Deborah Robiglio teaches an ESL class at Glendale Community College-Garfield Campus on Monday, March 12, 2012.

Deborah Robiglio teaches an ESL class at Glendale Community College-Garfield Campus on Monday, March 12, 2012. (Tim Berger/Staff photographer)

A Glendale Community College faculty member who specializes in English-as-a-second-language instruction has been named a Fulbright Scholar, a prestigious appointment reserved for the brightest minds in American academia.

Deborah Robiglio, who teaches English to non-native speakers at the college’s Garfield campus, will travel to Santiago, Chile in spring 2013 where she will work as a teacher trainer and researcher at a major university for one semester.

“It is a mental exercise as much as it is a physical one,” Robiglio said. “It is a great opportunity to be able to represent a community college.”

Alfred Ramirez, interim administrative dean of continuing and community education at Glendale Community College, said that Robiglio has been a standout since she arrived on the Garfield campus and that the Fulbright came as no surprise to her colleagues.

“Her professional demeanor, along with a genuine sense of caring and commitment, is evident in her collaboration with her peers and her students,” Ramirez said. “Debbie’s recognition is especially significant to our non-credit programs because it validates the fact that all of our Glendale Community College instructors are of the highest quality.”

A first-generation American — her parents emigrated from Argentina — Robiglio was raised in Southern California speaking Spanish at home and English at school. She earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from UC Santa Barbara in 1992 before pursuing a career in journalism.

Assigned to the education beat at The News and Observer, the marquee newspaper in North Carolina, she was a frequent visitor at local schools.

“I was very interested in what I saw, especially with children because it just looked like a very warm and positive environment,” Robiglio said. “That is really what drew me to education, the notion of being able to help people.”

She decided to leave journalism, relocating to Las Vegas where her parents were living at the time. With the demand for bilingual professionals soaring, she found work as a substitute teacher and was eventually recruited into a teacher prep program that allowed her to work while also earning her master’s degree at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

In 1999, Robiglio returned to Southern California where she worked as a dual-language instructor with the Long Beach and Los Angeles school districts for the next six years. In 2004, she landed her first class at Glendale Community College as adjunct faculty member, and when a full-time position opened up a year later, she was hired.

Her current students range in age from 19 to 70 years old, Robiglio said. Their English language skills and reasons for enrolling are equally varied, with some hoping to master enough vocabulary and grammar to land a job and others wanting to be able to assist their children with their homework.

“You have people who are in their 60s and 70s and show to class because they feel that sense of responsibility that they should know English if they are here,” Robiglio said.

Some of her students have very limited formal education, making learning English even more difficult for them, Robiglio said. But she finds daily motivation in her familial roots.

“[My parents] worked very hard, they went to night school to get their education, and went back to school to finish their degrees,” she said. “I feel like I am giving back. It is very personal.”

She started the rigorous Fulbright application process last summer, compiling multiple letters of recommendation, a research project proposal and a bibliography supporting the research she intends to pursue. She received notice that she had been accepted last month.

“I am always looking to do something new,” Robiglio said. “I don’t like to fall into routines and patterns. This was an opportunity to do something different and use everything I have ever learned in a classroom.”