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Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Chizhik Named Coordinator of SDSU's Liberal Studies Program

Estella Chizhik

San Diego State University’s Liberal Studies program has a new leader. Dr. Estella Chizhik, professor in the School of Teacher Education, has been named the new coordinator of the major, which provides a multidimensional education in a variety of disciplines for undergraduate students interested in teaching, the education field and other professions. 

Chizhik, who has more than 20 years of experience at SDSU training educators and conducting research in the teacher educator field, will assume the new role in January 2021. Informed & Inspired spoke with her about why she’s passionate about teacher education, her vision for the major and more.

What kind of impact has the teaching profession made on your life? 

Over the years, I’ve often told students whom I teach the story of growing up as an Army brat. My parents moved me from rural Missouri to the big city of Atlanta. My new seventh grade teacher — my first Black teacher — asked me in which reading group I should be… High? Middle? or Low? I was afraid to answer because I had been in the low reading groups at my previous schools, which so happened to be predominantly white. She answered for me and placed me in the high reading group. I worked hard that year because I didn’t want to let Ms. Marable or myself down. I am confident that I wouldn’t have attended college and, subsequently, graduate school if it weren’t for Ms. Marable. She positively affected my life and it is the reason why I have chosen teacher education as my career. I work to inspire future teachers — especially future teachers of color — to be like Ms. Marable and make a difference in the lives of the students they teach. 

What makes for an effective educator? 

Some people think good teaching is something you know when you see it. I believe effective teaching is determined by two metrics other than observable performance. First, I believe effective teachers are those who support students' achievement on measurable benchmarks. It’s great if you can greet each child with a fancy handshake at the door, but if those students aren’t performing well, then that teacher is not an effective teacher. Second, I believe an effective teacher challenges themselves in order to create a more positive learning environment for their students. Teaching isn’t easy and it requires constant development. Effective teachers continue to engage, learn and master the art and science of teaching. 

What excites you most about the Liberal Studies position? 

 My youngest son will be leaving to be a freshman at college next fall. I will be like many parents who are dropping their young adults off at SDSU. I will be sympathizing with these parents who will be leaving their precious young ones in our hands. I hope whatever university my son attends will welcome, embrace and support him while keeping him safe and helping him reach his fullest potential. I am mindful that parents who drop off their young adults at SDSU want the same thing from us. I am excited to create a program that is strong, rigorous, supportive and culturally relevant. I will endeavor for students to feel safe and be able to thrive in the Liberal Studies program. 

What’s your vision for Liberal Studies at San Diego State? 

One of my primary foci will be to build and maintain a sense of community. Community is essential now and always. Although we must currently be physically distant from each other, it is important for students to find safe ways to socially connect with their peers and faculty. My second focus is to support our first cohort of ITEP students through the program. They will be graduating next year with a teaching credential and a bachelor's degree. I will help to launch them to not only be successful, but to thrive in their chosen teaching careers. 

You recently launched Future Teachers of Color at SDSU. Can you tell us about that initiative and its importance? 

Thank you for giving me the platform to talk about this. In California, teachers of color make up only 20 percent of the teaching force, yet students of color make up over 50 percent of the school population. A 2015 study by Egalite and colleagues suggests that Black students’ achievement improves when they have at least one black teacher during their K-12 experience. This is not just statistics. This is my story too, thanks to Ms. Marable. I have made it my responsibility to build a pipeline for students of color to become teachers of color. 

What’s something you think all students should know about you? 

I have a wonderful and loving husband, two amazing sons (20 and 17) who are both applying to grad school and college, respectively. Pre-COVID-19, I earned a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, swam and I organized a summer camp for my sons and their friends where we produced a short film. During the pandemic, I have taken up baking and weight training in my garage to combat the effects of baking on my waistline. Most importantly, I am excited to meet my students and support them as they earn their degrees from SDSU.