Paying Success Forward
|by Kim Epp Frenette, September 2012|
By any definition Dr. Judy Bulazo is a “smart chick”. Graduating 5th in her class from what is now Oakland Catholic, she briefly studied engineering before realizing teaching was her true calling. When a degree in Elementary Education, a Masters Degree, and a Reading Specialist Certification wasn’t enough, she went on to get her PhD from Pitt and a principal’s certification – all while working full time in the Upper St. Clair School District. She defended her dissertation for her doctorate just three days before her first child was born. She says, “Both experiences were labors of love!”
What makes Bulazo’s smart girl status so interesting, however, is the way she is using it. As Director of Curriculum K-12 and Professional Development in USC her job is to make sure 4000+ students receive an academic experience that will spark their interests and build on their strengths. As she puts it, “I am charged with working with others in my field to assure that each student recognizes his or her talents and finds a way to use them meaningfully and productively. That is an awesome responsibility!”
Bulazo’s team effort has an impact. The USC district is consistently listed as one of the top in the state, and 98% of its students go on to some form of higher education.
Dr. Bulazo’s passion for helping students find their spark stems from her own positive experience with mentors and supporters, including a chance encounter during a summer life-guarding job that opened doors to a student assistantship at the University of Pittsburgh. The professor she worked with became a great mentor and advocate. “I loved the experience,” recalls Bulazo. “I feel that it put me on the path to success.” She went on to land her “dream job” as a 3rd Grade teacher in the USC where, thanks to “a fabulous principal and a curriculum director who both believed in me, fostered my talents, and supported and guided me,” she began to assume increasingly important leadership roles in the District. For Bulazo, the job now is all about passing on that positive energy.
“Throughout my life and career there were so many people who helped me to see my potential. I feel fortunate that I can now work to create these same experiences for others. How can one not be inspired to work diligently in this area?”
We spoke with Dr. Bulazo in early September as the school year was getting back in swing. She shared with us stories of being a driven young student, learning to listen to her heart, and her views on why women should support each other.
On whether she was a “Hermione” type brainy kid:
I was a very serious, organized, and happy student who behaved and was eager to please my teachers and parents. I was very motivated by successful performance… As I reading specialist, I should be able to put my finger on a book character to match this description…it is probably a combination of a few characters –
I always felt valued and recognized as a good student. But, quite honestly, I was often more proud of being a cheerleader than any of my academic accomplishments.
On an A+ for bad behavior:
I was so well-behaved in school that, one day, my second grade teacher attempted this social experiment by secretly asking me to misbehave in order to observe how others in the class would react. I had a ball! My friends were appalled… I was so good at being bad that the teacher ended the experiment early in the day.
The inner rebel:
There was a time where being a good/smart student was not cool. I remember getting tests and papers back in 7th grade and turning them over on my desk so no one would see my grade.
On mental nourishment:
I have always loved the type of learning that involves creating, or putting knowledge to use immediately… Learning has become a craving for me as I continually need new knowledge to do things better…Learning is as much a part of life as eating three meals a day.
On early motivation:
I was the youngest of five children and my siblings were avid readers. I have actual memories of watching them engrossed in a book and can recall the feeling of being so anxious for the day when I could read and feel the enjoyment they seemed to experience.
On the perils of “should do”:
My first major in college was engineering… I believed it to be the path those good in science and math should take – especially young women. I found myself making this choice because it held the promise of “a good job”. Much to my surprise, and dismay, I found my learning experiences were not motivating or inspiring to me in any way!
On finding your niche:
Some self-examination helped me to admit that I held a strong desire to be a teacher. I felt as if I had oppressed this feeling thinking that it might be a career that was not enough of an academic challenge. My thinking had been so misguided.
An important moment for me was when I realized that a career was about doing something that you love and find to be meaningful. A career is about enriching and improving the lives of others in order to improve your own — not about a “good job”. When I was able to realize this at a personal and emotional level, I found real freedom in my career and life choices. I remember how very afraid I was to take this leap from being “overly practical” to the “realistically idealistic”.
On the true importance of what she does:
I am counting on the students to solve our future problems. I am no longer at the point in my life or career where I will find the cure for cancer, the solution for world peace, or even a better way to do joint replacement surgery (this is personal one for me!). But, I do have the opportunity to create experiences that might impact or set our students on the paths to doing so.
On the elusiveness of “family/work balance”:
I am not even convinced that balance can be achieved as the scales tend to always be tipped. There are times when one part of your life demands more from you than the other and you just need to step up and respond. You just need to assure that the tipping alternates.
On modeling a meaningful career to her daughters:
I feel they realize that we all of us have responsibilities outside of our families to make an important contribution to the world whether it be through a job or other opportunities. This is important and healthy for them to recognize.
The limits of a label:
Defining yourself as “smart” can be limited. It represents a “fixed” state. More important is the sense of feeling capable and always knowing that this can improve over time.
On the true secret of success:
Feeling capable in a supportive environment, one in which someone believes in you, maybe even more than you believe in yourself, is my opinion of the ultimate combination that will lead girls to success.
On the inclusiveness of purpose:
Everyone has the potential to find their niche and to do something meaningful for themselves and others.
Her views on “the sisterhood” of women:
It is our job to mentor each other — not just women younger than us. We need to be responsible for recognizing gifts in each other and making others aware of them. This is not just about a career or a job. It is about helping others to see and feel their value in anything through which they involve themselves.