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Michelle Bobadilla: The Legacy Of An Educator

By Cinthia Campillo

Today, Michele Bobadilla is a voice for first- and second- generation students throughout the DFW area who dream of attending college one day. She works as the Senior Associate Vice President for Outreach Services & Community Engagement and is Assistant Provost for Hispanic Student Success at the University of Texas at Arlington. Her titles
may seem intimidating, but Bobadilla’s job is nothing less than her life’s motto—teaching others that with education there are no limits.

She has devoted her life to service through the powerful tool of education. However, one wouldn’t easily believe the education advocate once struggled with finding direction for her own future. It’s actually her personal testimony that has allowed her to relate with the students

she helps today.

Born Anna Michele Bobadilla, the former teacher grew up with an immigrant father, who spoke no English when he came to the United States, and a mother who was a migrant worker. Through her upbringing, they instilled in her the importance of going to school. So much so, that Bobadilla aspired to become a doctor after finishing college

at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches.

“I knew I wanted to do something that was going to help people, I mean I always wanted to have a life of service,” she said. “I just wasn’t sure which way, and for some reason I was really impressed with this whole thing of being a doctor.”

The only thing standing in her way from becoming a doctor and helping those in need were the required pre-medical studies. Bobadilla did
not excel in her science classes and with the freedom of college added to the mix, she began to fall behind.

“My first semester in college, and I say this not like I’m proud of it, but I truly did very badly,” she said. “I literally failed my first semester of college. I was put on academic probation my first semester, which was very new to me because I had always done really well in school.”

Bobadilla describes having to tell her father of her bad school performance as one of the most frightening and embarrassing moments of her life. But after a heartfelt conversation with him, she realized
just how much was on the line for her future.

“He just asked me very simply, ‘Did you try?’ and I said, ‘No, I guess I really didn’t try.’ I wasn’t committed, I was enjoying the freedom
of college, I was enjoying living away from home. I don’t think I was a mature enough student to handle the freedom that college was giving me and I didn’t take it seriously.”

Her father gave her one semester to raise her grades before forcing her to come home altogether—and that was all she needed. She went from failing grades to a 3.5 GPA the next semester. Of course, with the help of her parents who raised her in a Spanish-speaking home and was therefore able to test out of 30 hours of Spanish classes with all A’s.

But her struggle wasn’t over yet. She would change her major five times, and even consider taking part of a convent that would give her the experience of living like a nun (yes, a church nun) before finishing her undergraduate studies.

However, that changed when the Bobadilla landed at the Stephen F. Austin College of Liberal Arts. She suddenly found direction in the one thing she was passionate about—education.

THE ROAD TO UNIVERSITY CROSSROADS

Bobadilla worked as a middle school and high school E.S.L. teacher for 11 years after completing her degree in education. Her next job placed her between two of the biggest education pillars

in the state: The University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University.

She was hired to work on a program called University Outreach, whose purpose was to provide financial aid and college preparation resources to high school students. The program was aimed at not only motivating students to finish high school, but also attend and complete college.

Working for University Outreach was a great learning opportunity for Bobadilla, but it was not something that came easily.

“It was a trial and error at the beginning until we got our formula down and saw that the gateway to college is academic rigor, leadership and community service,” she said. “And if you don’t have that academic rigor and understand how to take an SAT or an ACT, you don’t have the content, you’re not going to make it, you’re not going to be successful.”

She worked there for seven years, gaining valuable experience that would prepare her for her future in education. Shortly after, she crossed paths with University Crossroads, the successful program she founded and heads up now.

University Crossroads is a program that functions under the University of Texas at Arlington that, much like her previous occupation, targets first- and second-generation future college graduates.

The program consists of universities, non-profit organizations and businesses that unite for the purpose of helping students with low to moderate home incomes attain all the tools they need

to succeed academically.

“From 12 original colleges that started out with us and the Dallas ISD, who formed University Crossroads, we’re now up to 80 partners,” said Bobadilla. “So now we have the Dallas ISD, the Grand Prairie ISD, Irving ISD, charter schools and then a slew of colleges and a slew of non- profit organizations and scholarship programs.”

The group meets monthly and together work to meet DISD’s graduation rate goals and SAT and state exam scoring goals.

As if that wasn’t a task big enough, they also carry out their own college-prep activities, which prepare students in taking the SAT’s and the ACT. The college-ready sessions have been so successful that they are currently at full capacity with a large waiting list.

University Crossroads is one of the few thriving large education partnerships in the nation.
In fact, it has been selected as a best practice for universities across the country.

But Bobadilla believes it serves an even greater purpose for the community that the DFW simply can’t do without.

“If we don’t do it, we’re all going to suffer,” she said. “We are not going to have an educated workforce, whose then going to be able to gradu- ate, go to college and then take on those new challenges of the careers of the next decade.

So it’s incumbent upon all of us to understand that we all play a role in this whole education process.”

FOLLOWING IN GREAT FOOTSTEPS

In the midst of her journey as an educator, Bobadilla managed to receive a Master’s in education from East Texas State University and even began work on her Doctorate. And although she has won many prestigious community, leadership and education awards, at the heart of everything she does is her character—a character that has been exemplified by Bobadilla’s most influential figures.

At the age of 50, her mother went back to school to obtain her GED, got a scholarship to complete her Bachelor’s at Texas Women’s University and became a bilingual teacher. She then received

a full scholarship to Southern Methodist University and finished her Master’s in education.

But the person that helped Bobadilla decide
she wanted to live a life of service was her grandmother. She describes teaching her grand- mother to write her name as a young girl

a “life-changing” moment. Her grandmother was her first student.

“One day in the summer, it just hit me that no one would ever address my grandmother, that it was like she didn’t have a name and she was just like a number, you know,” she said.

Bobadilla’s grandmother did not know how to write due to not completing school because of an illness as a young girl. When her husband passed, her granddaughter would accompany her as she collected her pension check at the local bank. Because she didn’t know how to write, they allowed her to simply mark an “X” in place
of her signature.

Bobadilla took it upon herself to teach her grandmother at her old age how to write. After weeks of practice, her grandmother went to the bank and wrote her name for the first time ever.

“You think, that’s no big deal, but we went to
the bank and that teller, I’ll never forget it, because when she first signed her name, she said, ‘Well, thank you Mrs. Rodriguez, we appreciate your business,’ and it was like my grandmother had the biggest smile that somebody acknowledged her as a person,” said Bobadilla.

To the University Crossroads’ founder, education does just that—breaks barriers.

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