Scecina ENL students hear inspirational stories

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Susana Rivera-Mills is provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs at Ball State University. Her research focuses on Latino communities, Spanish language and culture, issues in sociolinguistics, as well as online teaching and learning.

As Scecina’s English as a New Language teacher, Amy Fix wants her students to picture all they can achieve.

One way she is doing that is by bringing in speakers who are Latino or of Hispanic heritage who have inspirational life stories. They have overcome the challenges of being non-English speakers to become successful in the United States.

“I want the students to see people like them in all different types of careers,” said Mrs. Fix. “I want them to believe that they can become whatever they can dream of and to know that is possible.”

Susana Rivera-Mills certainly has an inspiring life story to tell students

She moved to a California fishing town from El Salvador with her parents and younger brother when she was 12. None of them spoke English.

“It was a very challenging time for me,” she said. “I had to go to school during a time when we did not have bilingual schools. We did not have ESL or ENL classes.

“I tell people I still don’t know how I learned English because I didn’t have a lot of help. What made a huge difference for me, honestly, was my teachers, both Latinos. They took pity on me, they helped me out, they bothered to ask me how I was doing.”

She spoke these words recently to Mrs. Fix’s students via Microsoft Teams from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., where she is provost and executive vice president for academic affairs.

She earned her bachelor’s in Spanish and a master’s in Spanish linguistics from the University of Iowa. Her doctorate is from the University of New Mexico. Her research focuses on Latino communities, Spanish language and culture, issues in sociolinguistics, as well as online teaching and learning.

As a first-generation college student whose first language is not English, Dr. Rivera-Mills understands how the power of education can transform the lives of students like her.

“I work to eliminate barriers for students,” she said. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years nearly. I have found a lot of things that need fixing (in education). That’s what I’m doing here at Ball State.”

She said the number of Latino students at Ball State has increased since she came into her position three years ago.

Dr. Rivera-Mills encouraged Scecina ENL students to apply to college and for financial aid.

“The amazing thing is I did not have to take out a loan. I did not have college debt,” she said. “College was covered for me. So, there are lots of opportunities for 90 percent, if not more, of your college to be covered.”

Mrs. Fix, who was a University of Notre Dame ENL Hernandez Fellow, said Dr. Rivera-Mills brought exactly the right message she wanted her students to hear.

“The key point I think she made: You can dream big and go to college without accumulating debt, but you have to take the initiative when opportunities are presented to you. It doesn’t just get handed to you. I love also that she pays it forward and back. What a treasure she was today!”

By Beth Murphy, Director of Marketing Communications

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