Faculty Awards and Honors

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Sonia Zuniga-Lomeli


Annual Faculty Lecturer 2014-2015

Sonia María Zúñiga-Lomelí was born in the seaport city of La Ceiba, Honduras. In 1967, when she was 15 years old, she migrated to the United States and settled in Brooklyn, N.Y., where she attended Prospect Heights, an all-girls high school. She attended Queens College of the City University of New York and received a B.A. in Applied Linguistics (1976). She went to the University of New Mexico (UNM) and started her  M.A. work in Spanish Linguistics, but changed to Hispanic Literature when she took a Spanish literature class, taught by the great Chicano writer Dr. Sabine Ulibarrí. At UNM, she met her husband, Francisco A. Lomelí, while he completed his doctorate in Latin American Literature.  In August of 1978, in a span of 3 days, Francisco defended his dissertation; Sonia and Francisco got married, and drove back to California, where Francisco started a joint appointment in the Spanish and Portuguese, and the Chicana/o Studies Departments at UCSB. Sonia and Francisco have three children: Natasha, a 5th grade teacher at Notre Dame Elementary School; Carlos, co-owner of Nite Bite, a late night food delivery service; Yazmín (currently at Humboldt State). All of her children graduated from Notre Dame Elementary School, Santa Barbara High School, and attended Santa Barbara City College. 

Sonia’s childhood was spent in La Ceiba, where she was exposed to Spanish, English (Jamaican and U. S.), Garífuna and Latin (the language of prayer and Mass). But since this was a seaport, sailors who spoke a myriad of other languages visited the city. It was this exposure to the many samplings of people’s expressions that made her curious about language. This seaport was also where she learned how important it was for people  to have a voice and to be heard.


Sonia’s journey as a teacher started at Queens College where, as an undergraduate student, she worked in a summer program aimed at inspiring and empowering Puerto Rican high school students to continue with their education and to see college as a viable option. This was truly a pivotal experience for her, because in the process of working with these students she discovered and fell in love with the idea of becoming an educator. At UCSB, she studied Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Literatures, became actively involved in the graduate student group on campus, and was instrumental in the creation of Tinta, a literary magazine by and for graduate students. Under the tutelage of Professor Sara Poot-Herrera, she wrote her dissertation on “¿Quién se tragó la selva? Cuatro novelas ecológicas costarricenses / “Who Swallowed the Jungle? Four Ecological Costa Rican Novels”, and earned her Ph.D. degree in 2003.

Sonia has been a full-time faculty member in the School of Modern Languages (SoML) and an active member of SBCC since 1990. She has led many initiatives and, together with her colleagues, she has worked continuously to make the School of Modern Languages an integral part of our students’ well-rounded and global preparation. A strong supporter of students experiencing language and culture through Study Abroad, she has participated as Director of programs in Costa Rica, Cuba, Mexico, and Spain. She also helped design and implement the first ASL and Japanese intensive summer programs to give students an immersion experience without leaving Santa Barbara.

To meet the needs of students’ different learning styles, she developed self-paced language courses, has also been involved in the development of language placement tests and the testing of language proficiency, and the development and revision of the Spanish for Heritage Speakers curriculum. Most recently, Sonia has worked with the Bilingual GED faculty to develop curriculum for Spanish literacy as a foundation for students learning English as a Second Language.


Sonia has been passionate about recognizing students’ dedication to the demands of learning another language, and to honor and recognize those students who rise to the occasion, she worked to establish a chapter of the Spanish Honor Society Sigma Delta Mu. She also worked to establish  the yearly SoML Outstanding Students Awards Ceremony. She has been involved in college governance serving as department Chair, on the Academic Senate and on numerous committees: Curriculum Advisory, Instructional Technology, Planning and Resources, Academic Policies, Program Evaluation, as well as on evaluations and new hire committees. Her peers nominated her twice for the Stanback-Stroud Diversity Award. She has served as an adviser for the Spanish Club, MEChA, and the Esperanto Club.

For Sonia it was—and still is—inspiring to experience humanity as one, with its different shades, sizes, and languages. One life lesson she has learned is that language should not be taken for granted and should be cultivated to achieve productive communication. “Hablando se entiende  la gente” is one of her favorite sayings, which means, “By speaking to one another, people reach true understanding.”

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