Esperanza Women Series: Nilsa Graciani

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This Women’s History Month, Esperanza recognizes three women who are doing outstanding work in our Hunting Park community. We asked Nilsa Graciani about her role at Esperanza College of Eastern University:

What is your role at Esperanza?

As the Director of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and Medical Assisting at Esperanza College, I’m responsible for four programs, three of which have been developed since I’ve been at Esperanza in the last four years; an Associate of Science (AS) in Mathematics, an AS in Natural Science, and more recently an AS in Health Science. Aside from program and curriculum development, working with our adjuncts, and teaching, we also work with our students. I’m the academic advisor to around 70 students in the STEM and MA programs. That is an honor I take very seriously since it gives me the opportunity to make a difference in their lives.

How is your work contributing to transformation in the lives of students, in the neighborhood, etc.?

Every semester a new cohort of students starts at Esperanza College. We embrace those students and get to know them very well. We not only provide the academic knowledge but also act as advisors, mentors and sometimes just as a listening ear. For most of our students the college is a place of refuge, their chance to change their lives. Our work allows us to inspire the ones that doubt themselves, to strengthen the ones that come with weak skills, and to give wings to the ones that feel trapped by their personal situation.  As the students graduate, the effects ripple to those around them, their families and friends who are now in turn inspired to reach higher and potentially get a degree themselves. The Latino community is underrepresented in the STEM fields, so encouraging students to come into these fields and eventually to get a degree in order for them to enter into these professions has an impact not only in the Hunting Park community but beyond.

Another component of my job is to create partnerships with other institutions in the Philadelphia area.  Through these partnerships we enrich the students’ experience, sometimes allowing them to give back to the community.

I’m also involved with the Hunting Park Science Community Network. Our purpose is to bring STEM to the community through activities such as the Creation Station, Day in the Park, and Star Parties. It is always gratifying to see the sense of wonder in a small child as they build or explore something new.

Who is a woman you admire and why?

There are many women that I admire. Some of them I know; they’ve been my mother, sisters, friends, aunts, co-workers, supervisors, pastors, authors, preachers, doctors, and professors and I’m glad that they have been placed in my path. Others I’ve never met but they inspire me as they’ve won Nobel prizes, made wonderful scientific discoveries, and motivated others. However, having to pick one, I think of my grandmother. She was born one of twelve children and was allowed to attend school only to the eighth grade, yet she was so wise. She was a woman of great faith who gave so much love and so much of herself to others. She had an indomitable spirit. Nothing stopped her. She taught us that with God by our sides everything was possible.  I believe that a lot of who I am I owe to her either directly or through my mother.