Assistant dean's dedication to students is the hallmark of her long career

December 03, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A native of Puerto Rico and a longtime resident of Pennsylvania, María Schmidt has dedicated her life to addressing issues of educational equity and college access for under-represented students.

“I have always been very passionate about issues of equity and social justice,” said Schmidt, assistant dean for the Office of Multicultural Programs in the College of Education.

Throughout her professional career at Penn State, she has always put the needs of her students at the forefront. And it’s seeing students succeed, she said, that keeps her going.

Maria Schmidt

María Schmidt

IMAGE: Annemarie Mountz

“Throughout the years, I worked with many students coming from difficult life experiences and underserved due to inequities in our education system. Students who were not validated as learners and usually heard they were not ‘college material.’ Still, against all odds, they earn their admission to Penn State, work hard, graduate and go on to successful careers and to impact their communities in meaningful ways. It may sound cliché, but that’s why I’m still here,” Schmidt said.

“That’s the truth. It inspires me when I see people not give up even under the most difficult circumstances. That endurance! I’ve been lucky to witness that strength in many of our students.”

During her time at Penn State, Schmidt has served in several leadership positions, such as chair for the Commission on Racial/Ethnic Diversity, and received the 2005 Dr. James Robinson Equal Opportunity Award in recognition of her commitment and leadership in fostering diversity and her service to underrepresented communities.

Schmidt frequently serves as consultant and advocate on Latina/o issues and engages in a variety of speaking, teaching and translating activities for community and University endeavors. She also is adviser to several student organizations at Penn State and one of the founders of “Mujeres Bellas,” a sociocultural group of Latinas in Centre County.

Schmidt holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology with a minor in political science from the University of Puerto Rico (Río Piedras), and a master's of education degree in curriculum and instruction from Penn State.

Schmidt was appointed to the Pennsylvania Governor’s Commission on Latino Affairs in 2006, where she served for several years as commissioner representing Blair and Centre Counties.

Knowing she is making a difference in students’ lives is what keeps Schmidt going.

“I would never see myself doing a job that doesn’t have a meaning beyond receiving a paycheck at the end of the month,” she said.

“I actually wouldn’t be here if this was not the kind of role I was playing," she added. "I don’t see myself holding positions that do not entail working with students; that are not addressing or helping the system transform itself to become more welcoming, more inclusive and accessible to those populations who traditionally have been dismissed or marginalized.

“It’s not only that I’m here for so long, but it’s the nature of the work that I’ve been doing. I just don’t see myself doing any other job within the institution.”

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated December 03, 2019