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Margarita Mendoza de Sugiyama: Inspiring Speaker, Inspiring Woman

Margarita Mendoza de Sugiyama

Margarita Mendoza de Sugiyama

On a wet, chilly evening in early March (Women’s History month), a small and attentive group gathers in Todd Hall to hear Margarita Mendoza de Sugiyama give an intriguing and powerful talk.  Margarita is the third woman to speak in WSU’s Week of Women Speakers, presented by the Coalition for Women Students.  After listening to her speak, it is evident that this woman is quite remarkable—and her passion to promote justice and equality is inspired by the time she spent as a student at WSU.  Even back then, she knew her future career needed to incorporate her campus activities.   “You can have jobs where you live out your passions,” she insists.  Her words encourage students who have chosen a field of study based on their interests, rather than practicality.

Margarita was born in Yakima and grew up in a large family of farm workers.  Though her parents placed an emphasis on education, being a farm worker kid also meant there was less of a chance that Margarita and her siblings would graduate from high school. She views the situation differently, however, and argues that farm worker children use their Mexican heritage to their advantage—it helps them to succeed.

To describe Margarita as being involved is an understatement—during her college years she was a Chicano student leader, participated in the national Chicano Movement, and was one of two MeChA founders and the only student in a committee proposing a Chicano Studies Program.  She was also the former chair of the Racial Justice Training Committee, which promoted racial injustice awareness and provided racial justice training in dorms, fraternities, and sororities.  Since the time when Margarita was a student at WSU, racial diversity has come a long way. When she came to Pullman, there were only six Mexican students. She saw this as a problem, and by working to fix it she was able to banish stereotypes and build trust among Chicano students. Margarita’s involvement in various activities on campus was not without criticism from the WSU administration; in fact she says that they couldn’t wait for her to graduate!  Later, when Margarita began working at WSU, the ratio of colored faculty members increased from 12% to 25% and a corresponding increase in students of color soon followed.

Margarita has spent 37 years as a civil and human rights professional, has held a position with the Washington State Department of Transportation (as diversity programs administrator), and has worked as a staff member for governors, an attorney general, a college president and agency directors.  Throughout all of her professional experience, Margarita has been tenacious in holding people accountable for their job responsibilities. Yet, despite all she’s been through, this ambitious woman describes life as a joyful struggle, something worth struggling for.  She has also maintained a positive attitude, viewing every person she meets as a way to learn more.

Despite her recent retirement, it’s obvious that Margarita still has so much energy and passion for life. “I’m not done.  There’s more to Margarita that is yet to happen,” she concludes.  This is an easy statement to believe when it comes from such an accomplished woman.


With Eyes Wide Open” (profile of Margarita Mendoza de Sugiyama in Washington State Magazine, Summer 2003)

Demand for ‘teacher quality’ could doom U.S. schools

‘Race to the Top’ faulty

(from WSU Today, Aug. 14, 2010)

Jason Margolis

Jason Margolis

The federal government’s Race to the Top program for improving American education won’t work because it’s based on a faulty assumption, according to a WSU expert in teacher development.

“There is no one national version of a quality teacher,” said Associate Professor Jason Margolis. “Successful teaching depends on where teachers are, how well they understand the thinking and culture of their students, and how well they use that information to help the students learn.”

Journal commentary

Margolis is a WSU College of Education faculty member in Vancouver. He makes his case in “Why Teacher Quality is a Local Issue (And Why Race to the Top is a Misguided Flop”), a commentary published in the journal Teachers College Record.

“The concept of ‘winning the race’ with ‘better teachers’ as foot soldiers is based on false premises, specious science and a general disregard for who students and teachers are and how they actually engage in learning in schools,” he writes.

Washington is among the states competing for grants from the $4.35 billion in Race to the Top Fund, created by the U.S. Department of Education to encourage reform and innovation in public schools.

Identify and replace

In his 2009 speech announcing the program, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that “states and districts should be able to identify effective teachers and principals … and improve or replace ones that aren’t up the job.”

