Jazmin Puicon ’07 loves teaching. It makes her day, every day. And she’s really good at it.
For her classroom at Bard Early College (Newark, N.J.), where she’s an assistant professor of history, Puicon has secured over $10,000 in grants to provide her students with supplies and extracurricular educational experiences.
She was a teaching fellow at the Pulitzer Center and is the current Open Society University Network CLASP Fellow. This year, the NAACP Newark Education Committee recognized her for centering the Black experience in her classroom and coursework. She also received the Mildred Barry Gavin Prize from the New Jersey Historical Commission, given annually to K-12 educators for outstanding teaching of African American history, or for outstanding performance in a related activity.
And in May, she received her Ph.D. in history from Rutgers University, which presented her with the School of Graduate Studies’ Excellence in Outreach and Service Award for her work at Bard Early College.
What drives Puicon to delve so deep and commit so much to teaching?
History. Her history.
“The reason I have been so successful in providing a rich teaching experience for my students is my personal history as a first-generation college student – as a daughter of immigrants from Latin America who had to fight extremely hard for every accolade,” Puicon said. “My students often remark they wish they had a professor like me earlier in their lives. This is perhaps the best compliment I can get.”
“I started on this path of teaching and research to be the teacher I never had growing up – one that celebrates the complexities of the Afro-Latinx experience and the contributions of people of all colors in the fights for liberation and freedom all over the Americas,” she continued. “This is my history and the history of many of my students. It is worth celebrating and exploring in every course I provide.”
One of those courses she developed this summer in consultation with Teresa Meade, who was the Florence B. Sherwood Professor of History and Culture at Union before retiring. Puicon used Meade’s textbook as a basis for a survey class on Latin America and Caribbean history, which Puicon created for the Newark Board of Education.
“This course brings my work full-circle,” said Puicon, who is serving as the board’s resident Latin American and Caribbean historian. “Now students across all high schools in Newark will have access to this rich and complex material that centers the lives of everyday people in the Americas – people who fought back, resisted, rebelled and who also made history.”
Meade, incidentally, was one of Puicon’s mentors.
“At Union, I fostered my passion for learning about Latin American and Latinx history and turned it into a passion for teaching,” she said. “I became a teaching assistant for the first time as an undergraduate in Teresa’s ‘History of Brazil’ class.”
Accepted into the Future Professors Program at Union, Puicon also shadowed Meade for an entire semester, participated in department meetings and office hours, and traveled and presented at large national conferences. The experience solidified her dream to become a teacher.
This dream was only enhanced by her other campus activities, through which she carried the thread of representing and uplifting the Latinx community. Puicon founded the Tau Chapter of Latinas Promoviendo Comunidad/Lambda Pi Chi Sorority; held executive board positions in several campus life groups; and was the first president of the Multicultural Greek Council at Union.
She also double-majored in Spanish language and literature, and Latin American and Caribbean studies.
“One of my greatest joys as a professor is to watch the transformation of my students as they begin to understand how history works and how it can be either invalidating or a source of empowerment,” Puicon said. “I always think of my time at Union as the pivotal years that allowed me to explore history and learn more about my identity, and also gave me the opportunities to flourish as a leader.”
“I am very grateful for all of those experiences and try to replicate them in my classroom with my students.”