Eduardo Contreras, Ed.D.
Director Studies Abroad, Office of Studies Abroad
University of Portland
Level of Experience: 10+ years
What does diversity & inclusive excellence mean to you in the context of your work?
From a personal perspective, my parents valued education, but they did not have the background, financial resources, or frame of references to conceptualize what study abroad meant. Between my mother and father, only my mother had a college degree from our hometown, El Paso Community College. In our family, the way relatives had seen the world was through military service. We often spoke Spanish because of our familial ties to Mexico, and we connected with our heritage in many ways through daily life on the US/Mexico border; however, we also identified as Americans.
Please describe the factors that led you to pursue your current career track?
Today, as a professional, I’m both grateful and frustrated about my path to study abroad. I’m deeply grateful to the professor who took an interest in me and opened my eyes to the opportunity. I’m also grateful that my family supported me even if they were not sure what I was doing. To be fair to them, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was doing. I’m also frustrated that so many students like me may slip through the cracks and never have their eyes opened to the opportunities of international education while they are undergraduates. For these reasons, I think constantly about ways to increase access for students of all backgrounds to study abroad. Access though, is just the first step because inclusion is also essential for the educational benefits of study abroad to impact all students.
What aspects of your work are you most excited about?
Supporting students to find new opportunities (both in the world) but also in their own personal development. In relation to this work, collaborating with colleagues across disciplines and institutional silos is the most challenging yet rewarding work I am fortunate to do on a regular basis.
Please describe any challenges you've encountered in relationship to your current role? What strategies have you employed to overcome them?
Sustaining support in terms of time, effort, and money for diversity, inclusion and internationalization. Our institution has prioritized the work D&I and internationalization in our president’s strategic plan called “Vision 2020.” Supporting and encouraging the long-term financial and human resources to support these important mandates will be a tough challenge. It will also be tough to request time and effort from busy colleagues who are doing good work in other areas to support these vital efforts collectively as a university. To overcome this challenge, I’m lucky to work with a “coalition of the willing” within the faculty, staff, and administration to build greater collective support for this work.
As you reflect on different aspects of your career, what are you most proud of?
I'm proud to have cultivated long-lasting relationships with colleagues in the field--many of whom are doing exciting work in D&I and International Education. I am also proud to see the fruits of my labors in the students who go on to do wonderful things. The truth is though, I am far more critical of my regular output than anyone and I rarely take the time to answer this good question.
Do you have any heroes? Who are they and why?
As cliched as it is, my mother was our family anchor. She was the primary bread winner for much of our lives and her work ethic and humane treatment of others are a model that I aspire to on a daily basis. The Urdu Progressive writer Ismat Chugtai is another hero. She wrote intrepidly (and beautifully) in India on topics such as women's sexuality, social class status, working class dignity, religious pluralism, etc. at a time when no men, let alone women, did such things.
Which two organizations outside your own do you know the most people at and why?
Probably, my previous institutions of employment because I have kept in touch with many former colleagues around the country.
What do you work toward in your free time?
I work toward maintaining my sanity and benefiting from my family support. I'm lucky to have a partner who is thoughtful, supportive, loving and funny. Spending as much time with her, and friends and family is what I do in my precious free time.
You're a new addition to the crayon box. What color would you be and why?
Brown. I think brown compliments most other colors and can blend in to create a cohesive scene. It's not a bold color that stands out like highlighter pink, but it's not totally innocuous. It's good to have brown in landscapes, portraits, still life's, and most compositions...I hope I'm useful too.
Recent Engagement with Diversity Abroad
Chair: Annual Diversity Abroad Planning Committee (2016, 2017, 2018)
Presenter: 6th Annual Diversity Abroad Conference