Clarena Larrotta

profile image


Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction, 2005


I am from very humble beginnings in Armenia (Colombia), situated close to the center cordillera of the Andean mountain chain. My family inculcated in me a strong work ethic, cultural pride, and traditional values; such as the role of women as housewives and caregivers. In doing so they also fed my hunger for independence and success.  I was the first in my family to go to college and needless to say, the first to obtain a Ph.D.

My path to Texas came via Puerto Rico; specifically, the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez, where I obtained a Master’s in English Education. UT helped me cross the cultural divide and was the perfect place to obtain a strong foundation as an emerging scholar and researcher.  My professors (Diane Schallert, David Schwarzer, Jo Worthy, Ann Brooks) recognized in me the potential to become a role model; they expanded my world to become a teacher for others from similar backgrounds.  I thank them for their vote of confidence and guidance.

Why UT?

Dr. Betsy Morales, a Puerto Rican colleague, and UT alum, insisted I apply to the Ph.D. at UT-Austin. I came to Texas in 2000; though I experienced culture shock studying at this Tier I university, I also felt welcomed. I applied to other universities, but Dr. George Blanco’s active recruitment convinced me this was a place that cared. He called my office three times and was convinced that UT Austin was a good match for me. As an international student, one of my greatest fears was looking different, yet the diversity at UT was so vast that this quickly became the least of my issues. Financial and work support at UT was another opportunity that allowed me to pay for my studies. Although my international status prevented me from qualifying for scholarships, I worked as an Assistant Instructor and taught undergraduate classes in three different programs at UT during my doctoral program.  These experiences were very meaningful and shaped the work I continue to do as a university professor.

Life After UT

After graduation, I got three job offers and accepted one in California. However, by that time, Texas had become home and living in California for an academic year made me feel homesick! In July of 2006, I was back in Texas and working for Texas State. As a UT graduate, I was equipped with the skills to follow my passion working with adult English learners and their families. Having done a dissertation in adult English literacy with a focus on immigrant populations prepared me for my current job. I am now an associate professor of adult education and adult ESL. I recently founded a new Graduate Certificate program in Adult English as a Second or Foreign Language Instruction at my institution.

Advice for Students

Have a passion for what you do. Enjoy each step of the journey and keep the goal in mind. The moment it stops being fun—reflect, adjust, and reinvent yourself and your goal. Life is too short to not follow your dreams or to be unhappy.