Susan Torres, 2008 Woman of Achievement

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Susan Torres, 2008 Woman of Achievement

Susan Torres, 2008 Woman of Achievement

In nominating Susan Torres as a 2008 Woman of Achievement, a colleague wrote, “Susan Torres is a true hero.  Every day, she works to help and empower others and is devoted to serving diverse and underserved populations, specifically immigrants and refugees.” 

Susan grew up in the Pacific Northwest.  After earning her bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington, she joined the Peace Corps.  She travelled to Ecuador, expecting to serve for two years.  She extended one year and then stayed for 25 more, building a life. 

Susan never formally studied education during her undergraduate work.  But, she said, “When I went into the Peace Corps, they needed teachers. I was basically thrown into it.” 

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She taught biology, English, social studies, literature at all levels – from second grade immersion through university.  She also worked in a hospital, taught medical English, helped develop an employment agency, worked with community health centers, and established home-based services for first-time mothers. 

While in Ecuador, Susan married her first husband and raised three children:  Michael, Monica and Philip.  With her daughter active in gymnastics, the family joined a sports club. Susan became one of the country’s three international judges and represented Ecuador at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

In 1991, she returned to Vancouver where she married her husband Rem, a native of St. Petersburg, Russia.  Fluent in Spanish and French, she taught at Hudson’s Bay High School and Shumway Junior High School.  In 1994, she joined Clark College as an instructor of English as a Second Language (ESL). 

Susan believes that her life experiences have helped her assist her students, many of whom are highly-trained professionals from Asia, South America and Eastern Europe who find themselves in a new country with communication challenges and no support network.  “I know what it is to be an immigrant on both sides, both in Ecuador and returning to the United States after 25 years…and I think my students can appreciate that,” Susan said.   

“It’s not just teaching language,” she noted.  “It’s being a gatekeeper for the culture and helping people create a new network and understand how things work here.”  They realize that we care,” Susan said.  “It’s not a class; it’s a community of learners.”

In the community, Susan has participated in the Winter Hospitality Overflow program, which provides shelter to the homeless, as well as Habitat for Humanity and the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. For three years she was a volunteer English and citizenship teacher for the Hispanic community.

Susan serves as a mentor and tutor for students at all levels and takes a personal interest in her students’ lives. One of her nominators wrote, “Susan had a student who was raising three children on her own. She took the family under her wing, inviting them to her home and including them on holidays.  Now, the mom is taking college classes to begin a new career, her older children are studying for their associate degrees at Clark, and they have settled in their own home.”

Another nominator noted, “All of us who know Susan feel privileged and blessed not only to have her in our lives, but also because her work makes our community a better place to live in.”

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