SOMERS — Associate Professor Adrienne Viramontes wrote a list of workplace skills on a chalkboard, talking with students about what kinds of skills they need or have for the jobs of their dreams.
She was visiting Professor Linda K. Crafton’s class at University of Wisconsin-Parkside, 900 Wood Road, and Crafton remembers the emotion she saw in students’ faces: “Yeah, I could do that.”
Viramontes, who already tends to get strong student evaluations for her Parkside classes, is receiving the UW System’s 2015 Outstanding Women of Color in Education Award.
Viramontes, the first in her family to go to college and a granddaughter of Mexican immigrants, found some direction as a graduate student at Purdue University-Calumet when she started studying autoethnography.
“Sometimes, in working-class families there’s not a lot of early questioning about what do you want to do with yourselves,” she said. “I would say being familiar with that method allowed me to see a future for myself.”
Autoethnography is essentially the idea that connecting a researcher’s personal experience with other research can deepen understanding. Viramontes had seen herself as white and used the method to better embrace her Hispanic heritage.
“How is it possible that a third-generation Mexican-American came to understand herself as white?” she said. “I had a terrible understanding of racial identity.”
Viramontes, an associate professor of communication at Parkside, teaches on various communications issues and methods, including autoethnography.
Using autoethnography, one of her students reflected on all of the times in her life where she learned anxiousness, recording it in her journal.
“She was really able to see how she was more mimicking the patterns of family members,” Viramontes said.
Describing Viramontes as a brilliant colleague who loves teaching, Crafton said, “I just think she gets our population.”
“Many of the students are first-generation college students,” Crafton added. “Our students are local and they also have working-class backgrounds.”
What’s next for Viramontes? She recently wrote a chapter for a book on diversity in college classrooms and, next, she’s thinking of studying the difference between Mexican-Americans in the Midwest and Southwest.
“I think that many things have changed,” she said. “It’s been now two and three generations that more people have been born and raised and permanently live in the Midwest.”
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