Lizeth Ramirez-Barroeta, a community based instructor in child and family literacy with University of Nevada, Reno Extension, was honored by the University's Staff Employees' Council as November's Classified Employee of the Month.
The award recognizes staff who exemplify excellence, innovation and achievement. It acknowledges those who go beyond their regular job assignments and whose efforts inspire and support others.
Lizeth's supervisor, Extension Specialist and Associate Professor Daniel Weigel, said, "She is well-deserving— she is a hard worker, conscientious and always willing to help others."
Her coworkers feel the same way.
"Lizeth is amazing," Monica Peterson, a community based instructor with Extension, said. "She goes above and beyond in all she does. She is an excellent family program instructor, reliable coworker for all at Extension and loyal friend to many as well. This is a very well-deserved recognition of her hard work."
While those around her are grateful for her, Lizeth is grateful for them.
She said, "My special thanks goes out for my coworkers and for Dan, my supervisor, mentor and advisor. With all his support, I can deliver the wonderful programs he and his colleagues have created for Nevada families."
In addition to this award, Lizeth recently garnered three other achievements. She was nominated for an Extension Award of Excellence this spring, and this fall she passed the naturalization exam and was sworn in as a U.S. citizen. All four triumphs represent her hard work and passion for learning.
Working hard, not hardly working
Lizeth has a long history of working hard and learning new things. It started with her parents who created an environment that encouraged their children to learn, both at school and at home.
Her father often helped her and her siblings with their homework. He helped them to learn math.
"Also, when something got broken at my house, my dad usually invited us to watch how he repaired things," Lizeth said.
This likely kindled her childhood passion for learning and inspired her to go to college in the town of her birth, Monterrey, located in Mexico's Nuevo León state. There, Lizeth earned a bachelor's degree in engineering.
After graduation, she gained employment at the country's largest integrated steel plant.
Lizeth said, "I worked very hard and learned a lot."
But a series of hardships, and love too, was on the horizon.
From a series of unfortunate events to happily ever after
The two opposing forces would change the course of Lizeth's life, bringing her here to our University where she instills passion for learning in children and families as her family instilled it in her as a child.
"In 1997, 2002 and 2012, I was diagnosed with different types of cancer," Lizeth said.
What kept her going was those closest to her.
"My family and friends helped me to stay positive and strong," she said. "I am thankful every day for waking up alive."
Four years after her last diagnosis, Lizeth married a Mexican-American U.S. citizen. The newlyweds moved to the United States, where she found work as a teacher assistant at a local preschool.
Inspiring lifelong learning
"Working as a teacher assistant gave me the opportunity to take early childhood classes and to be able to work with preschoolers," Lizeth said.
In 2012 she joined Extension, where she helps local families to encourage literacy as well as science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning in their children.
"For six years I taught different bilingual Extension programs to the Washoe County community, such as the Family Storyteller, Just in Time Parenting and Benefits of Cooking With Young Children Programs," Lizeth said.
In her seventh year here, she became part of a new Extension program called Let’s Discover STEM. In Spanish, it's called Descubramos STEM.
The seven-week series of hands-on, interactive workshops is for children ages 3-5 and their Spanish-speaking parents. It exposes families to and engages them in STEM activities, while teaching parents how to be positive forces for their children’s learning.
Lizeth said, "I really enjoy taking the program to the sites and watching children learn STEM skills from singing a song of the frog's lifecycle, making their own paper constellation projector, building a boat using aluminum foil and testing how much weight a foil boat can carry before it sinks."
During workshop activities, families, and Lizeth too, experience many remarkable moments as they learn through play.
"I remember a day when I was sharing a physical science session and children were using a magnet to identify different objects to know if they were magnetic or not," she said. "A very excited 3-year-old boy came to me yelling, 'Ms. Liz this spoon is magnetic!'"
The magic of magnets and other scientific principles continues for program participants long after the workshops are over. This is because through the program families receive a STEM-related book and materials to do STEM activities at home.
Lizeth said parents send her pictures of them and their children doing the take-home activities.
"This motivates me and makes me more passionate about helping parents to increase children’s interest, knowledge and engagement in STEM activities in everyday life," she said. "It reminds me of when my own parents used to make time to do hands-on activities with me and my siblings."
Another part of Let's Discover STEM that Lizeth finds rewarding is when it ends.
"It is very enjoyable to see the happiness of parents and children when they receive their certificate of completion," she said. "The joy they show in their faces when they see their first certificate that includes the University logo is priceless."