Pioneer Profile: Dr. Vanessa Monterosa

In this Pioneer Profile with 2014 EP Alum Dr. Vanessa Monterosa, she talks about her pioneering work in digital citizenship, the leaders that inspire her, and what's she still learning to do.

What were you doing before EP?

Before EP, I was a Ph.D. student working as a Research Associate at the USC Rossier School of Education where I was doing research on social media and college access/success.

What led you to EP & why did you pursue the opportunity?

I originally was accepted as an EP Fellow in 2011 as I was graduating from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I had been offered an amazing opportunity to serve in Boston Public Schools. However, I was unable to accept it as I had been admitted into the Ph.D. program at USC. I kept EP in mind because I knew the kinds of opportunities afforded to Fellows in the program. Fast forward to 2014, I decided that the tenure track path was not for me, so I left the Ph.D. program and made the switch from academia to more practice-focused work. Thus, I sought out EP because I knew it would take me in the direction I wanted to go. In that transition, I was admitted to the Ed.D. program at California State University, Long Beach and was offered a placement at Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD); the District was rolling out a major education technology initiative and I thought it would be a great opportunity to contribute. 

What did you do as an EP Fellow?

As an EP Fellow, I co-authored the District’s first Social Media Policy for Students [BUL 6399.2]; co-led the Social Media and Internet Safety Task Force initiated by former Board Member Galatzan; and contributed to district-wide policy revisions to ensure digital practices were embedded. 

What are you doing now?

Now, I lead and design system-level programs that cultivate digital citizenship practices among our school leaders and senior leaders. Before EP, I was convinced that my career was going to be in higher education. However, when I was placed at LAUSD via EP, I felt that I found my calling. After the EP placement, my fit with the team and the work here at LAUSD just felt natural, and so I was formally hired at the end of the fellowship. Without EP, I would not have considered a career in K12 or could have imagined my contributions in this field. The EP Fellowship broadened my career horizons indefinitely. 

What impact do you have in education?

In my current role, I influenced the design and development of a system-level digital citizenship program that encompasses policy, partnerships, and professional learning opportunities for district leaders in the nation’s second largest school district. Through this work, our district has been featured as an exemplary leader in this space through Common Sense Education and the International Society for Technology in Education. My hope is that the digital citizenship work we engage in here can serve as an example of how to implement these practices on a broad scale, so that educators are open to supporting our students in curating and cultivating a digital footprint that can be leveraged for college and career success. 

The stakeholders within my scope of influence are our senior leaders and school leaders. To best support our students, we believe that our district leaders need to also engage in collaborative and productive ways online just like our students are doing today. Establishing a digital footprint as a district leader, especially a leader of color, creates opportunities for visibility that supports representation. The more we support our district leaders in cultivating this 21st century skill and disposition, the greater likelihood they are to support these practices in the classroom and experience the benefits of creating a digital footprint. 

What do you love about your job?

I love that I feel I am working on the cutting edge of transforming teaching and learning. So much of our work is around paradigm shifting and helping educators understand that technology access alone will not make the difference — their pedagogy and the ways they use technology to enhance it is key. I love seeing their ah-ha moments and witnessing their instructional practices flourish, which in turn help their students succeed as well. 

What has been your most memorable moment working in education?

Before I officially ventured into the education technology space, I was a college counselor at a high school. My most memorable moment was twofold: 1) Seeing a cohort of students off to college after supporting them through the grueling application process; and 2) running into many of these students over the last few years and hearing about how much they appreciated my help in navigating those decisions as a high school senior. I am grateful to have been a meaningful part in their personal story.

When was the first time you thought about working in education?

My earliest memory of wanting to work in education was when I wanted to quit my first job right out of college. In Spring 2007, I landed a job as a Qualitative Research Coordinator for a market research company in Downtown Los Angeles. After six months on the job, I realized I absolutely hated what I was doing: helping Fortune 500 companies understand what consumers want, so they can better market their products. I realized that I needed a career that felt fulfilling to me, and helping companies make more money was not cutting it. I quit that job and became a college advisor at my alma mater high school, and thus started my passion for helping others achieve college and career success. 

Where did you grow up and what was it like?

I grew up in a predominantly Latino community called Santa Fe Springs (SFS) in California. I absolutely loved our little city. SFS is comprised of business with a small section of the city carved out for middle class families. Because of the plethora of businesses in our area, I remember many programs in our schools being offered due to generous donations by businesses, so there was never a shortage of extracurricular offerings by our schools. 

What do you like most about where you live now?

Today, I live not too far from where I grew up. My neighborhood is much more diverse, and I love how I am close to my job. Living in Los Angeles, commute time is everything! I am thankful that my commute time is less than 30 minutes, which means more time to work and make an impact. 

What is your favorite school memory?

My favorite school memory is of my time participating in a program called Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) as a high school student. I look back on this experience often because I had absolutely no idea how much it would prepare me for my career. FBLA was an after-school club I participated in with my best friend because it was just another excuse to hang out. However, during FBLA club time, we would study how to leverage Microsoft Office to convey information; how to conduct meetings using parliamentary procedures; or explore the art of acing a job interview. This was truly a club for the geeky types. We would submit our projects and FBLA would score them against other school districts across the nation. Through this experience, my best friend and I placed nationally in a business plan development competition and for developing an engaging multimedia presentation. What had initially brought me to this club was just wanting to hang out with my friend, but I ended up learning so much more than I bargained for. 

Which leader (alive or not, in any field) do you most admire?

A education leader I most admire is Dr. Bridget Terry Long, the current Dean for the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) and a former professor of mine. I most admire her because she held her students to the highest standards possible, but also provided the support and guidance to help you get there. She created rigorous learning experiences in her courses, which have stayed with me all along. Dr. Long was the first leader who exposed me to the implications of policy and its critical role in shaping educational experiences for students, staff, and families. Beyond being my professor, I just greatly admire all she has contributed to education research and all she has accomplished, especially being the first Black woman to lead HGSE. 

If you had a magic wand, what's one thing you would fix or change?

The biggest barrier I am witnessing is the funding formulas to support the kind of work our team does in a public school district. If I had a magic wand, I would fix convoluted federal and state funding formulas to support quality instructional practices and quality teacher prep programs in higher education. 

What are you still learning to do?

I am still learning what it means to be a leader as a first-generation Latina in the education technology space, which is predominately comprised of white men. 

What or who inspires you?

The individual who inspires me consistently is my direct supervisor and mentor, Sophia Mendoza. She makes it a joy to go to work every day, not only because of her compassionate leadership style, but because of her infectious energy, positivity, and creativity. I have worked with Sophia nearly six years now, and each year has been such an adventure in influencing the education technology field alongside her. Sophia is a phenomenal Latina leader who inspires me daily and empowers me to grow as a leader as well. 


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