Las Vegas, N.M. – The New Mexico Association for Bilingual Education recognized Highlands University alumna Mary Jean Habermann López with its highest honor for her lifelong impact on bilingual education.
Habermann López received the Ben Luján Lifetime Achievement Award at the NMABE annual conference April 29. Lujan, who died in 2012, was the longtime New Mexico speaker of the house and a champion of bilingual education.
Habermann López’ leadership in bilingual education spans more than 40 years, including directing the New Mexico and Title VII Bilingual/Multicultural Education Program for 15 years.
During her tenure at the New Mexico Department of Education, some of Habermann López’ accomplishments include initiating the first dual language immersion programs in the state, establishing agreements with ministers of education in Mexico for professional development and teacher exchanges, and assisting with policy development for the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Office of Civil Rights.
Habermann López earned her B.A. cum laude in Spanish from Highlands and her M.A. in bilingual education.
“Highlands was a pioneer in bilingual education and gave me a solid foundation for my career,” Habermann López said. “At the graduate level, my course work at Highlands was expansive and unique. The majority of the courses were delivered in Spanish in subjects such as children’s literature, science for the elementary teacher, and linguistics, to name a few.”
She said that as an undergraduate at Highlands, the rigor of her Spanish degree was fantastic.
“Because Highlands is a multicultural, diverse campus, I learned the living language and culture of the Hispanic people of the state. This language became a part of who I am,” Habermann López said.
She began her career working for eight years in Albuquerque as a teacher for bilingual education and English as a second language.
“My classroom teaching experience gave me a deep understanding of how bilingual programs produce a positive academic outcome for children,” said Habermann López, who later taught graduate courses in bilingual education at the Highlands University Albuquerque Center for a number of years.
“It was very rewarding to apply everything I learned over the years to help bilingual teachers be prepared,” Habermann López said.
She has written extensively on bilingual and multicultural education including authoring a chapter in the 2009 textbook, Nuevo México: A New Mexico History Anthology. She co-authored, along with Rebecca Blum Martínez, the upcoming 2018 textbook, Standing on Their Shoulders: The History of Bilingual Education in New Mexico.
Loretta Salazar, Highlands University education professor emerita, introduced Habermann López at the New Mexico Association for Bilingual Education awards ceremony.
“Throughout her work, Mary Jean has interpreted the law, the policies, and philosophies of bilingual education with intellectual rigor,” Salazar said. “At the same time, she is able to listen with her heart and soul. She is truly a champion of bilingual education.”
Since her retirement from the New Mexico Public Education Department in 2000, Habermann López continues to be a leader in bilingual education.
She co-chairs the New Mexico Bilingual Advisory Committee and the Coalition for the Majority, a group of bilingual and multicultural education experts who advocate for equity for linguistically and culturally diverse students in New Mexico.