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Distinguished Service Award: Julia Curry Rodriguez

Photo: Thomas Sanders, '15 MFA Photography

Photo: Thomas Sanders, ’15 MFA Photography

The Distinguished Service Award recognizes a faculty member for exemplary service in a leadership capacity to the university and/or community or profession that brings credit to San Jose State University. This year’s winner comes from the College of Social Sciences.

She will be honored at the 15th Annual Faculty Service Recognition and Awards Luncheon on March 11, 2014. Tickets are available for purchase. 

“I don’t want to just tell my students that I believe in them,” says Julia Curry Rodriguez, assistant professor of Mexican-American Studies and recipient of this year’s Distinguished Service Award.  “I want to show them that I do. You have to give them hope.”

For the undocumented, minority, at-risk and first-generation students Curry works with as an educator and activist, hope can make all the difference. “There are so many students who come here with a background like mine—students who are economically disadvantaged or are of color who go to college and feel like imposters,” says Curry. “They should never feel like that.”

Curry is a dedicated advocate of undocumented students at San Jose State and across California. She serves as advisor of Student Advocates for Higher Education (SAHE), the student support group for undocumented immigrants. She also works with AB 540 students and their families to address their unique challenges, assisting them with admissions and personally helping them bridge language and cultural barriers.

“My greatest rewards as an educator are working with students and the community, and speaking with others about the rights of undocumented students,” says Curry. “It is my responsibility to fill my students with the knowledge that they can do anything that they want. Everything these students hear in the media about people like them is that they don’t know how to succeed, and I totally disagree with that. I hold up a mirror and say, ‘Look at yourself and be proud.’”

“Through her work as an activist and educator, Curry has been able to help create a climate of respect, tolerance, and an appreciation for diversity not only at SJSU, but in our community,” writes one of her nominators. “She has brought attention to some of the most difficult issues facing our world today. She is a true advocate and leader in the fight for equality and social justice.”

“Having the opportunity to work at a campus that is filled with dedicated students who aspire to greatness is so extremely fulfilling,” says Curry, who continues to mentor her students in their careers even after they graduate, writing more than 100 letters of recommendation each year.

“One of my students who is now in graduate school at Texas A&M told me, ‘I want to be like you. I want to teach what you teach,’” says Curry with a smile. “And I said, ‘Go get a Ph.D. Then come back and take my job.’”