Jason Irizarry is the new Dean of NEAG for the University of Connecticut as of March 2021. After speaking with Jason, it was evident that he is a man who is an ideal example of a leader and has already made a significant impact on the School of Education. Irizarry explained he went into the education field because of his eagerness to make a difference in the world. He has shown persistent motivation to change the education system through his previous teaching background in multicultural education, his efforts to provide the students of NEAG with plenty of opportunities to further their success in the classroom and internships, and his dedication to building the future of NEAG through his connection with alumnus and projects for funding the school.
Irizarry came from humble beginnings from a family who had to work really hard. He grew up in Brooklyn, New York; raised by his grandmother. He is a first generation college graduate for his family and has experienced hard work in many different forms. One of his most important values in life is his family. He has two son’s, one a sophomore in college, and the other a senior in highschool with a scholarship to play baseball at the University of Maryland. Irizarry enjoys spending time at the baseball field watching his sons play. He explains his days as “I’m here most days at 8 and I’m usually here till 5 o’clock and then I meet my son typically at a batting cage to practice batting for an hour before dinner”. He and his son share the same childhood hero, Roberto Clemente. Roberto Clemente is a Puerto Rican baseball player who was known for more than just his talent on the field, but also his devotion to helping the less fortunate and making a difference in the world. Irizarry raised his sons to aspire to be both just as good as a person as Roberto Clemente and also strive to be just as great as a player. Irizarry’s wife is an elementary school social worker and they share similar interests in bettering the education system. He mentions that, “she is immersed in the challenges we are trying to address here in the NEAG school and beyond.” He has many conversations with his wife on challenges in the education system and their direct work with students. Irizarry’s greatest motivation is pleasing his family. His caregiver was his grandmother growing up, she is the voice inside of his head telling him he can do anything he puts his mind to and she keeps him sane when things get tough no matter where he is in life.
Unlike the average administrator, Irrizary had a very unconventional path to education; in fact, he calls himself “an accidental academic”. In his undergraduate years, he was a janitor in Brooklyn who worked a 3pm-12am shift as a way to support himself, and it was not until one evening when he came across a book he says, “was written by a Puerto Rican woman from Brooklyn, New York… I called Affirming Diversity: The Sociopolitical Context of Multicultural Education and it was for the first time I saw my experiences reflected back to me and it offered a vision of what schooling could be like and it worked in the best interest of young people.” Irizarry claims that reading this book changed his whole perspective and the ways he thought about education. This inspired his career in multicultural education. In this day and age, people struggle to see education in a cultural lens. Irizarry’s knowledge in multicultural education further expands his knowledge of different values, beliefs, and backgrounds. This makes him versatile for connecting with all students in the NEAG program.
Irizarry is aware of all the projects and changes that are to come along with the future of NEAG. He claims his seat isn’t even warm yet; he has many ideas and goals to benefit his students. Irizarry currently meets with the alumni committee often. He feels it is important to build relationships and show his appreciation for the work they have done for the program. Little gestures such as this one are examples of the ways he takes everyone in account when building the future of NEAG. Irizarry explains that he often converses with his students to hear their ideas and concerns. Everyday at work is a new day where challenges differ; he is vocal that his ability to overcome these challenges as Dean would not be possible without the help of the amazing faculty and brilliant students. He looks forward to being a part of what’s to come as NEAG continues to grow.