Katie Groh de Aviña: “Together We Do This Work”
Katie Groh de Aviña (BA ‘06, Chicano studies), winner of CLA’s 2022 Alumni of Notable Achievement Award, is honored to serve her community in intersecting ways. Her involvement as a student in the fight to save Chicano studies helped guide her career toward education. Now, she hopes to create “pathways to develop more Latinx educators and leaders” as Executive Director of El Colegio High School, a charter school in Minneapolis.
How are you involved in the community?
Being a Latina in education and a mother of four children, my worlds of work and personal time consistently intersect. My children drive the work that I am committed and passionate about: to have educational spaces that are both safe and rigorous for them to develop into our next generation of adult community members.
I live in a neighborhood where I see families and alumni from my school the moment I step foot outside my front door. I live where I live and go to spaces intentionally to stay grounded and connected to the community I am privileged to serve. Being a leader of a charter school means I also stay involved and informed on how to continue to advocate for innovative practices in education. I am honored to serve on the MN Association for Charter Schools Board as well as participate on Education Evolving’s Advisory Council.
As a mother, community member, and director of a school, my world consistently interconnects. If I am at an event my child is performing or participating in, I am there wearing all my hats—parent, educator, board member, community member. These facets of my life are interwoven in a way that cannot always be easily teased apart. As a Latina working in a culturally-affirming school, I am always enveloped in the community I serve. I have the honor and privilege to always be immersed in the community I serve.
How did your time in CLA inspire you to pursue your path?
After transferring from General College to CLA, I knew I wanted to work with people in some capacity. It was when I was taking classes in Chicano studies and volunteering at an after-school program that I realized that what I was learning in my classes, what I was learning in the process of ensuring the Department of Chicano Studies would remain a department, was preparing me with skills and knowledge to work with youth. I needed the grounding in the pedagogy and historical context to know where we are today. That foundation stuck with me when I went on to further my education in an MEd in youth development leadership; I needed to learn to critically think and to question things.
What is your favorite memory from your time as a student?
My favorite memory was the time I had with an incredible group of students and community members in a group we formed together: “To Save Chicano Studies." It was our mission to ensure that the department did not close. The generations before us had done their work to keep the department in place for us and we took the responsibility to continue that fight. There are several memories woven into that initiative I had the honor to be a part of, and I learned so much from that experience, and I made lifelong friends and connections!
There is one particular moment where we had middle schoolers from Academia Cesar Chavez, high school students from La Escuelita afterschool program, university students, and community members marching behind Kalpulli KetzalCoatlicue to Northrop bringing awareness for the need for Chicano studies. As we gathered, we had the honor to listen to Department of Chicano Studies founder Ramona Arreguin de Rosales speaking and empowering us to keep up the fight. It was beautiful and powerful to see so many generations pulled together for la misma lucha!
What advice would you give to current CLA students?
The University is big, and it can be easy to get lost. Part of being in community is taking the initiative to build community. Go to events in the Student Union, get to know your classmates outside of class, because having a community for me helped me stay focused on classes when it got hard. My college community helped hold me accountable to reaching my goals when I felt like giving up.
How do you spend your free time? What "fills your cup"?
Spending time with my family, friends and community. Something about working on a variety of initiatives and projects in the world of education reinvigorates and inspires me every day. I love to surround myself with people I can learn from and people who challenge me to grow and develop! And I also love to have fun and laugh!
What was your reaction to receiving this award?
Surprised and humbled. I do not do the work that I do alone, I would not be where I am today without community. I have had the honor and privilege to learn from and work with incredible individuals throughout my career. I do not do what I do for individual success, and for that reason I share this award with children, my husband, my mentor and colleagues—both past and present—because together we do this work.
What's next? What are your personal/professional goals for the next five years?
My personal goal is to visit Colombia and search for my birth family. Being an adoptee, it has always been a dream to know more of who I am and my biological family and ancestors. I am in a place personally to go and return to where I was born, to learn more about where I come from.
Professionally, in five years I hope that El Colegio High School has grown its middle school, creating a bigger space so we can serve more students earlier in their educational journeys with our trauma-informed and decolonizing pedagogies. I hope to be part of creating pathways to develop more Latinx educators and leaders. We have many students who graduate high school interested in pursuing education as a career because they were able to experience school in a positive way, and to be able to inspire more youth in this way is also a goal of mine.