Duncan offered no definition of an effective educator, Margolis noted, but did say that states refusing to link high-stakes test results to teacher and principal evaluations would be banned from the money pool.

“What I see happening is that states are gaming the system. They play the federal game to get lots of money,” said Margolis. “You can play around with tests in order to improve scores, but there’s no evidence this will advance learning.”

Downplay the tests

If the Obama administration really wants to improve education, it should downplay tests and insist that teachers and principals not be passive recipients of outsiders’ ideas, Margolis argues. Instead, they should be active collectors of information about their students, and constantly plan and adapt how they teach.

Without that shift in approach, Margolis fears for the future of the country. “Our education system has become too regimented, and we’re forcing students to think inside of little boxes,” he said. “As a result, we’re losing our innovative edge; we’re losing our imagination.”


06-22-10 Teachers College Record – Why Teacher Quality is a Local Issue (And Why Race to the Top is a Misguided Flop)

By Julie Titone, Communications Director for the WSU College of Education

Science in the Sky: The WSU Planetarium

Note: This is the first in our new series, “Scene Around Campus: A Glimpse into WSU’s Corners and Curiosities.” Join us as we explore the many nooks and crannies of campus that residents and visitors might otherwise miss.

Welcome to “The Whoa Moment.”

You’re ushered into a room down a musty hallway. You take a seat, the lights go out, and — after a moment of darkness — the night sky flickers above you, a canopy of fuzzy white dots representing the universe as seen from Pullman. You forget about the world outside as you’re lost in space.

The Washington State University Planetarium is a 1960s star projector tucked away in Sloan Hall. WSU astronomers Michael Allen, Guy Worthey and Ana Dodgen lovingly keep it clean and in working order.

The planetarium is dated and clunky, but the astronomers’ faces light up when they talk about the roughly 2,000 fifth- and sixth-graders who visit every year on field trips.

“The little kids get so excited about what we’re telling them,” Dodgen says. “It’s a way to spark their curiosity in astronomy and science.”

Set up in 1962, the planetarium is likely older than these kids’ parents and possibly their grandparents. Working with the WSU Foundation, the astronomers are trying to collect donations to update the facility with a digital projector. Mostly, they’re hoping for a big donor, someone star-happy enough to hand over $50,000 or $70,000.

“Everyone loves the planetarium, but in terms of loving it enough to empty your wallet … that hasn’t happened yet,” Worthey says.

Within the planetarium, the projector is run from a main console with knobs for each celestial body. There are motors to animate daily, monthly and yearly paths. The console looks like a 1920s radio.

“This is like Frankenstein’s laboratory down here,” Worthey jokes during a recent visit, swinging Mars — a tiny red dot — across the screen.

Despite fuzziness and flickering, the northern hemisphere mostly works. From certain angles, pieces of the projector, a big black globe dotted with pinholes, block much of the rest of the sky. If you pick the wrong seat, the Southern Cross and Alpha Centauri might be obliterated.

The planetarium is closed to the public and used mainly for undergraduate science classes and local middle and elementary schools. However, WSU and community groups can schedule free shows through Allen or the physics department at or 509-335-1279.

Video games a way to zap science doldrums

By Julie Titone, College of Education:

Matthew Marino. The computer screen shows a science video game he helped create. (Photo by Julie Titone, College of Education)

Matthew Marino. The computer screen shows a science video game he helped create. (Photo by Julie Titone, College of Education)

You’re in seventh grade, slouched in your seat. The science book on your desk is a jumble of words like endoplasmic reticulum, enzymes and organelles. You’ll NEVER understand this stuff. If you had superpowers, you’d blast right through the classroom window.

Matt Marino to the rescue.

Marino, an assistant professor at WSU, is working with two leading education companies to create science video games that redefine how middle school students learn about science.

“If you’re reading at a fourth grade level, middle school science vocabulary can be pretty brutal,” said Marino, whose goal is to help students meet new federal science education standards – and have fun doing it. His partners on the game project are Wisconsin-based Filament Games and Texas-based PCI Education.

Read more at WSU Today…