As the Director of imPACT East Idaho, a Cradle to Career Collaborative focused on improving educational outcomes for students in our region, I am often asked how I got into this work and/or why I do this work. My passion for education began early. I am the daughter of a teacher who was a first-generation college student with many barriers in her life.
My mom grew up in the 1950s/1960s in small-town Pocatello, part of a large Mexican family that lived in significant poverty. Numerous times throughout my mom’s life she was told (by educators) not to expect much in life, that college would not be an option for her, and she should consider setting smaller goals for herself. Anyone who has ever known or interacted with Beckie Otero will tell you she was a feisty and opinionated woman who would not take kindly to such messages. Despite, or perhaps in spite of these experiences, my mom put herself through college obtaining both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree and numerous certifications. She was passionate about education as a pathway to a better life, to increased opportunities, and as an equalizer for children who grew up with similar challenges as she did.
When I was growing up, I was exposed to many learning opportunities. As a teacher my mom was very sneaky about providing these moments in ways that seemed like fun, a trick all good teachers are adept at I have since learned. Books, magazines, newspapers, journals, etc. abounded in our household. Family nights involved competitive and sometimes vicious games of Scrabble. Summer breaks were spent at the local library, in dance classes, and art programs. Good grades were rewarded with trips to bookstores where I could choose ANY BOOK I wanted, even brand-new hardback books!! Imagine my surprise when in 8th grade I found out other kids got money, clothes, drivers training lessons, etc. for good grades. I felt so bad for them. Still do.
I am a product of and testament to, what can be accomplished when education and learning are valued and supported throughout childhood. From structured education at Montessori, in college and graduate school, to less formal learning opportunities like community art classes, music lessons, library excursions, etc., I have benefited more than I will probably ever know from these experiences.
I spent the first 18 years of my professional career in higher education working in a variety of student services departments. Every role I held during those years, at its core, was about supporting students through their educational journey. Challenging them in ways that helped them to grow as academics while also building valuable life and interpersonal skills; but also supporting and guiding them through the barriers that inevitably crop up along the way.
When I joined UWSEI in February of 2017 I had no idea where this role would lead me or really what the work would look like. My mom had just passed away unexpectedly three weeks before I started and to say I was lost and unsure of myself is an understatement. What I did know was that I would have the opportunity to facilitate groups of committed community leaders who were just as ardent as I am about giving every child the chance for building a solid educational foundation. Three and a half years later we still have plenty of work to do, but my fire for what we do and WHY we do it has only grown.
I am lucky. Lucky to work with other motivated and impassioned people. Lucky to have had so many opportunities in my life. Lucky to have a mom who gave me the gift of curiosity, love of learning, and a passion for fighting for children who deserve more than what they have been given. This is my why.
Felice Otero, United Way of Southeastern Idaho Community Resources Director
Felice Otero is the Director of imPACT East Idaho. Felice originally came to United Way in March of 2017 as an AmeriCorps VISTA, and joined the United Way of Southeastern Idaho as a full-time staff member in February of 2018. Her prior work was in Higher Education in the Student Services sector, and includes experience at five different colleges and universities in Idaho, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin in the areas of Admissions, Financial Aid, Orientation, First Year Experience, and Housing and Residential Life.