It may be necessary to add a new chapter to The Book of Firsts, chronicling the journey of Assistant Professor Jeannette Espinoza-Sanchez, JD, to her teaching position at New York City College of Technology/CUNY (City Tech).
Espinoza-Sanchez, assistant professor of law and paralegal studies at City Tech, is a first-generation American, the first high-school graduate in her family, its first college graduate, first lawyer and first college professor. As an attorney, she is admitted to practice in New York State and the U.S. District Court (Southern and Eastern Districts of New York). As she ventures into the area of writing for publication, she’ll no doubt become the first author in her family, too.
Yet the Bayside, Queens, resident says, “I don’t consider myself special at all. It’s just about applying yourself and working hard.” Without guidance or a mentor, she created her own path to achievement — starting with learning English right after kindergarten. Growing up in Hempstead, Long Island, she was inspired to pursue her studies by her Ecuadorian father and Puerto Rican mother, immigrants who strongly emphasized education.
“They didn’t have any secondary education,” she explains. “My father left Ecuador at age 15 to live with relatives in Colombia before emigrating here. He did not have a chance to finish high school because he was working to support himself. My mother came to the US at age 14 to live with her sister, and they had to work to support themselves.”
Her self-educated father would give her novels and other books to read in Spanish and discuss with him. That experience sparked her interest in literature, so that as an undergraduate at SUNY-Stony Brook, she first studied English, writing and literature, with a psychology minor. Like many students, “When I got to junior year, I started to panic,” she admits. “I had all liberal arts courses. What was I going to do with that?”
She found her own answer: take the LSAT. Espinoza-Sanchez recognized that the field of law was open to graduates of any discipline. Though she originally wanted to be a journalist, she says, “Once I made that decision, there was no turning back. The whole neighborhood knew about it.” At Albany Law School, Espinoza-Sanchez did want to turn back many times, she says, but persevered. “Where I am now is where I always wanted to be. I want to be able to reach out to students.”
Espinoza-Sanchez’s career began at the Suffolk County Legal Aid Society and included a position as assigned counsel for the Queens County Family Court Law Guardian Panel. She began her teaching career at another CUNY institution, Hostos Community College, where she was advisor to the Public Administration Club, then worked for a union legal service and benefits fund and the real estate department of a private law firm serving Police Benevolent Association members.
Subsequently, she returned to teaching, part-time at LaGuardia Community College. She was active in the New York Chapter of the Puerto Rican Bar Association, serving terms as director and later treasurer, simultaneously serving as a director on the board of Harlem Legal Services. She also served on an independent judicial screening panel, which recommended potential candidates for the New York State Supreme Court.
In just one year as a full-time faculty member at City Tech, Espinoza-Sanchez has found many ways to reach out to students. As advisor to the Legal Assistant Studies Student Club, she takes students on field trips to the seat of New York State government in Albany, to watch oral arguments in front of the State Court of Appeals. There, they have met the Honorable Carmen Beauchamp-Ciparick, associate judge on the court, who formerly taught at City Tech.
“Students find it inspirational to see that a former City Tech adjunct professor now sits on the state’s highest court,” says Espinoza-Sanchez. “One of my student mentees was chosen to participate this semester in the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) internship in Albany,” she adds. She recently took students to visit Washington, DC, including stops at the U.S. Supreme Court and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, where director Larry Felix, a City Tech alumnus, gave them a tour of the facilities. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing is where all paper currency for the nation is designed and produced.