Syracuse University Magazine

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Nathalie Quezada Warren

Community Connections

When Nathalie Quezada Warren ’08 took an Honors course in public policy taught by Professor William Coplin, it set her on a career path that was completely unexpected. “He told me about a program from the 1990s that brought together Latino students and police officers, and offered to help me make the connections I would need to restart the program,” says Quezada Warren, now assistant director of Winnick Literacy Initiatives in SU’s Shaw Center for Public and Community Service. “I was a first-year student and had no idea what I was getting into.”

Like the South Bronx, where Quezada Warren grew up, Syracuse’s West Side is a predominantly Latino community confronted by many of the same challenges—poverty, language barriers, drugs, and violence, where police officers are not typically seen in a positive light. So Quezada Warren founded Cross-Cultural Connections, a program in which Latino high school students from the West Side taught city police officers how to speak Spanish. They discussed each other’s cultures and shared a weekly dinner. “It was our way of exposing the officers to our culture, our food, our way of life, and it’s had lasting effects,” says Quezada Warren, who is of Dominican descent and whose mother insisted the family speak only Spanish at home. “To this day, the former students and police officers still get together. The program was all about creating relationships and changing perspectives—not only those of the students, but of the police officers, as well. I think the program helped to bridge a gap and break down barriers. It was the highlight of my college career.”

In recognition of her efforts, Quezada Warren won the InterFaith Works of Central New York Racial Justice Award, and the SU Chancellor’s Award for Public Service in 2007. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in international relations and psychology, she worked for Catholic Charities as a youth health educator, then as a program coordinator and site director for Say Yes to Education, promoting attendance initiatives, after-school programs, and student government participation. Married and the mother of a young daughter, Quezada Warren maintains her close connections with Syracuse’s Latino community. She is a member of the board of directors of Partners in Learning Inc., an organization that provides support to the West Side Learning Center, which offers adult education services to refugees and others for whom English is not the first language. Drawing on her own experience as the first person in her family to attend college, Quezada Warren also serves as a mentor for On Point for College, a program for young first-generation college women.

Quezada Warren joined the Shaw Center in 2012, coordinating the Literacy Corps tutoring program that pairs more than 300 SU student literacy volunteers with pupils in the Syracuse City School District and community-based organizations. “Literacy is the gateway to a life beyond poverty,” she says. “If a child can read, she is more likely to stay in school, develop strong literacy skills, and be able to engage more fully in her own community. Not only are our tutors supporting academic success, they are empowering students to pursue their personal and professional ambitions.”

For Quezada Warren, coming to Syracuse University was a life-changing experience. “SU gave me the chance to showcase my leadership skills,” she says. “I learned that what I want to do is empower the community, empower youth. And what better way to do that than to help them feel they can be role models for others?”  —Paula Meseroll



Photo by Steve Sartori