Sandra Colmenares joined the Westchester Education Services team in Fall 2021, as the Senior Supervising Editor, Languages and Translation. She brings into this role her professional experience working for several educational publishers along with her personal experience of having emigrated to the United States as an adult and assimilating into the local community. Sandra draws upon this extensive background when working with clients and the other members of the project team here at Westchester to develop effective bilingual and translation content for students, teachers, and caregivers.
What sparked your interest in language and translation, and how did that lead to you pursuing a career in this field?
Sandra: You never know how life unfolds, but I think my interest might have sparked at a young age when I became aware that people in the world can communicate in other languages different than Spanish, my native language. It was a fun discovery as a child, as was learning words in other languages from children in my neighborhood, even in my own family, whose immigrant parents talked to them in those languages (Portuguese, Galician, Italian, French, English, German). For me, it was like a secret code to decipher. Later, in Secondary School, I went to the Venezuelan-German Humboldt School where I spent 5 years learning German and English along with the regular courses in Spanish. When the time came for me to decide what career to pursue at university level, I chose BA Letters, because I like books. Linguistics, Semantics, and Literature Analysis were the content areas I was most attracted to. While completing this BA, I worked for major publishing houses as a production editor. I learned a lot about book publishing, children’s books editions, translations, development, production, international markets, etc. I think those first experiences in publishing I had back in Venezuela led me to continue my career in the US, and thanks to my academic background enabled me to become a translator and editor for bilingual education, a whole new world for me at the time!
After some years, I decided to complete a MS in Publishing: Digital and Print Media from NYU-School of Professional Studies to help me catch up with the many changes that were happening in the industry due to the internet and the advancing of digital publishing for education. Also, and related to my interest in education publishing and content development, I completed advanced courses on Digital Media Design for Learning, Cognitive Science and Education Technology, Architecture of Learning Environments, and Games and Play in Education.
Before joining Westchester Education Services, you held several positions at educational publishers. Talk about those roles and how that progression brought you here.
Sandra: I started in academic education publishing as a freelance Spanish translator-copyeditor. A friend of mine, also Venezuelan, told me about a Spanish copyeditor job at a publishing service company in New York. This job was about a Spanish Science program for Pearson-Scott Foresman. After this beginning, I continued working for different vendors in New York, mostly in subject areas of Math, Science, and Reading. I remember looking at job boards everywhere on the internet. I didn’t know anyone from this field in the US, only that friend, so any job would be worth exploring for me then. One day, I found an anonymous job post that turned out being from Scholastic, for a bilingual PreK program that included content development of a digital product. I got the job as digital Spanish editor, and during the next several years, I continued developing content for Scholastic on varied products in Spanish—they are fun! The other role I enjoyed, and from which I learned a lot about editorial processes, was as Editor and Academic Designer at McGraw Hill Education, NY. There, I worked as editor on Math and Science core and supplemental programs. The last project I participated in at MHE was the Spanish Reading program Maravillas as lead editor and academic designer of Teacher’s materials, Grades K and 1. In 2014, I joined Encyclopedia Britannica in Chicago developing articles in Spanish for the School international market mainly.
I think that working at the publisher and vendor’s side has given me an edge on understanding each perspective, the processes involved, and what works and what doesn’t, especially when developing content in another language that is in translation.
What appeals to you about working for a company like Westchester that handles projects for dozens of education publishers and ed-tech companies?
Sandra: Probably the challenge it represents. Westchester is a well-positioned name in the publishing industry and that attracts the interest of important education publishers, large and small. The ed-tech companies are somehow new in the education market. These companies are not only designing and developing content for education, but they’re also facing the challenge of the digital media as a platform for delivering that content to users. I’m referring to cognitive overload, content coherence, usability, and other issues that were, I think, overcome in the paper platform long ago.
How is your experience working for publishing companies helpful in terms of addressing the concerns clients could have about projects they’re assigning to an outside firm?
Sandra: The concerns differ from one publishing company to another. Understanding their specific processes, needs, and products are key when we come in to collaborate with them. Here is where I come in, to decipher those points. That experience helps me better to see where they stand, and I can put myself in their shoes to provide possible solutions.
Publishers, education associations, and other organizations serving students, parents, and educators can have needs for translation services that extend beyond textbooks. Talk about some of the different types of language projects where Westchester Education Services can be a helpful partner.
Sandra: Yes, our services include other translation and content development in areas different than textbooks. One of those areas is the communication letters to students’ parents or tutors that can be in their own native language. We are currently translating those communications in Mandarin, Haitian-Creole, and Arabic languages for a client. We can also provide literature translations and book recommendation lists that are relevant to specific cultures. Other services that we provide are related to literacy, social-emotional learning, and culturally responsive education reviews.
How do digital programs complement what students are able to learn from print materials in terms of language attainment and retention?
Sandra: The multimedia learning approach is the most comprehensive learning experience for learners and instructors alike. It is based on scientific evidence about how the brain acquires, retains (storage) and processes new information, and how it makes connections (transfer) with what is already known. This learning approach combines sounds, pictures, and text that is only possible to replicate in a digital environment. This is a topic I’m passionate about—how to create an educational digital product that can take advantage of what we know about how we learn.
Now that you’re in a role where you work with a range of publishers and ed-tech companies to move their projects from plan to reality, what are you most excited about?
Sandra: Definitely, the Westchester Education team. Somehow, we all share that experience working in the publisher’s side at some point in our careers. Some also have experience as teachers, which is always helpful in this field as well. I’m also excited about what I’m going to learn from my colleagues and what I can contribute from my role. We have a supportive culture within and want to extend that supportive approach to our clients.
Is there anything else that you would like clients and companies who are considering working with Westchester Education Services to know?
Sandra: Please contact me or Dave Bailis if you would like to work on a Translation project with Westchester Education Services. We would love to hear from you and to learn about the projects you have in mind.
Learn more about Sandra in this press release.