CI Professor of Early Childhood Studies Carola Matera

CI Professor of Early Childhood Studies Carola Matera was five years old when soldiers showed up at her home in Argentina during the “Guerra Sucia” or “Dirty War.”

Matera’s mother told her to go to a neighbor’s home “and that was the last time I saw her,” Matera said.

Matera’s mother, who was five months pregnant, tried to escape the death squad but was captured and shot dead by the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance. Matera’s stepfather was taken to a torture camp, Matera said.

The terrified little girl was smuggled out of the town in the trunk of a car, and taken to safety in Buenos Aires, where her biological father lived.

A childhood like Matera’s would have paralyzed many, but Matera used the wrenching experience as fuel to build resilience, and achieve her goal of someday empowering others.

“Even though I had a very traumatic upbringing, it’s now become a tool to help others,” Matera said.

Matera, 44, recently was chosen as an “Exceptional Emerging Leader” by a 23-member nationwide review team assembled by the ChildCare Exchange, a publication for early childhood education professionals.

Of 191 nationwide applications from professionals 45 and under, 56 were chosen as being “Promising Emerging Leaders.”

Matera was one of 48 who made it to the next rung and were named as “Exceptional Emerging Leaders.”

Matera and the other “Exceptional” leaders are included in a gallery in the May/June issue of Exchange magazine.

Coordinator of CI’s Early Childhood Studies Program, Elizabeth Quintero, Ph.D. said CI is fortunate to have someone of Matera’s stature.

“She works all over the country,” Quintero said. “People know what an expert she is and what she does for dual language learners and family engagement and so much more.”

CI’s Early Childhood Studies Program began in 2007 with eight students and has since swelled to 300 students. Matera left her job with the Head Start Migrant Project in Washington D.C. and joined CI in 2012.

“As soon as I came to CI, I felt a sense of home,” Matera said. “I felt like this is a place where I can follow my dreams and I can sit and have a place of belonging.”

Matera’s husband, Jaime Matera Sabbagh, Ph.D. is an adjunct Professor of Anthropology at CI.

Since arriving, Matera has continued consulting all over the U.S. to help support Latino families, doing policy research and professional development. She teaches her students that speaking two languages is a powerful advantage, and when it comes to her students and the children at the center of her specialty, she listens.

“Dr. Matera places students at the center of the educational experience and is intent upon discovering their strengths, passions and interests,” said CI’s Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs and Director of the School of Education, Gary Kinsey, Ed.D. “She is especially focused on having her students equipped to serve the youngest and most diverse populations of children in their early childhood years with great pride and skill.”

Matera grew up with her biological father in Buenos Aires, then moved to Miami, Fla., to pursue a bachelor’s degree. Matera had family in California, so she and her husband moved to Santa Barbara and both earned their doctorates at University of California, Santa Barbara.

Matera has tried but never learned exactly what happened to her mother, only that she was shot three times.

She does know her mother was involved and educated at the University of Berkeley before returning to her home in Argentina to try to make her voice heard.

“She believed in people’s rights. She wanted to have a voice,” Matera said.

Her mother’s voice was silenced and few in Argentina will discuss what happened, but Matera wants others to hear her story, and learn from it.

“I learned to be resourceful,” she said. “You have to be resourceful to be successful. This is what I teach.”