in Puerto Rico, and awarded me with a full scholarship. I am just one of many Latinx professionals in Tampa Bay (and probably around the country and the world) who owe both of them the chance of coming to USF to pursue our education. I also owe a lot of gratitude to my dear colleague and mentor, Dr. Madeline Cámara, who introduced me to the world of literature and language education at USF as an undergraduate student. Along her, Dr. Pablo Brescia, Prof. Maritza Chinea-Thornberry, and others at the Spanish section of the USF World Languages Department were instrumental in helping me evolve in my career. I must not leave out two very dear friends and mentors I had at Western Kentucky University, Dr. Laura McGee and Prof. Susann Davis— the two most talented and caring language educators I have ever met, to this day. They taught me to truly become invested in perfecting my teaching, and to see this profession as a craft that needs to be worked on constantly.
Latin Times Magazine: In your industry, what would you say separates you from your competition
Roberto: If anything, the beauty of higher education, and education as a whole, is that excellence does not lie in competition, but in your ability to be part of a larger community whose main mission is to make the world a better place, and to help people achieve their greatest potential. I am proud to say that I feel I am part of the USF Community and do my best to advance its mission— all from my corner as a language educator.
Latin Times Magazine: During Covid-19, tell us about your Biggest Challenge/obstacle and how you overcame it/or are overcoming it
Roberto: The greatest challenge has been, honestly, to work with so many students who have been negatively impacted by the pandemic in so many ways. To be a source of understanding, of energy, and hope to students who have gone through so many challenges in the last year and a half has been as rewarding as it has been difficult. We are all navigating this new world, trying to stay physically and mentally healthy, worrying about our loved ones, so adding another layer to that by looking out for the well-being of our students (and our colleagues and friends at work) is very taxing, but worth it.
Latin Times Magazine: Tell us about your biggest achievement, and how you achieved it (Covid or non-related)
Roberto: My biggest achievement? There are still many projects that I need to work on, so I don’t feel ready to answer that question. I would say that I am very proud of being part a community of Latinx educators in higher education here in Tampa Bay, and that it is an honor to work in my alma mater (USF), alongside so many of those that first met me as their student.
Latin Times Magazine: What is next for you? What can people expect to see from you?
Roberto: I am in the process of earning my doctoral degree in Higher Education Administration at USF, so there are many dreams and projects on the horizon once I am done with my studies!
Latin Times Magazine: What does being a U.S. Citizen mean to you?
Roberto: It means being part of a nation made up of people from all over the world that are united by a love for liberty and justice for all!
Latin Times Magazine: What is your opinion of the state of affairs in our nation?
Roberto: While the level of political polarization today is quite concerning, it is my hope that, at the end of the day, people will come together to find solutions to our common problems. There is too much at stake not to overcome our differences and work for a better future for our communities and our nation.
Latin Times Magazine: What words of encouragement can you offer?
Roberto: Perseverance, curiosity, and empathy— let those three traits guide you through life, and everything will work out for you in the end!
Latin Times Magazine: What is YOUR comida Latina favorita?
Roberto: ¡Arroz con gandules y lechón asado! ¡El espíritu de Puerto Rico hecho comida!