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Alumni Profile: Esther Isasia-Ross

Open your Own Doors

Esther Isasia-Ross is a very busy woman.

As the Foreign Language Program Manager and Language Analyst in the San Antonio headquarters of the FBI, she coordinates communications between six other offices around Texas and manages at least 55 people in the San Antonio division. So it is no surprise that her schedule stays full and her office door, inevitably, stays open. What is clear, however, from just one conversation with Isasia-Ross, is that she is right where she wants to be.

Isasia-Ross graduated from UTSA in 2000 with a master’s in Spanish with a concentration in linguistics, which has helped secure the position she works in today. Dr. Maryellen Garcia, formerly of UTSA’s Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, was particularly influential. Her classes in Southwest Spanish gave Isasia-Ross new insight into the many ways Spanish is spoken in the region. “It’s like England, Australia and the U.S. — the language is the same, but the accent and the slang are different,” she said. Isasia-Ross stays in touch with Dr. Garcia, and had occasionally visited her classes before the professor’s retirement

She finds that her concentration in linguistics was particularly helpful in her studies at UTSA and later on in her work at the FBI, where among her other duties she is the agency’s only analyst in Catalan. The linguistics aspect of her degree provides a foundation for her ability to work with a diverse team of first- and second-generation speakers of a multitude of languages. But her own background helped, as well. Isasia-Ross moved to the United States from Spain when she was 21. Language was one of the barriers she encountered as she sought an education and career. “I didn’t speak English, so I couldn’t find work, not even at McDonald’s,” she said. She could read English, however, so she decided to pursue a career in the Air Force, because she could read the tests. She was accepted, moving on to work in Human Resources, and eventually becoming Personnel Manager of the Year for all the Air Force bases in Europe in 1990. In the Air Force, she worked with influential teachers and supervisors who helped shape her into the confident woman she is today. She also met her husband, Jeffrey, with whom she has a son, a daughter and a grandchild.

The transition out of the Air Force was not easy for Isasia- Ross. “Transitioning for veterans was not as good as it is today,” she said. She found work with a contracting company that also worked with the FBI, and through this connection, she acquired her position in the Language Unit of the FBI in 1994 as a self-employed contractor. “The process to get in was very lengthy; it took over a year,” she said. In 1998 she became an employee, working as a Language Analyst. She was promoted to Supervisory Foreign Language Coordinator in 2006, and to Foreign Language Program Manager in 2007.

In 2008, Isasia-Ross went on to obtain another master’s, this time in Strategic Intelligence with a concentration in Middle Eastern Studies at American Public University. “You cannot stagnate in anything,” she said, explaining that when the work for Spanish linguists diminished in the FBI, she looked toward other avenues of career advancement.

We have to open doors for ourselves, Isasia-Ross added. “No one else is going to do it. You have to look for opportunity; it’s not going to come to you.” And she does look for that opportunity. Her work extends beyond her title as Program Manager; she also works as a coordinator of the Languages Program with the national headquarters of the FBI in Washington, D.C. and is an adjunct faculty member in the FBI Academy. She has been a guest speaker twice for the COLFA Awards ceremony, as well as guest speaker twice for the Inter-American Air Forces Academy (located at Lackland Air Force Base) during Women’s History Month. Her former professor, Dr. Garcia, had also reached out to Isasia-Ross to speak with students about her career, and she has participated in recruiting for the FBI at UTSA.

“I know I’m contributing, and I’ve helped someone somewhere,” she said. Some of the cases she works on are distressing, especially when the crimes committed involve children. As a recent grandmother, Isasia-Ross finds these difficult. However, she knows that her work in translation, and in managing diverse translators on cases, has helped victims. Learning to keep this positive attitude, she said, has “been a long road.”

Though Isasia-Ross remains a very busy woman in a rewarding position, she still finds time to visit her family in Spain every year and half. How does she do it all? “It’s about flexibility— the ability to change in your career. That’s the key to success,” she said.