How One Professor’s Lehman Childhood Came Full Circle
Education Professor Yasmin Morales-Alexander began her journey at Lehman College just as she was entering grade school. Born and raised in The Bronx, she frequently accompanied her father, Victor Morales, to his maintenance job on the Lehman campus where she quickly sensed that something important was happening here.
“I started coming to campus when I was four or five years old, so it seemed huge, with these really cool buildings,” said Morales-Alexander. “It felt both exciting and intimidating.”
While her father made his rounds, she would explore the library, then in Shuster Hall, fascinated by the leather-bound volumes she found in the stacks, and browse medical textbooks, atlases, and children’s books.
As an undergraduate student, she worked in the new (Leonard Lief) library, which was under her father’s supervision until his retirement in 1992.
This early exposure to the College made such a positive impression that she later chose to attend Lehman, earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree. She then began teaching here part-time as an adjunct, before enrolling in a doctoral program at Columbia University’s Teachers College.
Things came full circle in 2016, when Morales-Alexander returned to Lehman full-time as an assistant professor of Early Childhood Education, filling a vacancy left when her mentor in the School of Education retired. Not sure if you want/need the mentor’s name, but if you do, it’s Dr. Nancy S. Maldonado—herself a Lehman and Teachers College graduate.
Morales-Alexander’s work broadly focuses on issues of identity, justice, and equity in the classroom. Her research examines whole family engagement in a child’s educational journey—especially in urban Latino and immigrant communities. Moreover, her work is challenging preconceived ideas in her field, and changing perceptions for the better.
“The literature wasn't inclusive. There is a deficit perspective of families that don't subscribe to the white middle class norm,” she said. “My major finding is that Latino families use their cultural values to raise their children and engage with their children's schools. But everybody does that. It’s not a white thing.”
In 2022, her paper “School is the child’s second home: Family engagement from a Latino sociocultural perspective,” published in the Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, was recognized as the journal’s outstanding article of the year by the National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators (NAECTE). It draws on her dissertation, which received Columbia University’s Teachers College inaugural Shirley Chisholm Dissertation Award.
Her own childhood experience speaks directly to the impact of family engagement in education. What’s more, her time as a Lehman student led to the growth of her own family: she met both her husband and best friend here. “My best friend is still my best friend, and I'm still married, so Lehman has been a huge part of my life,” she said.
Although the campus has physically transformed since she first walked through its gates, the back-to-school excitement Morales-Alexander feels is as strong as ever.
“When I step onto campus, it still feels very much like home to me, the same way that I felt when I was five or six,” she said. “Especially when you see students, there's still very much this feeling of community, and that sense that there's something special happening in this space.”
Morales-Alexander was honored with a LUTE Award from the School of Education in 2017. Her father, now 93, received a special award honoring both his service to the Lehman and the way he encouraged his daughter’s connection to the College.
He remains proud of the role he played in her career, said Morales-Alexander.
“He said to me the other day, ‘who would've thought when I was taking you to work as a little girl that you'd end up being a professor there?’”