Waubonsee alumnus Rosa Brolley, of Montgomery, is the daughter of Mexican immigrants and a passionate educator in Indian Prairie School District 204. She lives to teach students from around the world that diversity is beautiful and valuable.
For embodying the college's mission by sharing her knowledge with others and passionately serving those in the community by embracing diversity, Waubonsee is proud to recognize Brolley as its June 2022 Featured Alumnus.
Brolley's earliest childhood memories were built living next to the bustling Chicago Midway International Airport. Brolley can still remember the familiarity of airplanes flying so closely overhead that it felt like you could reach upand touch them as you ate your paleta on the street corner in her Latino childhood neighborhood. In the early ‘90s, Brolley's family moved to the cornfields of Oswego, devoid of city streetlights and loud noises. This experience was a culture shock to Brolley, who would spend the following years of her teenage life as her parents’ language broker and navigator in a foreign world.
Brolley knew her parents were intelligent, hardworking, and courageous for taking on life in a new country. However, the juxtaposition of how they were treated in the community was startling. At the grocery store, they received unkind remarks and dirty looks from customers unhappy about waiting while a young teen wrote out checks for her mom at the check-out counter. "I remember adults looking down on my parents for speaking Spanish and feeling devalued and othered."
These emotions followed Brolley into her freshman year at Oswego High School. "I wasn't American enough for my American friends, and I wasn't Mexican enough for my Mexican friends; I didn't feel like I belonged," said Brolley. She got involved with sports to help her find her place and signed up to volunteer in hopes of proving her worth, which led her to spend study hall helping in the Oswego High School Athletic Department.
Standing among administrators who didn't look like her, Brolley would hear affirming words from a staff member she had never heard before, "I see you, Rosa. You matter, and you can do big things in this world." While many of her friends in high school were busy applying for college and scholarships, Brolley navigated the college application process by filling out applications independently.
Someone at the high school recommended that Brolley apply for the Waubonsee Community College Gustafson Scholarship, which gave hope to a young woman who did not yet feel worthy enough to be a part of the college world. "College was very important to my family," said Brolley. "But I didn't have the courage to see myself in those big spaces yet." Brolley would not learn until many years later that she had community sponsors who admired her for her volunteerism and bravery and who were advocating for her behind the scenes.
At Waubonsee, Brolley was awarded the Gustafson Scholarship for her dedication to pursuing knowledge and her passion for serving the community. There, she discovered the richness of diversity in a new light. Though she was not entirely sure about which career path to pursue, Brolley continued to try new things outside of her comfort zone to find her purpose. She got involved in the Latinos Unidos student group on campus and became a Student Ambassador. She took her first multicultural literature class and it was the first time she learned about authors from other countries.
"Waubonsee was the first place I saw diversity in my instructors and multicultural viewpoints reflected in the curriculum," said Brolley. "This reaffirmed my perspective by seeing the value of highlighting the importance of all cultures and people." Brolley continued to explore her interests and narrow down her major at Waubonsee with a fervent desire to create a platform where she could highlight that our differences are what makes the world a beautiful place. This became her passion.
In 2004, Brolley earned an Associate in Arts in Mass Communication from Waubonsee. Following graduation, Brolley went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication from Columbia College. She also received an opportunity to work in television production studios for a semester in Los Angeles with the Producers Guild of America. Although Brolley gained considerable production experience in Hollywood, she still felt called to do something more. She earned a Master of Arts in Elementary Education from Aurora University and immediately afterward, earned a Bilingual and ESL Endorsement and a Gifted Education Endorsement from National Lewis University.
Since then, Brolley has taught at numerous schools in the area, including St. Charles District 303, East Aurora District 131, and a decade at Oswego District 308, the same school district where she felt like an out-of-place student. She is now an English Language Learner teacher at Peterson Elementary in the Indian Prairie School District 204. Brolley hopes to continue to be the teacher that her younger self so desperately needed.
"I want each kid to feel valued and seen. I want them all to leave knowing that our differences are our strengths. They are the superpowers that will helpus change the world," said Brolley.
Those who visit Brolley's classroom will experience a colorful, welcoming, multicultural oasis of beauty artfully arranged for the 50 elementary students who speak more than 23 different languages.
Every day, their classroom is filled with games, music, laughter, and cheers of encouragement. Her students line up at the door next to a mirror in Brolley's class that reads, "You are important." They are encouraged to look in the mirror and repeat those words to themselves every day. Brolley has said, "Teaching gives me purpose, love, and acceptance I have been seeking since I was a little girl who only spoke Spanish in an all-English world."
Waubonsee celebrates Brolley for becoming the first woman in her family to apply to and graduate from college and her dedication and hard work in giving back to the community. Many close to Brolley consider her a positive light that enthusiastically spreads joy for learning and the love of the community wherever she goes.