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Getting to know Dr. Syntia D. Santos Figueroa

I have lived in…

I was born and raised in Honduras, a beautiful country in Central America. My first time living abroad was as a volunteer seeking opportunities to learn English. I spent one enlightening year in the United Kingdom. For six months I lived in Cardiff, Wales, helping out in three different elementary schools where I assisted several grades and helped with after school activities. The other six months I lived in Edinburgh, Scotland, volunteering for an agency that provides support in living skills development for people with learning disabilities.

In addition, I spent two years in Buffalo, New York, earning my master’s in School Counseling; three months in Toronto, Canada for a specialization course on drug prevention and research; and most recently four years in Raleigh, North Carolina pursuing my doctorate in counselor education.

My favorite teacher is…

I have been fortunate to have several teachers and mentors that have shaped my life forever. I could have not be who I am today without all their support and guidance. One particular person that I would like to celebrate today is Dr. Marc Grimmett. He taught my Advanced Multicultural course in my doctoral program and went above and beyond to support our development. In the classroom he was always dynamic, knowledgeable, and passionate about teaching. Beyond the classroom he was always approachable, ready to listen, supportive, and encouraging. The characteristics that most impacted my life were his compassion, his cultural competence, his humbleness, and his knowledge. Cultural competence was not only what we read in a book, but what we saw in the way he lives his personal and professional life. He was wonderful role model and an inspiration to all his students.

My favorite place to eat or favorite food to eat / prepare is…

Sharing a table has always being important in my life. There is never a better meal than the one you share with others, especially with family and friends. I grew up cooking in the kitchen with my mother, learning to make fresh tortillas and arroz con pollo (rice with chicken) among many other Honduran dishes. Since then, my circle of friends has grown and is more diverse than ever. My passion for learning about foods from around the world is the result of my interest in knowing more about people and cultures. From Honduran sopa marinera, Italian pasta, Chinese dumplings, and Japanese sushi, to Peruvian papas a la huancaina, Indian butter chicken, and Philipino halo –halo… there is always a new dish to taste, something new to learn, and someone new to meet!!!

What are some cultural experiences that make you who you are?

I have already mentioned a few of my cultural experiences. However, my 2013 birthday was eye opening. Sitting around a table, celebrating life, one of my friends started asking everyone about their culture and country of origin. He ended up with a list of about a dozen different countries represented. I realized that we are surrounded by opportunities to learn about different cultures and different people. It is up to us to live those experiences and to establish relationships with different people. I recognized that we usually mention traveling, learning different languages, and furthering our education because they are wonderful things to have, especially in the process of cultural competence development;however, we should not dismiss the opportunities that we have every day right in front of us. My best cultural experiences in life have been engaging in conversation with others different than me.

Dr. Syntia D. Santos Figueroa's Biography and Background

Dr. Santos obtained her Ph.D. in Counseling and Counselor Education at North Carolina State University (NCSU) in 2014 and her M.Ed. in School Counseling at the State University of New York at Buffalo (UB) in 2006 as a Fulbright scholar. She worked as professor and program coordinator in her home country Honduras, in their school counseling program at the Universidad Pedagógica Nacional Francisco Morazán (UPNFM).

Dr. Santos is a National Certified Counselor (NCC) and a License School Counselor in the state of North Carolina. Dr. Santos is currently working as assistant professor at East Carolina University (ECU). Her areas of interest include cultural competence development, international counseling, international education, counselor education, and school counseling. In addition, Dr. Santos serves as an editorial board member for the Professional Counselor journal (TPC) and she is also a steering committee member for the International Registry of Counselor Education Programs (IRCEP).

 Professional Work in Issues of Diversity, Equity, and Social Justice

How do your beliefs about diversity, social justice, and equity manifest themselves in your research, teaching, advocacy and/or service?  

There are three beliefs that have guided not only my work, but also my life. 1) The more exposure we have, the better informed we are. I believe this to be true in many areas of life such as language, culture, and worldly knowledge. 2) Relationships are fundamental in life. The types of relationships we nurture will have an important effect on who are. 3) We are all interconnected. These beliefs have informed my research, teaching, and service as I value and seek for opportunities to establish relationships, collaborate with and learn from others, and create spaces for students to engage in experiential learning and exposure activities.

Share with us an example of that kind of work that you are proud of or committed to.

Creating opportunities for students to develop cultural competence is a personal and professional commitment. Back in 2011 I was able to organize a study abroad program, taking 11 master students to my home country Honduras. It was an amazing opportunity to support the process of exposure and relationship building. Recognizing that there are several variables influencing the opportunity to create study abroad programs, and that not all students have the resources to participate in such programs, I am committed to exploring and creating opportunities for exposure and cultural competence development. Last Spring I was able to pilot an experience in one of my classes. The project was called "Global Conversations." Counseling students in my Social and Cultural Issues in Counseling course were paired with counseling students or alumni from Honduras throughout the semester. They were encouraged to communicate at least three times and share with one another their personal and professional thoughts and experiences. They were able to meet new people, to talk about counseling in a different country, and they also had to navigate cultural differences. One of the most interesting components was the students' creative ways to solve the language barriers. They were able to use technology, translators, and images to communicate and engage in the process. It was wonderful experience that I plan to continue using and improving in my future classes.

Whose work or research do you draw on to inform or support your work in areas of diversity, social justice, and equity? 

Though the process of conducting my doctoral dissertation I had the opportunity to study different frameworks, theories, and research regarding cultural competence both locally and globally. The Multidimensional Model of Cultural Competence (MDCC) is well known in the counseling profession as a foundation for cultural competence development. The MDCC focuses on nurturing positive attitudes, knowledge and skills to equip counselors to work in a diverse world. It highlights the importance of multiple components and their interaction in becoming a culturally competent professional. The model has a systemic view and is based on a 3 x 4 x 5 factorial combination where three refers to awareness, knowledge and skills;four to individual, professional, organizational and societal;and five to ethnic groups in the United States. The model considers different ethnic minority groups in the U.S., and it has also been suggested that may be applicable to other populations (Sue, 2001, p.816). In addition, the MDCC has been identified as an important foundation to develop international counseling competence (Ng, Choudhuri, Noonan, &Ceballos, 2012).

The Relational Cultural Theory (RCT) offered me a second framework for reflection in regards to the process of internationalization and cultural competence development. Its principles are well aligned to my personal and professional beliefs. RCT emphasizes the importance of building strong, healthy, equalitarian, growth-fostering relationships to support the well-being of all people (Comstock, et al., 2008). Furthermore, RCT also provides a social justice lens. It aims to offer support in developing resilience, relational competence, and empowerment to individuals and communities (Duffey &Somody, 2011). Cultural competence and relational competence development are essential for the counseling field both locally and globally.

Santos, S. D. (2014). A comprehensive model for developing and evaluating study abroad programs in counselor education. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling, 36, 332-347. doi: 10.1007/s10447-014-9210-7.