Spanish educator recognized for contributions to students with Distinguished Service Award

Contact: Deanne Puca

Dr. Mariola Pérez de la Cruz

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—During almost a quarter of a century at Western Michigan University, Dr. Mariola Pérez de la Cruz has invested her talents and time to elevate its Spanish programs and experiences at home and abroad.

Pérez de la Cruz, master faculty specialist and undergraduate advisor in the Department of Spanish, will receive the Distinguished Service Award during the Fall Awards Celebration on Friday, Sept. 29. 

“Dr. Perez de la Cruz has been an integral part of our success for more than two decades, especially in her efforts to develop Spanish programs and mentor students,” says Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “We appreciate the passion she’s put into advancing Western’s recruitment and retention efforts. She’s truly a gem, and both colleagues and students alike deeply appreciate her ongoing spirit of excellence.”

Pérez de la Cruz joined WMU in 1999 as an instructor and became a faculty member in 2001.

The recipient of the 2014-15 College of Arts and Sciences Faculty Achievement Award in Teaching, she also organizes the semiannual Hispanic Film Festival at WMU.

Whether organizing activities for Hispanic Heritage month, holding informal Spanish Tables each week for students to practice their language skills, monitoring free tutoring or running several study abroad programs, she has been a “role model and source of inspiration” for her students and an “invaluable employee and wonderful colleague,” writes Dr. Pablo Pastrana Pérez, Department of Spanish chair.

"Our partners abroad adore her for her accommodating personality and generous predisposition. And I, like all those chairs before me, have learned to rely on her to do whatever needs to be done, quite often at the drop of hat," he writes.

Her colleagues share that appreciation for her work, including Dr. Mercedes Tasend, WMU professor of Spanish.

“Professor Pérez de la Cruz has been a highly competent instructor. She is also a valued colleague who undertakes all her duties responsibly and enthusiastically and who truly cares about our students,” Tasend says. “She has played a crucial role in helping the department recruit and retain students. And, above all, she has proven consistently for more than two decades that she is committed to the support, development and success of every single WMU student that she meets.”

Her influence has had a lasting impact on many of her students.

“Dr. Peréz de la Cruz’s dedication to her students, her unwavering belief in her students’ capabilities and her work ethic have truly left an impression not only on me but on the department as a whole,” writes Carmen Vinkemulder, a 2022 graduate and current master’s student. “She inspires her students and co-workers alike with her unique, bright outlook on teaching and her creative and persistent approach to student mentoring.”

“In the classroom, Mariola provided an unforgettable experience; her courses were always more like a conversation than a lecture. They were full of quick-witted humor, personal anecdotes and, of course, material aligning with the focus of the class,” adds Ava Schmidt, a former graduate teaching assistant. “Furthermore, she showed interest in her students’ lives outside the classroom. She always asked me how I was doing, because she didn’t only care about the grades I got; she cared about me as a human being. Mariola always knew when I needed a kind word or when I needed some tough love to improve myself, especially as a teacher.”

Also receiving awards at Fall Awards Celebration are recipients of other prestigious campuswide honors: the Distinguished Faculty Scholar, Emerging Scholar, Distinguished Teaching, Excellence in Diversity and Make a Difference awards. The event begins at 11 a.m. in the Kirsch Auditorium of the Fetzer Center with a luncheon to follow and concludes at 1:30 p.m.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.