Ylce Irizarry ’93, Ph.D., jokes that she left for college in the fall of 1989 – and remained there.
Irizarry is Associate Professor of English at the University of South Florida, where her days are filled teaching, advising, and mentoring young adults who are asking themselves: What’s next? Irizarry empathizes with her students, having posed the very same question to herself. As an undergraduate on The Heights, she explored the idea of a career as an accountant, then as a high school teacher, before uncovering a passion for literature and culture that led her to academia.
Today Irizarry studies Latina/o, Chicana/o and Hispanic Caribbean literatures. She is most interested in what she calls the “what and why” of storytelling. She seeks to understand the “generic, linguistic and visual choices” authors have made in their work, and to share that understanding with her students, thereby broadening their perspective on the world they’ll inherit.
A native of Brentwood, N.Y., Irizarry recently returned to campus to share her experiences – both at the College in the course of her professional life – with current students. She credited Le Moyne with providing her with “the opportunity to explore” by taking classes that piqued her interests. That included Julie Olin-Ammentorp’s U.S. Ethnic Literature, which had a profound impact on Irizarry, introducing her to authors and characters whose experiences closely mirror her own. For her part, Olin-Ammentorp described Irizarry as a smart, hardworking student and avid reader, and said that she was happy to hear Irizarry confirm her belief that “putting the right student together with the right book can change their world, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in big ways.”
Away from the classroom, Irizarry was a member of the Tae Kwon Do Club, served on the technical crew for several theatrical productions, and hosted a classic rock show on the College’s radio station. She also tutored students in the College’s Writing Center. The culmination of her experiences – in and out of the classroom – taught Irizarry the value of flexibility, adaptability and curiosity, lessons that she seeks to instill in her own students today. She shares with them her love of reading, and its power to build the skill of analysis, and her passion for writing, and its capacity to prepare individuals to use evidence to craft a strong and compelling argument. She exemplifies hard work and scholarship, having published her first book Chicana/o and Latina/o fiction: The New Memory of Latinidad, and started work on her second book, which will examine the inclusion and reference to fine arts in historical Chicana/o and Latina/o fiction. But perhaps most important, Irizarry models for her students what it means to be a person for others. She holds workshops on diversity, higher education, and professional development for underrepresented students. As a first generation college student herself and the first in her family to earn a Ph.D., Irizarry hopes to help other exceed their self-expectations and to see themselves as part of history.
Looking back at her time at Le Moyne, Irizarry credited the classes that she took, not only in her major, but also in disciplines such as religion, philosophy and history, with greatly expanding her view of the world. She hopes that her students will have a similar rich experience. She wants her students to understand that a college education is not merely about earning a credential. It is about becoming a better person.
“The promises that Le Moyne made – to care for me as a whole person, to help me develop the skills to be successful – were delivered,” she said. “It got me off to a really strong start.”