Autumn Figueroa ’04, G’06
Autumn Figueroa ’04, G’06 knew from a young age that she wanted to be an educator. Coming from a family that included school superintendents, teachers, and supervisors of bilingual education, following in their footsteps was a logical career path for her. It has also opened the door to another of her life goals—to be a world traveler.
While still an undergraduate at SU’s School of Education, majoring in education, international relations, and Spanish, Figueroa participated in SU Abroad’s pilot program in Chile, spending six months working in a school in an impoverished area. There, she helped train teachers in various methods of instruction, supported the school’s director, and completed an assessment of the school and its operation. “The time I spent living in Santiago, Chile, and Madrid, Spain, opened my eyes to new people, places, and things,” says Figueroa, who completed her undergraduate degree in three years. “The relationships I built, along with the exposure to history, culture, and the arts were life changing.”
After earning a master’s degree in education at SU, she taught in New Jersey, Florida, and Washington D.C., often in schools challenged by low student achievement. It was while teaching fourth and fifth grades at a public charter school in D.C. that she discovered the pleasure of writing curricula, collaborating with a team, and supporting other teachers. “I recognized that my passion was in helping many people raise student achievement through writing quality lessons and supporting the delivery of instruction to meet the needs of all students,” she says.
Today, Figueroa puts those talents to work in her position as principal of Avalon Elementary School, a public charter school in Chicago. “I went through a more than six-month interview process before being offered the position as part of a ‘turn around’ mission using the No Excuse model of education,” she says. She has not only maintained but expanded her connections to Syracuse University, by keeping in contact with School of Education Dean Douglas Biklen, who was one of her first professors, and many other SU colleagues. “In my position, I need as many connections as possible,” she says. “It does take a village to raise a child—and I’m raising 250 scholars daily.”
A dedicated SU alumna, she often recommends the University to prospective students, and to parents looking for quality higher education for their children. “It’s so hard to put into words what Syracuse University means to me,” says the Brooklyn native. “SU is an amazing place that allows people to find out who they are, explore so many things, and meet people from all walks of life who truly care about getting ahead. I bleed orange and am proud to say I am an ‘Orange woman!’”