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Lisa Lazare: Changing the face of STEM

  • Lisa Lazare

Lisa Lazare knew she wanted to see more people who looked like her in the math and science fields. She started out by teaching, to inspire students in her classroom. Now, she's fighting for equity in a different way.

Explain what led you to care deeply about educational equity. What personal values, experiences or beliefs inform this?

My passion for educational equity started when I was in college. I was a biology major, and by the time I was taking upper-level science courses, I was one of few — if not the only —  black women. I didn’t see any black science professors or teachers throughout school. I realized this is a systemic issue: that women and people of color are not pursuing STEM. I wanted to join Teach For America to inspire others to pursue STEM careers. I had a great high school science teacher, and that’s why I wanted to pursue science in college. I wanted to be that for others.

Teaching high school chemistry led me to see much more of what’s holding back students of color, poor students, and undocumented students. I realized that improving students’ experiences and outcomes weren't just about getting a great teacher — there was so much more at play. I got involved with LEE to tear back the layers of what is causing inequity across racial lines and socioeconomic lines.

The Policy and Advocacy Summer Fellowship (PASF) took me to the next level of understanding how policy is formed and executed at the state level. It was so important to learn power-mapping and root-cause analysis to give me a deeper lens to see where I can have an impact and dismantle systems of oppression in education. For me, it all ties back to having better teachers and more diverse representation. But now I know where this issue falls in the policy landscape.

How has LEE helped you in your mission to end educational inequity?

LEE has given me the lens to think about education equity outside of the classroom. I was confused about how to make an impact outside of the classroom, but now I understand how to think deeply about my identity and use my unique perspective as a tool in policy and advocacy work. I can see now the different ways that education intersects with politics, and why it’s critical to have voices advocating for students on all levels.

Tell us about your current role. What’s a typical day like? What is the impact you’re having on educational equity?

I am an outreach director at Educators For Excellence. We advocate for teacher voice in the policies that impact their students. It’s the perfect intersection of what’s important to me and what interests me. I get to train teachers to be advocates and help others understand why it’s important for teachers to be represented in policy and politics. It’s so empowering for me to see other teachers realize their ability to influence policy and to raise their voices in this work.

Right now, I am working on a policy agenda developed and voted on by teachers. We are advocating for more guidance counselors and mental health care in schools, and better professional development for teachers to help schools serve students who have experienced trauma.

What is your vision for ending educational inequity in the U.S.?

What we really need is a breakdown between what we believe and what is. There are a lot of stories and narratives being told about our students that are not true. I don’t believe that we are getting the full story of what is happening with our students.

We need to build relationships to get more policymakers to come into schools and get to know parents and students and truly engage stakeholders in policy. We need to tell stories with compassion and tenderness. I think that, quite frankly, we have lost each other’s humanity, and we need to recognize it and honor it in our policymaking processes and the stories we tell.

What do you see as your role in achieving this vision?

I see myself in multiple roles. I’ve been thinking about starting my own nonprofit to get more people of color invested in STEM. It’s a great career path and I want to see more representation in the field.

Right now, I’m learning to become an advocate and to understand how to listen and help others raise their voices. LEE has provided so many opportunities for me to learn and grow in order to become the advocate that I want to be. I have so many people that believe in me, support me, and want to see me succeed. I definitely lean on them when discovering and thinking about what my next steps are. I’m really excited to see where this all takes me.

Lisa Lazare was a  2014 Teach for America corps member serving in the Rio Grande Valley. She now serves as Outreach Director for Educators for Excellence.