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Women’s History Month Spotlight: NOVA Alumna Nicole Lazarte, Early Childhood Education Advocate

Nicole Lazarte

For Women’s History Month, NOVA highlights women who have been innovative in their fields and are recognized for their commitment. NOVA alumna, Grace Nicole Lazarte, who prefers to go by Nicole, was recently appointed to the board of the 2022 Northern Virginia Association for the Education of Young Children. She was also photographed by the New York Times for her advocacy of early childhood education.

Here she talks about her personal and professional growth, coming back to school and helping others in their educational pursuits.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background:

I am the first to go to college in my family. My parents came from Bolivia, South America in the 90s. I am the oldest of three and was always told I had to set the example for my younger brothers, especially when it came to academics. I graduated high school in 2015 and attempted a four-year institution to obtain a teaching license and was not able to complete more than a year due to financial and personal issues.

I came back home and began to work full time as a teacher’s aide at the Annandale Christian Community for Action (ACCA) Child Development Center. Eventually, due to unforeseen circumstances I had to become fully independent at 19 years old and pay for school, transportation, rent, etc. So, school became even more out of reach. I overcame a lot of adversity throughout my childhood, and I did not want it to prevent me from bettering myself.

What brought you to NOVA?

I knew I wanted to return to higher education, but I wasn't sure how since I worked full time. My childcare center was enrolled in the (then) Department of Labor and Industry Registered Apprenticeship where it was required to obtain more education and professional development. I found out about ‘Project Pathfinders,’ which is a scholarship made for those pursuing early childhood education by Virginia Early Childhood Foundation, which allows me to take two classes a semester. I enrolled at NOVA in spring of 2018 because it offered flexible hours for classes and because the Alexandria Campus was close, so I could carpool with peers.

What did you study at NOVA?

I graduated in May 2021 with my associates in Early Childhood Education and an Infant Careers Study Certificate.

Tell Us About Your Experience at NOVA; i.e., professors you’ve liked and friends you’ve met:

I can confidently say I loved my NOVA professors and am still in contact with many of them. My advisors were so helpful in making sure I didn't put too much on my plate while making sure I was still pushing myself to do better. My professors have helped me grow in the field and have written me letters of recommendation to get on national boards. They helped connect me to resources and opportunities I would have not known about otherwise. The support I received was tremendous, and I will always be so grateful for their dedication to their students.

What would you tell a student coming to NOVA?

I would tell them to take the opportunity to enroll at NOVA first and then transition to a four-year institution. As someone who did a big school and then NOVA, I preferred the teaching styles at NOVA. The professors are so understanding of your time and want students to succeed. I became friends with many classmates and saw how we all became more confident in our profession and work from all the education and experience gained throughout the degree program.

Where do you see yourself after NOVA or what career pursuits are you exploring?

Since graduating NOVA, I have transferred to GMU to continue my schooling and obtain my teaching license through their B.S. program. I am still using the scholarship to cover my classes, and I am a proud advocate for it--I even worked a bit of a contract job with Virginia Early Childhood Foundation to help other students apply and navigate the use of the funds.

Now, I help the staff at my center apply and register for courses each semester so they may also further their professional development. I am now a lead teacher of my own classroom of infants at my center. I love my field and the knowledge I gained at NOVA. Both NOVA and my center are accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, so I was interested in what else they offered. Turns out, they offer a lot!

I am now a Board Member for the local Northern Virginia affiliate of the National Association for the Education of Young Children and am currently the Advocacy Chair. I also just won the election for Student Board Member for the National Governing Board of NVAEYC, with my term beginning this summer. My professors are members of NVAEYC and helped write me recommendations for NVAEYC. I am also a part of the Provider Advisory Council for the Virginia Promise Partnership, which has the goal of securing high-quality, affordable childcare for all children in the state by 2030. I recently got to travel to Richmond to represent the organization.

It was very empowering to be around so many other professionals in my NOVA classes who were passionate about their field, and now I run into them at other events.

Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) is the largest public institution of higher learning in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America's largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls more than 80,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield (Medical Education Campus) and Woodbridge, through NOVA Online and high school dual enrollment. We offer more than 100 associate degree and certificate programs to help our students reach their academic and professional goals through university transfers and access to the most in-demand careers. At NOVA, we strive to ensure that every student succeeds, every program achieves and every community prospers. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, visit our website, www.nvcc.edu, or call 703.323.3000.

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