How One Woman Uplifts the Hispanic Community at Durham Tech

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Constanza Gómez-Joines has dedicated her 25 years at Durham Tech, working with the university and local nonprofits, to ensuring that underserved students have access to the classes, resources and people they need to be successful

Constanza Gómez-Joines
Constanza at the Durham Arts Council; she’s president of its board of trustees.

By Sinclair Holian | Photography by John Michael Simpson

When Constanza Gómez-Joines immigrated to America at 13 years old, she’d already lived in nine different countries, spoke several languages and had a strong sense of integrity.

“We moved to the United States because, in Argentina, it was the time of the military dictatorship,” she says. Fearful for her “opinionated” daughter in a time when young people opposing the regime “disappeared,” Costanza’s mother made the difficult decision to leave the country.

Arriving in Miami, Constanza says she was placed in English as a second language classes at her new junior high school. (Decades later, the ESL program at Durham Technical Community College is one of many that Constanza oversees as the school’s executive director at the Center for the Global Learner.)

Constanza graduated from Florida State University in 1991. She then enrolled at UNC, where she received her master’s and doctorate degrees in comparative literature. She began teaching undergraduate classes at the university with intentions to eventually become a fulltime professor at a four-year university. But she discovered a different calling in 1998 when she was hired to teach a summer Spanish course at Durham Tech. She “fell in love” with the school’s student population and classroom diversity “in terms of ethnicity, race, educational backgrounds and age,” she says. Constanza recalls feeling a sense of clarity after that first day: “I want to teach at the community college. That’s where I want to be.”

Twenty-five years later, she is still at Durham Tech – and still in love with the work. After a few years as a full-time instructor, she became the foreign language chair for the Arts and Science and the University Transfer departments. She then was asked to chair the Global Connections Committee, where the idea for the Center for the Global Learner was born, and Constanza spearheaded its development. She also serves as special assistant to the president for Hispanic community engagement, working with Durham Tech President J.B. Buxton on matters related to the Hispanic community.

Constanza finds that her students, many of whom were born in other countries, too, are a constant inspiration in her work. “I particularly work with the Latinx, refugee and immigrant community members here in Durham and Orange counties,” she says. “It is my passion to help underserved and underrepresented community members with access to education and other supporting resources, so that they can achieve their personal, educational and career goals to better their lives and that of their families.”

Curriculum development, community engagement, leadership meetings and one-on-one student advising are just a few of her day-to-day tasks in her leadership roles. Constanza feels especially proud of her influence on several community initiatives, including her work with the nonprofit El Centro Hispano to help ensure fair compensation for local day laborers. Constanza led efforts in working with Durham Tech’s building, engineering and skilled trades program to develop new professional initiatives, identifying funding for tuition and creating a pool of certified Spanish-speaking instructors. “It wasn’t easy,” she says, but Durham Tech began offering residential electrical writing and HVAC trade courses for day laborers associated with El Centro Hispano’s Casa for Employment and Leadership in spring 2022. “We started small because this was a first for Durham Tech,” Constanza says, “but I’m so incredibly proud of these programs.”

Constanza has clear advice for other women pursuing a similar career path in academia: “If you’re passionate about working with people, follow your heart, follow your instinct and run with it.” Beyond her work in education, Constanza is passionate about the arts. She serves as president of the Durham Arts Council’s board of trustees.

Never one to stop “running,” she’s already dreaming up a new project: a Durham Tech mural education course, culminating with a mural that represents the history of Durham and the stories of our diverse communities.

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