B.A. in Spanish, 1971; Ed.D. in Educational Administration, 2009
School of Education
November 1, 2009
Educator’s Career Reflects Personal Commitment to Helping Immigrant Students Pursue Educational Goals
Little did the parents of Lilia Tanakeyowma know that when they said goodbye to their daughter, as a soon-to-be 13 year old, and her younger sister, and had them board a plane at the Havana airport bound for the United States that Lilia would eventually earn a doctoral degree in a field that defines her identity.
Lilia and her family were ultimately reunited and, after living in Florida and Michigan during their first two years in the U.S., they relocated to California, where Lilia graduated from Foothill High School in Tustin.
Like many immigrants in the U.S., Lilia’s parents had high hopes for what this country could offer their children. But like most immigrants, her parents were at a loss when it came to guiding her through the maze of early college preparation and the college application process. However, Lilia credits her attentive and persistent high school teachers for not only helping her attain a proficient command of the English language but also guiding her towards college.
Lilia entered UC Irvine as a freshman in 1968 and graduated three short years later with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish Literature and a job as an elementary bilingual teacher in the Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD). Lilia stayed with SAUSD for nearly 17 years.
In addition to her educational service in Santa Ana, Lilia created time to contribute her talents in other locations:
- teaching under Madeline Hunter at University Elementary School in the UCLA campus;
- directing an Educational Talent Search program at CSU, Fullerton;
- serving as executive director for the Orange County Coalition for Immigrant Rights, a project of the Orange County Human Relations Commission; and
- serving as an Executive Assistant for the Fourth Supervisory District in Orange County.
Dr. Tanakeyowma earned her Ed.D. degree this past August. Her dissertation, Student Engagement among Immigrant and Non-Immigrant Youth: Mexican Descent Youth in a California High School, explored the experiences of 31 tenth grade students in one of SAUSD’s largest comprehensive high schools. The focus of her research stemmed from her experience both as an immigrant teenager herself and as a young teacher in Santa Ana of a mainly immigrant population, as well as from her passion to discover the socio-cultural factors that help Latinos succeed in school.
For the past 11 years, Dr. Tanakeyowma has been an administrator at Santa Ana College. She currently serves as the Dean of Student Affairs at Santa Ana College, the community college that is the higher education destination for the majority of the graduates of the district in which she began her career thirty-eight years ago. She often states that although she has had a long and diverse professional career she has not gone too far: the elementary school where she began her career in education is only five blocks away from the campus of Santa Ana College.
Dr. Tanakeyowma’s three daughters are proud that their mother serves as an example of what immigrants can achieve in this country. Like her, they’ve pursued higher education, and all have professional careers in fields that feed their own passion.