Caridad Zegarra is currently the Manager for Creative and Web Services at the Office of Marketing and Communications - LaGuardia Community College. After coming to New York City from the Dominican Republic in 1996, she graduated in 2001 with an AAS degree in Computer Technology from LaGuardia Community College, where for the last ten years, she has worked as an IT Associate. In 2007, she completed the CUNY Baccalaureate for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies, a very special program that allows academically strong students to design their own academic course of study under the guidance of a faculty mentor. In the program, housed at The Graduate Center, Ms. Zegarra chose to combine her further Computer Technology studies with Graphic Communications major, and attended classes at Fashion Institute of Technology, and New York City College of Technology. In her work at LaGuardia, Zegarra has implemented a financial system to keep track of grant award money for the college and is currently using her creative and technical abilities to design websites and marketing material that showcase the college as a nationally recognized leader among community colleges for the Marketing and Communications Department. Her work entails managing multiple projects, translating technical requirements, coordinating all phases of application development and implementation, understanding and solving user issues, and ensuring deliverables are on time within the timeframe of the college's strategic plan.
I talked with Ms. Zegarra on the phone on a Monday morning in October. She affirms the continuing importance of her Dominican roots in her career path. "In a sense I have the best of both worlds—like many Dominicans that come to the States looking for a better education and a better life. My culture and family always supporting me has helped me through my job and my education to continue and always improve myself, to never give up and to pursue my career. I was the first one in my family to graduate from college."
One relative in particular was crucial to Ms. Zegarra's development, helping her bridge the gap between the two worlds. "The person who pushed me to continue was my uncle. At the age of 27 he was a successful fashion designer and a professor at Parsons School of Design in the Dominican Republic. At a very early age, he introduced me to the fascinating creative work of design and technology in the fashion industry. At his graduation, I was delighted to meet designers like Oscar de la Renta and Michael Kors. He was my inspiration. Once, he came to visit us here in the summer and took me over to the Fashion District and I met a lot of other famous designers. On the way back to our apartment he said, 'This country has so many opportunities, when you find one it is up to you to take it and make your future out of it.' He grew up in countryside town, and managed to graduate from Parsons. He was a successful professor and a very successful designer. He passed away soon after that in a car accident. To see his life cut short was very tragic for me—it would have been amazing to see what he would be doing now, having seen what he did at the age of 27." The words of her uncle remained and still remain a touchstone in Zegarra's life.
Zegarra's career path has taken some twists and turns along the way. "My associate degree was in Computer Technology, but I was always interested in the creative field, and when I did my bachelor's degree, I combined computer technology with graphic and web communications. With my background in technology, I wanted to explore how I could translate my creativity. One of the ways I found was web design and development. I was able to be a major part of the LaGuardia Community College web redesign project. I created the LaGuardia Community College Foundation website, one of my first projects, and from then on it's been a continuous series of projects that inspire me of doing what I love."
Zegarra dreams of expressing her creativity in other ways, including some as yet unexplored. "I explored drawing when I was learning the world of fashion, but I stopped pursuing fashion once my uncle passed away. I still explore creating my own illustrations." She mentions that she would love to illustrate a children's book in the future, and hopes to have such an opportunity.
How has her work changed her? "One of the things that my work helped me do is become a better professional and influence others by having great leadership skills, and also to be a better manager myself. To become a better leader and inspire others. We get a lot of college student interns on a daily basis and I try to be a role model to them. I try to support others who went through the same situation I went through. It has made me more responsible and more focused and become more career-centered."
Zegarra' s professional development has also allowed her to expand her skills set in ways that are profoundly liberating for her as a person. "One of my challenges is public speaking. I was always afraid to talk in public and recently I was selected to do a leadership program. Because of that I was forced to confront my fear of public speaking. I'm now able to conduct presentations in front of bigger audiences. Recently I started teaching a class as an adjunct lecturer and now I can manage the fear where before, I was so intimated. That was one of my biggest challenges, public speaking, because when you do web development, it seems like you can spend most of your life sitting in front of a computer. A lot of tech people have no contact with the outside world. But I broke that stereotype by going out and talking to people. Now I teach two college courses: Web Development and Internet Game Design."
Zegarra is now working on her MA degree, attending the School of Professional Studies at CUNY and getting an MA degree in Business Leadership and Management with a concentration in Marketing. She is set to graduate by the end of Fall 2015. In the meantime, she is also busy developing ways to use her pedagogical skills to transmit her passion and knowledge to others-- outside the university context—by creating a program that will work on getting young Latinas to learn computer-programming languages.
"A goal that I'm working on right now is creating my own startup organization of Latinas in Code to help young Latinas learn how to program and discover their passion for science. I have a group of six young girls from Ridgewood high school. My passion is getting more Latinas like me into the field of technology and STEM programs."
This exciting and ambitious project is taking place in two neighborhoods in Queens—Ridgewood and Jackson Height. "We are starting with a simple class in web development and introducing them to programming and how to develop applications. It initially started when a LaGuardia professor got a grant to work on how to get more females into the STEM. Immediately, I thought 'what about more Latinas in code? This is a great opportunity for me to start an amazing project that will teach women how to get into the science and technology field, especially more Latinas.'"
Caridad Zegarra's commitment to creating a brighter future by sharing her knowledge and passion with others serves as a radiant illustration of her values, one that can inspire other young Dominicans. Her advice for younger people? "See the opportunities that are around you and don't wait, take them. Never give up on your dreams. Don't be held back by stereotypes. You can become a leader, too."