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Born Leader: Maritza Torres, SLP'16

Maritza TorresA first-generation college student, whose parents immigrated to the United States from Mexico, Maritza Torres dreamed of one day completing a degree at Harvard. And on May 26, 2016, that goal will be realized when she receives her master’s in education from the Ed School. Another of Torres’ goals — to transition into a principal role after graduation — will also be achieved when, after graduation, she returns to her hometown of Chicago to lead a K–8 charter school.

“I’m eager to work with amazing educators committed to the youth of Chicago,” she says. “I’m eager to dive into very important work as the leader of a K–8 school and look forward to collaborating with colleagues I have built relationships with while at HGSE for years to come.”

Some of those colleagues, Torres’ cohortmates in the School Leadership Program (SLP), praised Torres for her honest contributions to class, sharing her own experiences both as a student and an educator, and encouraging the exchange of feedback in an effort to help make herself and her classmates better leaders — and learners.      

“Maritza Torres stands out this year as a strong force in promoting the learning of her classmates in the School Leadership Program, says Lecturer Lee Teitel, director of SLP. “As this racially and economically diverse cohort has learned together the critical issues of becoming transformative leaders in schools, Maritza has regularly pushed the cohort to take responsibility for their own learning through pointing out ways that they could hold each other accountable for pushing the conversation deeper…. Her blend of passion and purpose, commitment to focused learning for herself and others, and deep connection to peers has contributed powerfully to the learning of classmates — a concept we call ‘stewardship.’  She exemplifies that spirit and we — the teaching staff and the peers that nominated her — are proud to give her this award.”

Upon learning that she had been honored with the Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award for SLP, Torres answered some questions about her time at the Ed School and beyond.

What is something that you learned at HGSE that you will take with you throughout your career in education? Something that truly sticks with me from a leadership exercise is to live every day as I want to be remembered when I pass; what values do I stand for? Also, to prioritize the people in my life that will be at my bedside in my last moments. This work is exhausting, and it is often easy to lose yourself in it; it’s so important to make time for yourself and the people you love.

Another key takeaway is from a colleague, David Hay; “What you don’t do is also an action. When you don’t act on injustice, you are complicit and are also engaging in injustice.” I take these powerful words with me as I embark on a fight for educational justice for urban students in Chicago.

How did you stay inspired throughout the year? I stayed inspired throughout the year by connecting with my mother often over the phone. She is my biggest fan and I am hers. Her strength, optimism, motivational words, and prayers always keep me going.

What advice do you have for next year’s students going through your program? Dive in immediately! Nevermind analyzing and assessing, the time flies by too quickly to spend much time evaluating. Live close to campus, it is so worth it to be close to the education school and be able to participate in all of the evening programing and classes! Also, make time for your cohort; you will learn the most from them.

What will you change in education and why? If I was able to accomplish one change in education that I think could make significant changes for equity in the education of students, it would be how we fund our schools. We truly need to reimagine K-12 education in the U.S.

If you could transport one person/place/thing from HGSE and/or Cambridge to your next destination, what would it be? If I could take something from Cambridge with me to Chicago, I would transport the Charles River. I am at peace when I drive by it, walk by it, and get to just soak it all in. What a beautiful view!

The number one, biggest surprise of the last year was … Being recognized by my classmates and program director for the Intellectual Contribution Award was an amazing surprise. I didn’t realize such an award existed, and I am beyond honored to have received it. I was surrounded by amazing colleagues in my program that contributed greatly to my learning and am humbled to have been selected for this award. I am in awe that my parents will watch me receive this award and accept my diploma with such an honor. Daughter to Mexican immigrant parents who were in search of a better life in the U.S., and as a first-generation college student, this year and this award have been beyond our wildest dreams. I took a leap of faith applying to the education school, and this recognition has been an amazing way to validate my belonging and honor my family’s sacrifices for my attainment of higher education.

Read about the other recipients of this year's Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award.