INDIANAPOLIS—Brooke Kandel-Cisco was first drawn to the field of education as a 22-year-old immigration advocate, working on behalf of undocumented women who were abused by their husbands, but threatened by those same men with their status if they took action against the abuse.
Working alongside an immigration attorney, she didn’t get a lot of cases approved by the courts. She saw firsthand the complexities of the system and how things were far from fair. She wanted to help illuminate the glaring systemic issues, and then somehow work toward creating more just and equitable systems.
All of that sounded familiar to Kandel-Cisco—it sounded like the work of an educator. The Illinois native comes from a long line of teachers—both her grandmothers, aunts, uncles—but her 18-year-old self wanted to go against the family grain. So, she majored in Psychology and minored in Spanish at Goshen College. After she graduated, Kandel-Cisco joined AmeriCorps and headed to the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas, where she battled the courts to try and help women who came to the United States and were abused by their husbands, but struggled to get justice.
“Advocating for women and seeing these huge systemic issues every day really piqued my interest in education and in working with immigrant and refugee students,” Kandel-Cisco says. “I was always told I should be a teacher, and I think my work after college showed me how important it is to try and work to address systemic issues. I saw education as one way of doing just that.”
Kandel-Cisco has been doing that ever since. She will start as the Interim Dean of Butler University’s College of Education on May 1 replacing Ena Shelley, who will retire after 15 years as Dean of the College, and 37 years at the University.
Kandel-Cisco started at Butler in 2009 as a faculty member, and throughout her decade on campus has served as Director of the Master of Science in Effective Teaching and Learning Program, Chair of the COE Graduate Programs, and Program Coordinator for COE Graduate Programs.
She teaches courses in English as a second language (ESL) within the COE, works closely with teachers in Washington Township schools’ ESL and Newcomer Programs, which works with students who have recently arrived in the country and are learning English, and is the President of the Indiana Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.
When Shelley announced her retirement, Kandel-Cisco’s name was put forward by colleagues in the COE as a potential Interim Dean.
Her first reaction upon hearing that Shelley was retiring?
“Oh I pity the person who follows Ena,” Kandel-Cisco says. “But now that it’s me, I will do my best.”
Shelley, on the other hand, says this was a long time coming.
For years, Shelley says, she has been presenting Kandel-Cisco with “opportunities.” There was the time she called Kandel-Cisco in to tell her she had an “opportunity” for her to work on an International Baccalaureate certification process.
“Brooke’s reaction was ‘OK, my child goes to an IB school, but I don’t really know much about IB’,” Shelley says, laughing. “But, in typical Brooke fashion, she rolled up her sleeves and got to work like crazy to get this in place. She always gives it her best shot, and her best shot is always wonderful.”
Shelley would continue over the years to use that phrase on Kandel-Cisco. Finally, she explained that early on in her career she was offered “opportunities” constantly by her Dean at the time. It was clear these “opportunities” were just challenging projects. Her Dean explained she was giving them to Shelley to prepare her to be a Dean one day.
It turns out, that is exactly what Shelley was doing with Kandel-Cisco.
“I know a lot of people use these words a lot, but Brooke is really a visionary, and extremely wise,” Shelley says. “She is very inclusive of people and ideas, a keen listener, which is key as an educator and leader. Someone asked me if this is bittersweet, and I can honestly say no. My heart is happy knowing I am leaving the College in great shape with a strong leader and strong staff.”
It is that great staff that Kandel-Cisco says she will rely on to help move the College forward as Interim Dean. She is looking forward to thinking through how the College fits into Butler’s strategic plan, as well as focusing on a number of new initiatives: a new major, global opportunities for students and faculty, partnerships in the community.
“This is all about making yourself vulnerable and trying new things, which might not be comfortable,” she says. “It is much easier to do because I have amazing colleagues who are supportive and will help move our College forward.”
When Kandel-Cisco was back in Texas working as an immigrant advocate, she realized she wanted to be a teacher. After obtaining her ESL and bilingual education teaching license, she went on to teach ESL students in Houston. After several years of teaching, she applied to doctoral programs.
She transitioned to a full-time doctoral student at Texas A&M, and later became a senior research associate, studying state education data on things like teacher attrition and achievement scores. All of this highlighted more systemic issues in education. And, it became clear again, she wanted to be in a classroom.
On another whim, she applied to several faculty positions, including one at Butler. On campus, she interviewed with Ena Shelley.
“For me, it was about the people,” she says. “Ena, just the way she looks in your eyes, it just felt authentic, and the College was doing educator preparation in a high-quality way. That’s not to say there is one right way to do it, because I don’t believe there is, but the COE approach was in line with my values. And that’s what brought me to Butler.”