As Western Carolina University’s chief diversity officer, it’s the job of Ricardo Nazario-Colón to work to ensure a more culturally diverse campus community. Nazario-Colón recently took his commitment to diversity to a new level by establishing an endowed scholarship fund designed to support students from traditionally underrepresented groups seeking careers in teaching and educational leadership.
Created through gifts and pledges totaling $30,845 over the next four years, the Colón-López Family Endowed Scholarship honors his mother, Francisca Colón-López, who dedicated her life to caring for others despite not achieving her dream of becoming a nurse. Born in Puerto Rico, she was unenrolled from school in the ninth grade to work in the family fields, but she still valued education and ensured that all her children graduated from high school and supported those of her children who went on to attend college.
Nazario-Colón called the notion of providing financial assistance toward the education of individuals not yet born “a significant responsibility.”
“Education has been a life-changing journey for me, and what more extraordinary gift can I share with others than the gift of education? Honoring my mother with this gift is appropriate because she has been my rock and my stone. She has been my greatest champion,” he said. “I often think that she could not reach her ambition of becoming a nurse, but she found rich fulfillment in caring for others as a home health attendant, a career she took pride in and utilized to model a work ethic and deep family values.”
When fully funded, the scholarship will provide financial support to one undergraduate student and one graduate student per year studying in the College of Education and Allied Professions. Preference will be given to undergraduate students participating in the Call Me MISTER, STEP or similar programs aimed at diversifying teacher recruitment pipelines, and preference for graduate students in WCU’s doctoral program in educational leadership from traditionally underrepresented groups in school and educational leadership.
“I have had many teachers in my educational career who have been pivotal in my educational journey. I remain grateful for their support, guidance and belief in my potential to succeed. These great educators primarily represent individuals from underrepresented groups, and I could not have imagined my success without their support and sometimes intervention,” Nazario-Colón said. “Ensuring that we continue to provide opportunities for the next generation of individuals from underrepresented communities is a personal mission because they make a difference when they are present.”
Nazario-Colón said he had never considered establishing an endowed scholarship until he was approached by Jamie Raynor, vice chancellor for advancement. “I was both honored and grateful. I understand now that I did not need an invitation to such a thing, but sometimes when being the first, there are many things we don't believe we can achieve,” he said.
“I feel great about it. Knowing that I am helping others is hugely empowering, and I feel happy and more fulfilled. I feel privileged to have this sense of obligation, and I feel that I'm living in a way that is true to my beliefs. Like being the first college graduate in my family, creating a scholarship reminds my friends and family of causes they are passionate about and would like to support. Given my journey, I now feel well-placed to identify causes beyond this scholarship that could benefit my community and others. Perhaps my experience and fulfillment can help others feel inspired,” he said.
Kim Winter, dean of WCU’s College of Education and Allied Professions, said that the Colón-López Family Endowed Scholarship will assist the college in its efforts to increase the diversity of teachers and other professionals in the education field.
“The landscape of the K-12 teaching environment across the U.S. lends itself to being predominantly white and mostly female. Male teachers are not nearly as common and male teachers of color are rare. When the majority of students in public schools are students of color and only 18 to 20 percent of our teachers are teachers of color, we have an urgent need to act,” Winter said.
“There is strong evidence that students of color benefit from having teachers and leaders who look like them as role models. They also benefit from the classroom dynamics that diversity creates. And, we must remember that it is equally important for our white students to see teachers of color in leadership roles – in their classrooms and in their communities,” she said.
Nazario-Colón joined WCU in June 2016 as the institution’s first chief diversity officer. He has been influential in the university establishing a U.S. Latinx studies minor and the Latinx Appreciation Student Organization hosting the inaugural Southeastern Latinx Student Leadership Conference in April 2019. He also represented the western region of the state as one of three Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poets of the North Carolina Poetry Society from 2018 to 2019.
To make a contribution to the Colón-López Family Endowed Scholarship, visit https://www.givecampus.com/campaigns/30501/donations/new.
For more information on creating an endowment to help students pursue their higher education goals or to provide programmatic support, contact the WCU Division of Advancement at 828-227-7124 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit give.wcu.edu.