Rosalía C. Zárate

Postdoctoral Fellow, Teachers College, Columbia University


Born and raised in Delano, California, Dr. Rosalía C. Zárate knew that she had to go to college because higher education was something her Mexican-born immigrant parents and older siblings encouraged her to prioritize. Her parents would tell Rosalía and her sisters, “The key to success is education.” Her parents worked in agriculture and did not earn enough to live above the poverty line. Their selflessness and determination motivated her to be a role model in her community. Her overwhelming passion for knowledge, especially around math, encouraged her to pursue opportunities that challenged her creativity via leadership.

Mathematics has always been an integral part of her life. Mathematics was a subject her parents could assist despite the language barrier; it became their common language. Many students grow up fearing math, but Rosalía grew up loving it; she found it challenging and exciting. Despite having limited access to formal education in Delano, Rosalía did all in her power to make her dreams a reality.

Rosalía’s tenacious attitude towards excelling in high school paid off when she became co-valedictorian of her graduating class and a recipient of the Gates Millennium Scholarship (GMS), a full-ride scholarship that provides minority students with the financial means to pursue bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. Although this prestigious scholarship alleviated some of the financial burdens of pursuing higher education, Zárate was still unclear on how to navigate tertiary education beyond her undergraduate mathematics studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). Thankfully, the support of mentors led her to the Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement Program, a TRIO program designed to help disadvantaged students with financial need. The McNair program and the Arizona State University REU-Summer Research Program in Mathematical and Theoretical Biology exposed Rosalía research, providing her with her first Latina role model with a Ph.D. in STEM, Dr. Erika Camacho.

Her involvement with the Hispanic Heritage Foundation and programs such as Los Ingenieros, MESA (Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement Program), and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) demonstrated to her the challenges that women and students of color face in disciplines related to science, engineering, and math. These organizations also provided a community of support and mentorship she and others often need to thrive in unwelcoming environments.

During her internship at the U.S. Department of Education, Rosalía became more engaged with Latinx issues in education. Through her experience with the McNair and GMS program, she met Dr. Richard Durán, Professor in the Department of Education at UC Santa Barbara’s Gevirtz School, who guided Zárate towards merging her quantitative skills with other interests in Education Policy. She pursued her doctoral studies at the Stanford Graduate School of Education in the Developmental and Psychological Sciences Program under the guidance of Professor Amado Padilla and mentor Professor Brigid Barron. She simultaneously pursued a master’s in statistics and participated in the Center for Education Policy Analysis Lab where she was also advised by Professor Sean F. Reardon and Professor Eric Bettinger. All programs at Stanford allowed her to curate her research interests around motivating and retaining underrepresented students in STEM, particularly community college students.

As a Postdoctoral Fellow at Teachers College, Columbia University, Zárate focused on her research linking the gap between community college students of color in STEM and the tech workforce. As an adjunct assistant professor, she designed and taught a course about the data analysis process, statistical techniques, and the ethics behind data and algorithms.

Currently, Zárate is a Research Scientist at Facebook in People Analytics with over six years of experience bridging data science and quantitative and qualitative research. Through her role, she pursues her passion for using data to assure that the company has accessible career paths and fair recruitment processes.  

Dr. Zárate has received diverse awards and honors throughout her academic and professional trajectory. During her doctoral studies, she completed the Program in Quantitative Research in Education (QRE) Certification through the IES Interdisciplinary Doctoral Training Program in Quantitative Education Policy Analysis at Stanford University indicating the completion of a set of training requirements in methods of conducting rigorous quantitative research in education. She was also awarded the MDRC Doctoral Fellowship as part of their Gueron Scholars Program and Stanford academic fellowships to complete her doctoral studies. Such accomplishments and awards have provided her with not only financial assistance but also strong networks, mentors, role models, and opportunities to pursue her research interests and graduate studies.

As a research scientist, Dr. Zarate combines the world of data science, quantitative, and qualitative research. She utilizes machine learning and performs statistical analyses to help business leaders answer questions, solve problems, and make strategic data-driven decisions by identifying trends and investigating ways to improve candidates, recruiters, and employees’ use of recruitment strategies, products, and processes. For example, she uses descriptive and inferential statistics, data querying, linear and logistic regression, survival analysis, survey analysis, and causal inference/quasi-experimental methods to evaluate programs, actions, and challenges in recruitment techniques and retention using R and SQL.

Linear algebra is implemented when building linear equations, a critical component of machine learning development, and statistics is used when working with classifications such as logistic regression, hypothesis testing, and distributions. Linear algebra is also used in natural language processing (NLP) and unsupervised learning techniques such as topic modeling, which is also used in people analytics and recruitment-related work.

Mathematical and statistical knowledge are useful when making sense of existing data, dealing with missing data, thinking through other ways to capture, manipulate, and analyze data, and creating predictive models to gain actionable insights. Such knowledge along with data visualization and storytelling in combination with critical-thinking skills and business context are imperative in understanding the implications of data and providing insights to business leaders.

Dr. Zárate mentors graduate and undergraduate students through organizations such as the Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley and Global Citizen Year. She also serves as a data and research strategy advisor for universities, startups, and professional organizations, providing feedback and guidance on data analytics, research strategies, and STEM initiatives. Zárate also translates educational documents (from English to Spanish); speaks at high school, undergraduate, graduate, and professional events, sharing her academic and professional journey and research; and assists students with their college/graduate applications, academic and professional journey, and in balancing family, culture, and academics.

Dr. Zarate gives the following advice to students:

- Build your community. Build your own table(s), study groups, and have mentors, sponsors, role models, a support system – people that will support your goals, hold you accountable and keep you grounded.

- Build and sustain relationships. Network and collaborate – get to know people in your department as well as across the company, join professional organizations and take leadership positions, learn how you can utilize your skills to assist others.

- Show gratitude, stay humble, stay curious, ask for help when you need it, ask for and implement feedback, give back to communities in need, and serve as a resource to the younger generations.

- Have integrity in your work.

- Explore career paths. Pay attention to both the work that you do not like to do and the work you enjoy.

- Try your best to be well-rounded and to be interdisciplinary. Remember that your interpersonal/non-technical skills are just as important as your technical skills. As you are taking courses, you are diversifying/learning different skills, so take math courses, improv, and writing and think about how different courses work together. Exercise and develop different parts of your brain, learn about different cultures, and expand your world.

- Do not compare yourself to others, we are all on our own journey and timeline. It is okay to fail, to take a break, to withdraw from a course, or to file for an incomplete; listen to your gut and learn from your failures and others’ failures.  

- Extra:

- Take care of yourself – emotionally, mentally, physically.

- You belong. You are meant to be where you are. Rather than worrying if you deserve to be where you are, do all that you can with what you have to achieve your goals and help others achieve theirs.

- Practice interviewing with mock interviews, do not leave your undergraduate studies without a resume you are proud of, and work on your writing – visit the writing and career center.

“Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to celebrate the accomplishments of nuestra gente (our people). It is a time to recognize how far we have come and continue to discuss how we can move forward by working together to assist those in our community who are in need, not able to voice their opinions or pursue their dreams or desires. It is a time to stand for those who are marginalized en este mundo (in this world). It is a time of hope, joy, and action. It is a time to share and commemorate our antecedentes (ancestors), sus historias (their stories), and those among us, en nuestra comunidad (in our community), who are leading the way, leading the lucha (fight) in diverse sectors because representation matters and we must tell the stories of our people and their contributions that have been left out of history.”