Since she first set foot on the Fort Lewis College campus 30 years ago as a first-generation college student, Jennifer Trujillo (English, ’93) has poured her life into learning, teaching, and pioneering a sustainable path toward a more equitable education for all. As of July 2020, she reunited with the Skyhawk family as the newest dean of FLC’s School of Education and is wasting no time incorporating the myriad skills and resources she’s acquired over her last three decades working in nearly every aspect of education.
Born in Colorado and raised in Caracas, Venezuela, Trujillo grew up speaking Spanish and English, eating pabellón criollo and hamburgers, dancing salsa, and reading Dr. Seuss. Before fifth grade, she left her extensive family of 50 cousins, moving back to Denver, where she had only two cousins. Traveling between her homes during those formative years nurtured in her an understanding of what immigrant families go through, which instilled in her an insistent zeal for culture and language.
“It’s not knowledge I read in a book. I’ve lived this life; I know how challenging it can be,” says Trujillo.
In 1990, with little knowledge of how to navigate life after high school, Trujillo followed a good friend to FLC. She attended school on the Title VII Scholarship, a bilingual federal fund, until the scholarship was cut off unexpectedly. She then found herself facing a decision – drop out or stay in school.
“I got three jobs, stayed in school, and just kept going,” she says.
Although she was shocked by the challenge and missed her family, Trujillo felt embraced by FLC and the chosen family she and her friends grew when they founded El Centro de Muchos de Colores for each other and other students of color. She also played a role in advocating for the mascot change from Raiders to Skyhawks, was senior class president, and served as FLC’s last homecoming queen.
Standing on the football field one day in 1991, she met FLC’s star quarterback, Thad Trujillo. Little did she know this future hall-of-famer would eventually be her husband and the father of her two daughters, Thalia and Karina, and that his love of the land would help intensify her own love of the Four Corners region and the people who call it home.
While that journey of the heart pulsed through the years, her enthusiastic and brilliant mind continued to blossom. After receiving her degree in English with a bilingual endorsement, she went on to earn her master’s from the University of Northern Colorado, and a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership & Change from Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, California. In her doctorate program, she focused on social justice issues in education and worked with immigrant children in sprawling urban school districts.
Trujillo returned to the Four Corners to serve as an adjunct instructor of Teacher Education at FLC. She also worked for FLC’s Native American Teacher Education Outreach Program, where she was a teacher’s aide, then an instructor, and finally a program coordinator. As coordinator, she worked off-campus in Native communities, where she got to know students and their families.
“The goal of the Native American Teacher Education Outreach Program was to create systemic change through leadership in education across the Four Corners,” says Trujillo. “I realized that was my real purpose in life, that we could never change the system unless we could develop leaders. Training teachers is important but developing leaders is the key to sustainable change.”
As she helped Four Corners educators find their voices and the resources necessary for classroom success, Trujillo leveraged her passion for bilingual and English Language Learner education on other regional, national, and international stages. She taught for the Southern Ute Community Action Program, worked as a bilingual educator in Farmington, New Mexico, and served as a K-5 English as a Second Language teacher in the Durango 9-R school district. In 2002, she returned to FLC as a full-time faculty member and coordinator for Culturally & Linguistically Diverse Education.
A prolific author, Trujillo has written anti-bias and anti-bullying curriculum and co-authored a National Geographic ELL literacy program consisting of four student textbooks and accompanying teacher guides, which are widely adopted ESL textbooks for students in grades 4-12, used to teach English in 26 states, as well as Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, and China. She also served as an advisory board member for Teaching Tolerance (a national project focused on culturally responsive instruction), National Director of English Language Acquisition for Pearson Education, and the Director of English Language Learner Initiatives at Learning in Motion.
With firsthand experience spanning 50 states and 11 countries, in urban, suburban, and rural educational settings, Trujillo has been invited to share her expertise on effective ELL education strategies at multiple local, state, regional, national, and international academic events. In 2014, she founded Tru-Learning, an educational technology consulting business based in Durango, adding seven years of corporate savvy to her panoply of skills. Trujillo was recently named a juror for the Brock International Prize in Education and was featured in the PBS documentary, “Making It: Latino Student Success.”
After decades of traveling far and wide, Trujillo is excited to circle back to the Four Corners, spend more time with her family, and step into the role of dean of FLC’s School of Education.
"Now that I’ve had a chance to work in so many facets of the system, I feel confident I’m bringing a perspective to FLC that can make a difference. I truly believe education is how you create transformation in a society."
“Now that I’ve had a chance to work in so many facets of the system, I feel confident I’m bringing a perspective to FLC that can make a difference,” she says. “I truly believe education is how you create transformation in a society.”
To address community needs right here in the Four Corners, Trujillo will continue the work of her colleagues and former dean, Richard Fulton, of rolling out a master’s program in Principal Leadership, FLC’s newest graduate program offered through the School of Education. The program, which is designed for students from the Navajo Nation to the Front Range, is immediately focused on building a sustainable infrastructure through courses and an eclectic network of instructors to support students in rural areas.
“We’ve realized the program provides a great conduit, but only if you can access it,” says Trujillo.
Trujillo and the School of Education will also work to incorporate more of a “P-20” approach to education, instead of focusing on only kindergarten through 12th grade teacher training. From FLC’s Campbell Center serving as an early childhood educational tool to Animas High School moving next to campus by Fall 2023 and beyond to the undergraduate and graduate programs offered at FLC, Trujillo sees FLC ‘s campus as a singular model of fluidity, an archetype that could change the landscape of learning for the next generations.
“Her commitment to enacting the values of educational equity and excellence, so central to FLC’s mission, shines through in every facet of her career. Dr. Trujillo, welcome back to FLC. We can’t wait to see what new horizons you help us to imagine and achieve!” says Cheryl Nixon, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs.