The adage “father knows best” holds special meaning for Venezuelan native Carolina Acosta-Alzuru. If not for her late father’s encouragement, she may never have stepped in front of a classroom.
“I always thought I would be lousy at teaching,” she recalled.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Georgia Tech, she returned to Venezuela to start a career in data analysis management. An unexpected invitation to teach computer science to communication majors at Caracas’ Andres Bello Catholic University was quickly turned down.
When her father learned of her decision, he was adamant that she could not turn down the offer without at least trying. She took his advice and soon found herself, terrified, in front of 70 students.
“I was working full time in information technology and teaching part time. I soon realized that those two hours in the classroom were the best two hours of my week,” she said. “Plus I wanted to learn what my students were learning. A transformation started taking place in me.”
In 1994, she returned to the U.S. with her husband and three children for graduate studies in mass communication. Five years later, she had earned both her master’s and Ph.D. from UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication and joined its faculty.
Since then “Dr. A,” as she is affectionately known, has developed a reputation as one of the best professors in the college. A master motivator, she teaches a wide range of high-demand courses in public relations, graphic communication and cultural studies.
She’s also an internationally recognized scholar on telenovelas, the popular Spanish-language soap operas “to understand the links between media, culture and society.” Using her research to inform her teaching, she teaches an Honors seminar (in Spanish) and an undergraduate course (in English) about telenovelas.
Students lucky enough to take a class with Acosta-Alzuru realize they’ve experienced something extraordinary.
“Students describe her classes as challenging, demanding and rewarding opportunities to genuinely engage with the professor and the material,” said Diane Miller, director of undergraduate services. “They consistently speak of Dr. A’s ability to balance a compassionate, caring demeanor with rigorous academic expectations that challenge them to do their best.”
For Acosta-Alzuru, the classroom is “sacred ground” and teaching is a fulfillment of her passion.
“I begin every class with high expectations for myself and for the students, who I never underestimate,” she said—echoing the father who never underestimated her abilities or allowed her to do so. “My overarching goal is to encourage their sense of accomplishment so that, before the semester ends, their expectations of themselves will exceed my own.”
Like father, like daughter.