More than a teacher
by Dawn Goodlove
A religion major in college, Carol Lacy-Salazar practices what she preaches.
In her address as faculty speaker at Cornell's 1997 commencement, she told 235 graduates to "keep your eyes and minds open." Contrary to the ceremony at hand, she warned, school had just begun.
Spanish professor Lacy-Salazar is a student again, too. She's teaching second block, but will spend the rest of the academic year on sabbatical. She's continuing guitar lessons that began over the summer and taking photography and possibly a language course taught by her colleagues at Cornell this fall. Then she will spend the second half of her sabbatical in Bolivia.
"That's why I like teaching: you can continue learning. I'm going to dedicate this year to learning new things in order to remind myself of what our students go through on the block plan. I hope that a subjective understanding of the learning process will make me a more effective teacher," she says.
Typical of Cornell professors, Lacy-Salazar is more than a teacher. Since arriving at Cornell in 1984 she has managed the production of the annual Spanish play-supervising the set design, designing and sewing costumes, choosing the cast, rehearsing at least twice weekly for four months, and once playing a part at the last minute. She is Cornell's liaison officer to the Associated Colleges of the Midwest for off-campus study programs and also coordinates information on other study abroad programs. She regularly participates in community service projects and programs to welcome new students to campus. She's an advisor to the Spanish Club, Delta Phi social group, Gente (Hispanic student group), and Sigma Delta Pi (Spanish honor society). She served for nine years on the Lecture, Art, and Cultural Events (LACE) Consortium, coordinating more than 125 speeches and performances. She's been a member of numerous search committees to fill positions; a member and of the Latin American Studies Committee; and chair of the Department of Classical and Modern Languages.
"She's what makes Cornell special. She puts so much time into her students," says Matthew Laubban '97, who majored in international business and Spanish. He is a flight attendant for United Airlines, based in Chicago, and plans to advance into United's international marketing department. Lacy-Salazar directed his independent study on Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez and also taught classes he took in Spanish Golden Age literature and advanced Spanish grammar. "Her dedication is incredible. She doesn't leave her office until after seven at night. When you find one teacher like her, who really cares about her students, it drives us to push harder and really get the material learned," Laubhan says.
Lacy-Salazar becomes so involved that a former colleague at the University of Arizona once told her she had a "hurdler" personality-always eager to tackle new challenges head on. "I like to participate in things. I enjoy the dynamics of working with students," she says.
It's a surprise that Carol Lacy didn't plan to teach Spanish when she grew up. Until she was almost 11, her family lived in a mining camp in Peru, where her father was chief geologist with a North American mining company. She was exposed to Spanish daily. Throughout high school in Tucson, Ariz., she regularly won top honors reciting literary selections in Spanish at state forensics tournaments. But she entered Duke University in 1962 as a pre-med major. Even though science and health issues have become a lifelong interest, she changed her major after her first year, prompted by this test question on a final exam in a philosophy course: "Justify your religious beliefs."
"Nothing I had learned in class seemed to provide an adequate answer," she says. She spent the summer reading, searching. Always active in her church, she began to question her belief and switched her major to religion hoping to find the answers.
After graduating with an AB in religion, she accompanied the family of a Duke professor to England, where she worked as an au pair tending the familys four boys and studied at a seminary associated with Cambridge University. Her father, concerned about the seeming lack of direction of her career, mailed her an application for the graduate program in Spanish at the University of Arizona, where he was a geology professor.
At Arizona she earned an MA in Spanish along with a distaste for the cavalier attitude toward undergraduate education she sees as typical of large American universities. So she set off again, this time to Bolivia to teach English as a second language (ESL) and Spanish literature at the American Institute, a combination elementary and secondary school. There she met Hernan Salazar. He had returned with his young son, Toshi, to Cochabamba to become director of the American Institute's boarding department, the high school principal, and to teach classes in biology and ESL. She and Hernan married and had two sons before moving to Tucson in 1976. She eventually returned to the University of Arizona to teach Spanish and earn a PhD. In 1984 they moved to Iowa.
"Many people who come to teach at a liberal arts college consider it a stepping stone to other places where the "real action" is. I came here seeing Cornell as a place where I really wanted to work," she says.
Hernán teaches Spanish at Cornell six terms a year. Their three sons live in the Phoenix area. Steve is a police officer and Rumi, also trained as a police Officer, works at an educational detention facility for juvenile offenders. Both are 1994 Cornell graduates. Toshi, their oldest, is a systems engineer at Motorola.
During her sabbatical, Lacy-Salazar will return to Bolivia, where she and Hernán keep an apartment. But unlike her first trip to Bolivia, the teacher goes as a student this time. She will spend four months studying Quechua, a language spoken by the Incas and their descendants.
Comell Report - Fall 1997