María Fernanda Pardo | Movers & Shakers 2020–Educators

When María Fernanda Pardo arrived in the United States from Colombia with a business degree more than 33 years ago, she quickly realized that studying English did not offer enough fluency to function, much less reach her full potential. A supportive family helped her overcome the challenge.

Sidsel Bech-Petersen

CURRENT POSITION

Head of Literacy Department, Glen Cove Public Library, NY

DEGREE

MLS, Queens College, CUNY, 2011

FOLLOW

glencovelibrary.org; bit.ly/MFPforMandS

Photo by Gene Smirnov

 

Opportunity Builder

When María Fernanda Pardo arrived in the United States from Colombia with a business degree more than 33 years ago, she quickly realized that studying English did not offer enough fluency to function, much less reach her full potential. A supportive family helped her overcome the challenge.

However, not all immigrants have the support or educational opportunities Pardo had. So when she became a librarian, Pardo’s empathy drove her actions. "I knew I wanted to work with immigrants and that libraries were the perfect place to help immigrants acculturate and further their education," she says.

A major highlight of Pardo’s work at Glen Cove Public Library is her language learning series, Vocabulary for Jobs. With funding from New York State Adult Literacy–Workforce Development grants, she led a team to develop classes to teach practical vocabulary about daily activities in the six jobs most sought by new immigrants, including in hospitality and health care. Each two-hour class covers 43 words on average and is supported by printed lists and digital audio files. The series is among 19 bilingual literacy programs that Pardo has developed and delivers with 32 volunteers, many of whom are retired educators, and some who are former program participants. "In the library we create community through the exchange of knowledge," she says. "We are all illiterate in something, we all need to keep learning."

Volunteers also offer programs in finance, nutrition, Latin American cooking, conversational Mandarin, beginning Spanish for English speakers, and more. "In order to help such a diverse immigrant community, I must listen to patrons and find the resources they need to further their education, learn life skills, enjoy what their new home country offers, and share their skills."

Pardo’s work has impacted all 54 libraries in the cooperative Nassau Library System, says her nominator, Nassau’s Assistant Director Nicole Scherer. "I was struck by how deeply attuned she was to the feedback from her patrons. When they tell her what they really need, she finds a way to provide it," Scherer says. "María Fernanda understands that the service a library provides changes over time—just as communities do."

With a November 2019 promotion from outreach librarian to head the newly created Literacy Department, Pardo now has oversight of a $15,000 budget and the freedom to add new classes, like resumé writing, online job search skills, and how to start small businesses. "Through my work I have contributed to an environment where a racially diverse population with different levels of education and income share resources and help each other," says Pardo. 

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