|Spencer Salas: Crossing Cultures
Presidential Graduate Fellow Spencer Salas (ABD, ’05) has honed an affinity for diversity. Salas is an award-winning scholar and teacher, actively engaged in social change from inside the classroom.
Salas is an affiliate with UGA’s Qualitative Interest Group and Center for Latino Achievement and Success in Education. He also teaches in the Department of Language and Literacy Education. He researches degree-seeking students in two-year institutions, policies of remediation, “and how the Latino student, teachers and administrators engage in that process or within that policy.”
Salas conducts research work in Gainesville, Georgia, which has experienced a 300 percent growth in Mexican and Mexican-American populations in the last decade.
Salas uses language to bridge the cultural gaps that yawn wider whenever people cannot communicate effectively. He has parlayed a gift for language and appreciation for cultural diversity into a new style of scholarship. Salas works simultaneously as a teacher-consultant for the National Writing Project, which concerns composition theory, and the Red Clay Writing Project at UGA. He is also a Senior English Language Fellow for the U. S. Department of State, where he has crisscrossed the globe in that capacity. Initially recruited as an academic in the fields of TEFL/TESL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language/Teaching English as a Second Language) and applied linguistics, he was chosen for short-term assignments to South America and the Middle East.
As a first-generation American, Salas was born at a Marine base in Quantico, Virginia. The Salas family moved to Hawaii, Texas, and then returned to live in Oahu, before settling permanently in Virginia. Salas credits the family’s frequent moves with teaching him adaptability.
He is now poised to become the first PhD within his entire extended family. His pending doctorate “is a huge deal,” and his family will be present when he graduates. His brother, Lt. Col. Bryan Salas (ABJ, ’88) graduated from UGA and is presently a public affairs officer in the Marine Corps.
Salas began his undergraduate studies at the University of Virginia, concentrating on English and French before coming to UGA. His first job was in Casablanca, Morocco, teaching at the American Language Center. He then received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities to study the impact of the German occupation in Caen, France.
Returning to the States in 1995, Salas resumed teaching. He taught ninth and tenth grade students as an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher at Cardozo Senior High School in Washington, D. C. Within two years, he was named “Education’s Unsung Hero” by Northern Life Insurance. The next year, he began a four-year Fulbright Teacher Exchange in Romania, where he rapidly mastered Romanian.
Salas postponed returning to graduate school while teaching inner city youth. “I think a lot of teachers feel that way; you can’t imagine doing something else. If you left, you would be giving up.” He was soon tapped for fellowships with the State Department, which took him to Argentina, Kazakhstan, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Madagascar, Peru and Chile.
Present day work for Salas is only an hour’s drive from the UGA campus. The metropolitan Atlanta area has a Latino population of more than a quarter of a million. This boon created a living laboratory for Salas’s research as a Presidential Graduate Fellow.
Ten years hence, Salas hopes for a continuation of his social advocacy and national legislation allowing undocumented children to receive in-state tuition at universities.
“I’d like to be continuing this line of research to post-secondary education and Latinos. I think there’s still a lot of work for researchers and a level of advocacy.”