Meet Lupe Buell, a longtime educator and recent San Diego County Women’s Hall of Fame inductee
The former adjunct professor at Point Loma Nazarene University is recognized as a ‘bridge builder’ at the Women’s Museum of California in Liberty Station.
Lupe Buell has received a lot of awards and other accolades — but she isn’t one to brag.
“It’s embarrassing, to tell you the truth,” Buell said, laughing.
Though Buell is humble, her resumé is extensive. And in June, the former adjunct professor at Point Loma Nazarene University was inducted into the San Diego County Women’s Hall of Fame inside the Women’s Museum of California in Liberty Station.
Buell, a Scripps Ranch resident, is a longtime educator who has taught and mentored in a wide range of environments, from elementary schools to master’s programs. She also is involved with groups such as Mana de San Diego (a Latina organization), the California Association for Bilingual Education and the Parent Institute for Quality Education and has served as a Mission Federal Credit Union board member for more than 30 years.
She received the Hall of Fame honor along with six other women, including U.S. Rep. Susan Davis (D-San Diego) and historian Iris Engstrand. The virtual ceremony is available to watch on YouTube.
The Women’s Hall of Fame recognizes those “whose actions and accomplishments have visibly made a difference for women in the community,” according to its website.
“When I got the call from the Women’s Hall of Fame, that really blew me out of the water,” Buell said.
She was recognized as a “bridge builder.” Ashley Gardner, who has been involved with the Women’s Hall of Fame since its inception in 2002, said the honor is bestowed on women who demonstrate “culture competence — someone who has gone between cultures and helped build bridges.”
“Her humility — that’s what shines through,” Gardner said of Buell. "[She is] this woman who cares in such a real and genuine way and doesn’t see herself as a hero at all and just did what she had to do.”
Buell has devoted her life to education as both a teacher and a student. However, her experience in the classroom didn’t get off to an easy start. The daughter of Mexican immigrants and farmworkers started elementary school in Imperial County as a native Spanish speaker. She said she didn’t receive much support on campus in her efforts to learn English and experienced a lot of bullying from classmates because of the color of her skin.
Her father soon moved their five-person family to the Salinas Valley and Buell found a more supportive community at her new school. With the help of teachers and mentors, she became fluent in English, developed a love of reading and took on leadership roles.
She was the first in her family to graduate both from high school and college, earning a bachelor’s degree in education from San Francisco State University. While teaching in Santa Cruz after graduation, she met her husband.
The newlyweds soon moved to San Diego County for a new adventure and settled in El Cajon. Buell began working at the Cajon Valley Union School District and San Diego County Office of Education in various roles, including teacher and principal.
Since she was one of the few Latinas employed by the district, the school board approached Buell about starting a program for incoming students who were learning English as their second language.
Through the process of developing that bilingual program, which included writing a federal grant application to fund it, Buell realized she “didn’t know enough about language acquisition.” So she decided to go back to school, earning both a master’s and a Ph.D. in education from San Diego State University (the latter conferred with Claremont Graduate University).
After three decades in education, she retired — but quickly became restless. To fill her time, she started two small businesses — a pop-up vintage shop called Lulu’s Collectibles and Antiques and a consulting business with a few other retirees.
A few years later, she accepted a position as an adjunct professor with Point Loma Nazarene University, where she taught master’s research design and mentored students in the Culminating Master’s Research Project.
“Point Loma [Nazarene] kind of reignited my desire to make a difference by teaching and touching other lives,” Buell said. “I think that experience really was the one that started me back on what I could do to make a difference.”
Though Buell has received many awards, she said she derives her pride from witnessing the success of her students. In December, she “put the cap” on her former Point Loma Nazarene master’s student Matt Rhodes at his doctor of education graduation ceremony. She pushed him to pursue the program after seeing potential in him five years earlier, she said.
“It’s those type of interactions that I have with students and to see them rise to that level of accomplishment — it’s very heartwarming and I feel like I’ve made a difference,” she said. “And I think [helping others] is probably the light that keeps me going.”
And in a serendipitous twist, Rhodes is now a faculty member in the Department of Dual Language & English Learner Education at San Diego State — the same department where Buell currently works as a credential program supervisor for single-subject student teachers.
Buell joined Mana de San Diego more than 20 years ago and has since served as a board member, scholarship committee member and co-chairwoman of the Latina Success program.
“I think one of the things that was a real key for me to be able to keep on going into getting higher education was scholarships, so that kind of drew me to Mana de San Diego, because they do give that type of support,” Buell said.
“I wanted to continue to foster [students] — especially among bilingual, Spanish speakers, other Latinas — to keep them going in school, because I knew how difficult it is to do it without scholarships,” she added.
“It is volunteer leaders such as Dr. Buell who have made Mana de San Diego such an effective community-based organization that is changing the leadership landscape in San Diego,” said Inez González Perezchica, executive director of Mana de San Diego.
Adela Garcia, co-chairwoman of Mana de San Diego’s Latina Success Leadership Program, has worked closely with Buell over the years and believes “leadership is in Lupe’s DNA.”
"[Buell] has used what she lived [through] to not just be a success herself but to help others,” Garcia said. “She is one of the most focused and passionate women I know, who not only believes in the American dream but that the American dream is for everyone.”