Worries in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric stop with Cristina Huerta

L.A. Cicero Cristina Huerta

Whether an Amy Blue Award winner has worked at Stanford for a few decades or just a few years, the significance of the honor seems never lost on the recipient. When Cristina Huerta, program assistant in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric since 2001, was told that she was one of this year's winners, she cried.

"It was overwhelming," Huerta said. "I couldn't hold the tears back."

Her job title reads program assistant. But in practice, she is a receptionist, office manager, event organizer, equipment keeper, course scheduler and chill pill to the waves of anxious freshmen and new instructors who wash up to the front desk of the program's offices in Building 460. And judging from the many compliments by those who nominated her, the virtues that most seem to keep Huerta afloat are patience and organization.

Huerta, who previously had been an office manager for a college textbook publisher in Mountain View, came to the Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR) "at a time of great upheaval," Alyce Boster, officer manager in the English Department, wrote in her nomination letter. Boster, who sat on the committee that hired Huerta, wrote that PWR had just seated a new director and had undergone a complete makeover of academic and administrative procedures.

As the changes caused the insecurities and irritabilities of those around her to flare up, Huerta kept her cool and remained compassionate and courageous as her responsibilities grew. In her letter, Boster expressed amazement at Huerta's "initiative and willingness to tackle things she had no experience with, including the first major conference organized by the program."

"I personally think Cristina is the single most important factor in PWR's success," Boster said. "She has watched the program become a national leader in teaching writing and rhetoric."

The Stanford Bulletin does not list accredited courses in soothing stressed-out instructors or panicky freshmen. But if such classes were offered, Huerta might be a prime candidate to give the lectures. Lesson one: a sympathetic smile.

Smile when a long line of freshmen, desperate to get into the program, must each be told that classes are capped at 15 students. Smile when an instructor can't change classrooms because there are no others available. Smile as the administrative staff gradually doubles in size, each employee requiring one-on-one training.

"Every transaction with her is a pleasure," Clyde Moneyhun, director of the Stanford Writing Center, wrote in his nomination of Huerta. "She is dedicated to the students and treats them with the same high esteem that she extends to faculty and administrators."

The writing center is part of PWR, which includes 35 instructors, plus 10 administrative staffers and a handful of student assistants. The program is a two-quarter sequence that used to be part of the English Department but now falls under the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education.

Huerta and her husband, Domingo, live in East Palo Alto with their three boys—ages 14, 20 and 23. Her mother and mother-in-law also live in the area, and she takes them shopping because they can't drive themselves. For fun, Huerta and her husband go on drives of their own, or they catch a live performance (preferably blues). Although they normally don't travel far, Huerta said those jaunts are nice—and much-needed—getaways.

"It's a full-time job, and this is a full-time job," said Huerta, comparing family life to work life. "And I actually see this as my second family."