From Venezuela to MCLA, prof aims to inspire


Dr. Mariana Bolivar's journey to MCLA - where she's the newest assistant professor of modern language - began in Venezuela, after she left her small hometown in that country to study law in its capital of Caracas.

When she no longer could afford the cost of the private university she attended, she headed to the smaller community of Mérida to continue her education at a public institution, University of the Andes. There, she met her ex-husband, a backpacker from California, who brought her to this country. Unable to speak any English, she focused on learning the language.

"I enrolled in English classes to improve my English, and soon I realized my true calling was not law, but literature, and above all, literary criticism," Bolivar explained.

In 2005, she graduated from Colorado State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, with a concentration in Afro-American literature. With her parents' encouragement, she decided to earn a master's degree. Because she desired to reconnect with her culture, Bolivar entered the University's foreign languages and literature program.

"Without having a set idea about a specific specialization, I began to explore the possibilities presented to me. Soon enough, I realized I was drawn to and understood best issues of race and gender, particularly those in the Hispanic Caribbean," she said.

Bolivar completed her master's degree in 2007, in Hispanic Caribbean literature and culture, with concentrations in ethnic studies and race and gender theory.

Motivated by the support and encouragement of her professors and others, Bolivar next decided to pursue a Ph.D. in 20th and 21st century Latin American literature at the University of Colorado, where she completed her studies this past spring.

"I look forward to serving a population of students who deserve to have the same chance I had, and the same encouragement I received from my professors," Bolivar said. "The culture of serving and fostering students' success is contagious at MCLA. I am glad to be here to experience and take part in this unique ethic of education."

This fall, she's teaching elementary Spanish, levels one and two, and she is passionate about taking her students on this academic journey.

"I always tell my students, I already know Spanish and this is your chance - take it! My objective as a Spanish teacher is to inspire my students toward self-guided education and to take charge of their own learning experiences through the power of communication and the sharing of knowledge."

One day, Bolivar hopes to teach a course on the redefinition of the Afro-Caribbean experience in the United States, and the revival of a shared cultural identity through literature, performance and film. She's also interested in collaborating with other faculty who teach interdisciplinary studies, women's studies, philosophy and film. This course could be a first-year seminar that focuses on Latin American and the Hispanic Caribbean, to expand students' intercultural knowledge of the global society.

Having taught the Spanish language, culture and literature for more than eight years, Bolivar believes that an effective teacher understands the knowledge students already have, and draws upon that knowledge to motivate and stimulate their desire to learn.

"For me, teaching is a learning experience. Instead of merely approaching a text through reading and/or listening, students can experience the language by engaging in communication and simultaneously exploring cultural productions in Hispanic societies, in order to challenge and provoke them to think critically and become more cognizant of their own language and culture."