November 22, 2022, Seattle, WA – Today, the University of Washington (UW) Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity (OMA&D) and the Friends of the Educational Opportunity Program (FEOP) Board of Trustees announced their selection of Dr. Norma Zavala for the 2023 Charles E. Odegaard Award. The award is the only University and community selected award and is regarded as the highest achievement in diversity at the University.
“Dr. Zavala has worked tirelessly to ensure that educational institutions are accessible, welcoming, and affirming, especially for those from underrepresented and underserved communities,” said Rickey Hall, vice president for OMA&D. “A common thread throughout my interactions with Dr. Zavala is a willingness to engage in dialogue in authentic and constructive ways, even if those conversations are difficult. Dr. Zavala epitomizes courageous leadership. We need more leaders like her.”
Dr. Zavala attended the University of Washington where she earned her BA in psychology (‘80), master’s in educational leadership (‘02) and doctorate in educational leadership and policy studies (‘07).
Pursuing an education is a family value for Dr. Zavala’s family, and as an undergraduate, she was encouraged by the values of her parents. Earning her master’s and doctoral degrees was a family endeavor as she was encouraged and supported by her husband and motivated by her four children. Her work since then and still today is motivated by making the world a more equitable and socially just place for her children, grandchildren, and all other children.
As a teenager, Dr. Zavala was introduced to the Cesar Chavez’s farmworker’s movement by her aunt, who was a strong activist. This introduction resulted in her advocacy for improved farm worker working conditions and health care rights in her local community. She served as the secretary for the committee of community members that worked with local residents that had been farmworkers and others from the Department of Health Education and Welfare to successfully access a farmworker’s health clinic. That clinic is still in Othello, Washington under the name of the Columbia Basin Health Association. After completing an impactful career of serving the community through transformational education leadership, Dr. Zavala is still sharing her expertise as an educational consultant and anti-racism researcher.
Dr. Zavala’s work includes working for Migrant Education and in several roles in the Seattle Public Schools including tutor, instructional assistant, teacher, head teacher, and principal. Most recently she served as principal at Concord International Elementary in the Seattle South Park neighborhood before retiring in 2019. She worked tirelessly as a leader to maintain a school that reflected the community of families it serves. “Even in retirement, my work is not done. I strive to see and create a public education system that is truly diverse – linguistically, ethnically, geographically, in gender orientation, and in every other aspect!” She continues, “I know my lifetime of work will not see the solution achieved, but I hope that the values and lessons I impart will move it further along.”
While at Concord International School, Dr. Zavala was committed to improving the education for students that have been disenfranchised and for raising the bar for all. She integrated current educational research and her knowledge of the community into her work at the school and district level. She also applied her knowledge of the community and real-life school experience to her work on committees locally and statewide. “The diversity in this community is rich and it is important for both students of color as well as students that are not students of color to see a teaching staff, an administration staff, a cabinet level that is diverse and reflects who they are.” She continues, “I think when you see that, that there’s a sense of belonging in the entire population that can only contribute to a better environment in Seattle for all of us.”
Her passion for creating learning environments where all students have access to excellent education was strengthened through numerous years of serving on the state’s Multi-ethnic Think Tank. In this capacity she was chosen to be one of the writers of the Call-to-Action position paper on cultural competency that was presented to state legislators and higher education institutions from across the state.
When asked about her philosophy on diversity, equity and inclusion, Dr. Zavala said, “it’s about that sense of belonging and the structures and systems that allow individuals to be active participants in the community. It’s really to ensure that every person has that sense of belonging. And to do that, we have to look at how those individuals feel, and create opportunity for engagement.” She continues to explain how advancing equity has become a part of her everyday actions. “It’s because of who I am that equity and social justice are integral to my life and I have grown to bring it into my professional life. It is part of who I am at this point and who I have grown to be through my experiences, both good and bad. It is just how I interact in the world – I think the more you know, the more you must address when you see inequities.”
Dr. Zavala was formerly a board member of OMA&D’s FEOP Board, REACH, SPS Equity Race Advisory Committee, and is currently a board member of the University of Washington President’s Minority Community Advisory Committee. She has facilitated educational groups at the Center for Educational Leadership Summer Institutes and represented the UW as a presenter for principals at a summer institute in China. Other important contributions include serving on several hiring committees for the University of Washington, the Gates Early Education Advisory Committee, City of Seattle Yesler Terrace Review Committee, Sea Mar Chicano/a Museum Advisory Committee, and the UW Board of Regents Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee.
Dr. Norma Zavala will be presented with the 2023 Charles E. Odegaard Award and honored in community at the 2023 Celebration gala on May 17, 2023.
About the Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity
We create pathways for diverse populations to access postsecondary opportunities, nurture and support their academic success, and cultivate a campus climate that enriches the educational experience for all. Our programs serve over 24,000 students in 85 school districts, 179 schools and 19 two-year colleges through the state of Washington as they prepare and plan for college; over 6,000 UW undergraduate students with new student orientation, academic advising, instructional support, mentoring, financial aid and scholarship opportunities; and 450 students as they prepare for, apply to, and succeed in graduate and professional programs. Find out more at https://www.uw.edu/omad
About the Friends of the Educational Opportunity Program Board of Trustees
Established in 1971, the Friends of the Educational Opportunity Program (FEOP) Board of Trustees promotes academic excellence for underrepresented, educationally and economically disadvantaged students. The FEOP board serve as an advisory pipeline between the Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity (OMA&D) and the community and provide counsel to the vice president on resource development and diversity initiatives. FEOP joins OMA&D in selecting the University of Washington Charles E. Odegaard Award and student scholarship recipients and serving as a host for Celebration. Find out more at https://www.washington.edu/omad/alumni-resources/feop/
About the Charles E. Odegaard Award
The Charles E. Odegaard Award was established in April of 1973 to honor a member of our community whose leadership sustains the former University of Washington President’s distinguished work (1958-1973) on behalf of diversity at the UW and citizens of the state. It is the only University and community selected award and is regarded as the highest achievement in diversity at the University. For a list of past recipients, visit https://www.washington.edu/omad/celebration/odegaard-winners/