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Photo Credit: University of Massachusetts Amherst
Photo Credit: University of Massachusetts Amherst

Educator Sonia Nieto to receive Mass Humanities Governor's Award for her work in Puerto Rican studies and multicultural education

Her work continues to inspire newer generations of multicultural educators.

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Educator Sonia Nieto believes that change does not come simply because people wish for it.

While advocating for peace during the 1960s and 70s, Nieto decided the best way to make a difference in the world would be to do it as a teacher.

In 1965, Nieto received a bachelor's degree in elementary education from St. John’s University, and she would go on to achieve a master’s degree in Spanish and Hispanic Literature from New York University.

Nieto began teaching in 1966, first working at a Brooklyn intermediate school. She later found herself in the Bronx, teaching at P.S. 25 — the Northeast’s first fully bilingual school.

In 1972, Nieto was recruited by the faculty of the Puerto Rican studies department at Brooklyn College. While discussing her fortunate placement, Nieto spoke about its rarity:

“At the time, many Puerto Ricans hadn’t had the experience nor the opportunities to study for a doctorate, but I was given an opportunity,” Nieto told MassLive.

She received her doctorate in education from University of Massachusetts Amherst. To date, her research has appeared in 13 books and dozens of journals.

Now, Nieto is set to be honored with the Mass Humanities Governor's Award for her work in Puerto Rican studies and multicultural education. 

She will recieve the award alongside three other individuals: law Professor John Burgess, historian and law Professor Annette Gordon-Reed, and history Professor Heather Cox Richardson. 

The award recognizes individuals whose philanthropy work embraces the humanities, and seeks to enhance civic life in the state. 

Executive director of Mass Humanities, Brian Boyles, said that Nieto’s work in multicultural education and literature warrants the award because her work “informs our understanding of [Massachusetts] as the home to a diverse Latinx population.”

Mass Humanities is a non-profit located in Northampton, Massachusetts, that aims to improve civic life and promote a thriving humanities environment in the state by supporting programs incorporating history, literature, and other humanities. 

Each year, directors of the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities choose nominees. Afterwards, the Massachusetts Governor — this time, Gov. Charlie Baker — confirms them. 

The Mass Humanities Governor’s Award was established in 2014.

Nieto was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Puerto Rican parents and grew up alongside two siblings. 

Her father stopped attending elementary school in his youth to instead provide for his family. Having missed out on some education themselves, Nieto’s parents insisted on their own children’s studies.

Nieto has been partially retired for 15 years, but stays working in literature. 

The educator is currently the founding editor of the Language, Culture, and Teaching book series. 

From her early years in university to modern day, Nieto has been a pioneer.  

“I have been at the beginning of these movements like bilingual education… Puerto Rican studies… multicultural education… I consider myself extremely fortunate to have taken part in all of these movements,” Nieto told MassLive.

Her work will continue to inspire generations of multicultural educators. 

This year’s award ceremony for the Mass Humanities Governor’s Award will be held on Oct. 24 via a livestream and at an in-person, limited capacity event in Boston.

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