As chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures since August 2020, Damaris Punales-Alpizar has been laser-focused on raising the profile of the department, which she considers to be the multicultural epicenter of Case Western Reserve University.

“We cover languages and cultures from around the globe and make a huge contribution to our students and their view of the universe,” said Punales-Alpizar, an associate professor of Hispanic studies.

Punales-Alpizar and her colleagues offer students instruction in nine languages and on topics involving people and places from around the world.

“When we take students out into the world through study abroad, or teach them about places as diverse as Africa, Latin America, Central America, the Caribbean, Europe, Asia—all over—we are opening their eyes to other ways of being, other ways of understanding,” she said.

“In that way, we have the potential to make great contributions to the diversity and inclusion efforts of the university and to our students.”

Punales-Alpizar’s efforts to promote diversity and inclusion aren’t limited to the classroom. She’s been active in the Alianza Latina/Latino Alliance—a campus group that brings together faculty and staff who identify as Hispanic or Latinx, but all are welcome to join, regardless of race or ethnicity—since its founding nearly eight years ago.

Now the group’s executive sponsor, Punales-Alpizar guides the alliance in its mission to generate cultural awareness through events and public outreach with community groups such as HOLA, a small, grassroots Latino organization based in northeast Ohio that focuses on outreach, advocacy and community organizing; and Hispanic Alliance Inc., whose membership is composed of businesses, agencies, institutions and social service providers who work directly with Latino communities throughout Ohio and neighboring states.

“We want to make people aware that we are here and that we are doing good things for the community,” said Punales-Alpizar.

Punales-Alpizar and the members of Alianza Latina/Latino Alliance also put a focus on students by providing funding for the Latino Graduation each spring and regularly helping send members of the Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers to conferences. Also, each year at the Unity Banquet, the organization recognizes a Latinx graduating senior.

Alianza Latina/Latino Alliance is also actively involved in the recruitment of Latinx students to the university. Through its alliance with Esperanza Inc., a nonprofit organization that supports the academic achievement of Hispanic youth in Greater Cleveland, Alianza Latina/Latino Alliance brings promising Latinx high school students from the Cleveland Metropolitan School District to CWRU for a day each spring.

“The Latinx population at Case Western Reserve has been growing. We want to show these students that this university is a very real possibility for them,” said Punales-Alpizar.

Learn more about Punales-Alpizar in this week’s five questions.

1. What’s a topic or subject you would like to learn more about?

I want to learn more about photography. My next research project involves a lot of pictures so I better master those skills soon.

2. Do you prefer to get work done early in the morning or late at night?

I am a morning bird. I wake up around 5 or 5:30 every morning, and in those first hours of the day, when everybody else is sleeping, I get a lot done. At night my brain is too tired.

3. What do you consider the greatest invention?

Airplanes. I love to travel and although I don’t like to fly, I am grateful that we can move (or at least before COVID) really fast from one point to the farthest one on Earth.

4. Outside of school and work, what is your favorite way to spend time?

Lately, I haven’t had too much of that! I like visiting new places and spending time with friends and family I love. I also like cooking and inviting people over to my house.

5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?

Definitively the student community. I am always impressed by our students’ commitment toward advancing their knowledge, by their natural curiosity and desire to learn more. Being a professor is always a challenge because you have to be prepared for your students questioning everything you teach. My students’ perspectives always enhance my own approach to the topics I teach.