You are currently viewing Flexible Education, Brighter Future: Dulce Vasquez’s Blueprint for 21st Century Learning
Dulce Vasquez, Assistant Vice President, Arizona State University

Flexible Education, Brighter Future: Dulce Vasquez’s Blueprint for 21st Century Learning

Embarking on an inspiring journey from a childhood marked by undocumented status, Dulce Vasquez is emerging as a formidable force in education advocacy, civic engagement and leadership. Currently serving as the Assistant Vice President of Strategic Advancement at Arizona State University, she handles various responsibilities, including managing university-wide partnerships, special projects and initiatives, as well as catalyzing ASU’s impact in Los Angeles. Her expertise extends beyond academia, creating a network of connections with businesses, community organizations and government agencies, forming a comprehensive matrix that encompasses athletics to academics.

Before assuming her pivotal role at ASU, Dulce steered the helm at Zócalo Public Square, L.A.’s civic forum, directing the execution of over 500 events that resonated with ambassadors, authors, politicians, and community leaders. Her commitment to public service extends to her roles as a Commissioner at El Pueblo Historic Monument, a publicly elected representative on the Central Committee of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party and a participant on advisory boards shaping international policy.

Dulce’s educational journey is marked by her transition from undocumented status to becoming a Gates Millennium Scholar at Northwestern University, where she earned a B.A. in political science and philosophy. Her thirst for knowledge led her to the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, culminating in a Master’s in Public Policy.

A catalyst for change, Dulce invests in leadership training, from Coro Southern California to Emerge California, embodying the spirit of Hispanas Organized for Political Equality in the 2022 HOPE cohort. Beyond her professional spheres, she dedicates her spare moments to public service, volunteering on boards like Amanecer Community Counseling Clinic and Voices Neighborhood Council.

Turning Setbacks into Impact

In her senior year of college, Dulce faced rejection from Teach for America. Feeling personally marked as unfit to teach, she redirected her passion towards mentoring, driven by a desire to help students like herself. Dulce shares, “I was so passionate about getting students like me into universities.”

Through mentoring, she discovered a broader perspective on education. Meeting Arizona State University’s President, Michael Crow, was pivotal. He emphasized how every aspect, from policy to job placement, contributes to education. “Everything we do to advance a student’s education makes us educators,” Dulce reflects. Her journey reminds us that setbacks can lead to unexpected paths shaping a meaningful impact beyond conventional roles.

Cultivating Connections

Dulce’s work in California focuses on creating opportunities for place-bound students enrolled in Los Angeles-based programs. These students, accepted to institutions outside the city face various constraints. Dulce explains, “They can be the primary caretaker, have part-time jobs, or simply avoid the hefty room and board debt.” Leveraging diverse community partnerships in this cosmopolitan city, unique experiences unfold for students.

Recently, 10 students attended the Latino Leaders Network luncheon, meeting the Mayor of Los Angeles. Dulce emphasizes, “Those opportunities happen when we’re building trust with our community partners.” It underscores the importance of collaboration, showcasing how a network of support can open doors for students with diverse circumstances, turning constraints into avenues for unique and enriching experiences.

Success through Diversity

Dulce’s guiding principle is collaborating with those more knowledgeable, allowing them autonomy. Being neurodivergent, she acknowledges, “I think differently and the way I do things will be different.” This revelation emphasizes diverse perspectives and varied approaches to solutions.

The key lesson learned is the importance of asking individuals about their needs for success. Dulce stresses, “You have to be willing to ask, willing to listen and then follow through on requests.”

This simple yet profound approach underlines the significance of communication and responsiveness in fostering a supportive and effective working environment. In embracing differences and actively seeking input, Dulce exemplifies a leadership style that not only respects individuality but harnesses it as a strength creating a collaborative and successful professional landscape.

Building Bridges

Dulce reflects on a decade of mentorship, stating that mentorship doesn’t have to have an end date. Having mentored numerous individuals, the relationships vary—from aiding in college applications to regular coffee meetings or social media interactions. Drawing a parallel to parenthood, Dulce notes, “I’m not a parent, but like parenthood, mentorship doesn’t have to have an end date.” Stressing the transformative power of information-sharing among women, especially women of color, she highlights its life-altering impact.

Dulce shares the joy of witnessing her mentee’s growth over a decade, navigating milestones from high school and college to adulthood. “It’s so incredibly rewarding to me,” she expresses, emphasizing the fulfillment derived from playing a role in someone’s journey. This underscores the lasting impact of mentorship, emphasizing its ongoing nature and the profound influence it can have on individuals, particularly in the realm of personal and professional development.

Enriching Experiences

Dulce emphasizes the interconnectedness of the global and local, stating, “Everything global is local and everything local is global.” In Los Angeles, a beautifully made quilt of diverse immigrant communities, this sentiment holds especially true. Dulce highlights the significance of global connections in education, sharing, “Global connections don’t just enhance the educational experiencethey prepare our students for a globalized world.”

The ASU California Center hosted impactful conversations in the lead-up to the Summit of the Americas in 2022, providing Los Angeles students with unique experiences. Dulce underscores that these experiences not only enrich education but also broaden horizons, exposing students to potential careers they might not have considered otherwise. In a world more connected than ever, Dulce’s perspective advocates for an education that transcends borders, preparing students for a future where global awareness and collaboration are paramount.

