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Monday, January 24, 2022

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Stories of Leadership: Lisa Celaya

Celaya is an academic coach at George Nicoloff Elementary School.
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Lisa Celaya, ’87, ’94 works at George Nicoloff Elementary as an academic coach.

At San Diego State University, she received her undergraduate degree in liberal studies with a bilingual focus. Later, she went on to receive her master’s degree in policy studies. She also received her Administrative Credential from SDSU.

Lisa Celaya
Lisa Celaya

Originally from Hawaii, she came to San Diego when she was four years old to live in National City with her family. She now resides in Chula Vista with her husband, James Stark, ’71, ’87.

Tell us the highlights of your professional career. What are your proudest achievements?

  • Teacher of the Year for George Nicoloff Elementary, 2013
  • Biliteracy Symposium Honoree, 2012
  • Greater San Diego Reading Association Award, 2005
  • PTA Honorary Service Award
  • Having students come back and tell me that I made an impact in their life!

What’s your favorite college memory?

As a student at SDSU, I worked in Public Safety. It was there that I learned valuable skills on how to work effectively with people. I enjoyed being part of a team that also gave me confidence in myself. I also really enjoyed being a part of a Mexican Folk dance group and participating in festivals and Cinco de Mayo celebrations.

I loved being involved in a lot of different activities and meeting a wide variety of people.

Who was your favorite professor and/or what was your favorite class?

As an undergraduate student, Pricilla Russo in Native American Studies, Griswold Del Castillo in Mexican-American Studies and Nancy McCarthy in Spanish were favorites. During my graduate experience, Lilia Bartolome and Alberto Ochoa were instrumental in my success and very helpful when writing my master’s thesis.

If you were to give current SDSU students some advice, what would you say?


Take advantage of the many resources SDSU has to offer. Use your time wisely; make class attendance and studying a priority. Make time to have fun, relax and exercise. Remember, your goal is to receive a degree in a career that you will enjoy for the next forty years!

What are you currently reading? What’s your favorite book?

I’m always reading. Some recent ones are Jeffrey Deaver’s "The Kill Room" and "The Art of Coaching" by Elena Aguilar.

What is your passion?

My passion is to support teachers in instruction and provide students the opportunity to be successful. I’m particularly passionate about ensuring that students who come from a low socio-economic background get these same opportunities.

What is your motto?

Never give up.

If you won the lottery, what would you do with your winnings?

My son is currently enrolled at the University of Southern California as a sophomore. I would make sure he had the financial resources to pursue his education as far as he desired. I would also help my nieces and nephew have the financial resources to complete four years of college. Finally, I would create a scholarship fund in my husband’s name for local students in San Diego County who would not be able to attend college without financial assistance.

Which trait do you value most in your friends and colleagues?

I enjoy and surround myself with people who are trustworthy and compassionate.

If you knew you could not fail, what would you attempt?

I would find a cure for Leukemia and Lymphoma — my brother is a survivor.