Empowering Minds

Dulce finds her degrees in political science and philosophy complemented by ASU’s innovative approach to interdisciplinary learning. She notes, “Compared to the ways that ASU has created the blueprint for interdisciplinary learning, my degrees are the most complimentary subjects ever!”

Reflecting on her fascination with the birth of government in ancient Greece, Dulce sees how ASU’s restructuring fosters a dynamic learning environment. She appreciates the shift from traditional academic clusters, expressing, “The way that our schools have been rearranged to encourage interdisciplinary learning has been fascinating to watch and be a part of.”

Dulce is driven by endless curiosity and she believes in nurturing this quality in students. Her experience underscores the importance of adapting education to promote interdisciplinary exploration, fostering a curiosity-driven approach that aligns with the evolving landscape of knowledge and encourages students to connect diverse fields of study.

Funding Education Equitably

Dulce’s journey in public service started with a run for the Los Angeles City Council and was further fueled by the pandemic exposing societal vulnerabilities. She reflects that the pandemic showed us so many cracks in our foundation. As a university member, she helped mobilize a wide array of digital assets that the university could contribute to struggling school districts.

However, in Los Angeles, with its vast population, Dulce felt frustrated by a lack of urgency and creativity in addressing the unprecedented crisis. She observed, “We had so much money pouring in and I felt it wasn’t going to the places that needed it most.” Her concerns centered on students lacking internet access, overcrowded households and limited green space exacerbating the pandemic’s impact in vulnerable communities.

Joining the neighborhood council strengthened Dulce’s commitment to community service, leading her to run for the California State Assembly. She emphasizes the need for consistent state-level funding for K-12, community colleges and universities, stating, “We need more consistent sources of funding.” Dulce advocates for increased financial aid, particularly addressing soaring housing costs to ensure students don’t miss academic opportunities due to financial constraints. Reflecting on her own journey, she asserts, “Access to a good education will always be a priority for me.” For Dulce, education served as the ladder out of poverty and she believes it remains the most reliable path to upward mobility.

In her pursuit, Dulce aims to shape education policies and budgets at the state level recognizing the pivotal role it plays in societal progress. This underscores the urgency of addressing systemic issues, ensuring equitable access to education and leveraging public resources effectively. As she ventures into the California State Assembly race, Dulce’s commitment to fostering a robust educational system that uplifts individuals and communities stands at the forefront of her mission.

Investing in Democracy

Dulce’s optimism about the future of education stems from her belief that an educated population is the core of a healthy democracy. She emphasizes the need to invest in education for a robust democracy, stating, “If we want a democracy, we really need to invest in our education.”

Expressing excitement about the evolving landscape of education, Dulce notes, “We have so many tools in our toolbox now. We have virtual reality, augmented reality, AI, computers, data, and metrics.” However, she points out the necessity of deploying these tools effectively.

Reflecting on the traditional education model, she states, “The fact that for the most part we’re still educating like we did 100 years ago means we have a LOT of work to do.” Dulce envisions a future where education is tailored to individual learning needs, saying, “We need to be able to be flexible and adaptable to every kid’s specific learning needs. It’s doable. And it can be cost-effective.”

Looking ahead, Dulce expresses eagerness to continue advocating for Californians, aspiring to serve as their next Assembly member. Her vision aligns with a dynamic, adaptable education system that leverages contemporary tools to empower students and ensures a brighter, more personalized learning future for all.

Shifting Paradigms

In the realm of women’s representation in California, Dulce acknowledges progress but highlights ongoing challenges, stating, “California has done incredible work when it comes to women’s representation, but there is still a lot of work ahead of us.” Notably, the state has never had a female governor or a Latina in a statewide office. Despite strides in diversifying boards and commissions, there’s room for improvement with the present Governor and Dulce notes, “He vetoed legislation last year that would’ve published voluntary demographic data of our boards and commissions. By making data public, we can accurately see where we need to do more work.”

Turning to education, Dulce addresses gender imbalances, revealing, “Only 33% of college presidents are female, while teaching is still 76% female.” Advocating for increased female representation in administrative roles, she proudly notes progress at ASU, saying, “I’m so proud that at ASU, just in the time I have been here, we’ve gone from no women at the Executive Vice President level to now 66% of our EVPs are women.”

Dulce challenges the notion of aiming for 50% parity, citing the success of the all-female Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors as proof that greater representation is achievable, stating, ‘It can be done.’ In her succinct analysis, Dulce spotlights the need for continued efforts to break gender barriers in leadership positions, emphasizing the importance of transparency and setting ambitious targets for achieving true equity.

Pulling Others Up

For those aspiring to a career in education or any field, Dulce imparts timeless advice, “Invest and believe in yourself.” Reflecting on her experiences, she shares the importance of overcoming hesitations, stating, “There were so many times I was the only woman in a room, or I was the youngest and I was afraid to speak up.” Acknowledging the pivotal role mentors played, Dulce advises, “Be the person that asks a younger person to speak up and contribute.”

Underlining the value of networking, she encourages proactive engagement, emphasizing, “Make sure you’re following up with new people you meet.” Dulce highlights the significance of gratitude, suggesting, “Send them thank you notes if they’ve spent part of their day with you.” In closing, she emphasizes the collective journey, urging individuals to ‘pull others up with you.’ Dulce’s counsel transcends specific fields, offering universally applicable guidance on self-confidence, networking and mentorship by reinforcing the idea that success is not just personal but also involves uplifting others in the professional ascent.