National Hispanic Heritage Month Spotlight – Walk a mile in my shoes

Shirley Murillo knows what it is like to walk in the migrant worker’s shoes.

“I came to this country 31 years ago to join my father. I spoke no English. Although I was a professional in my home country of Costa Rica, my credentials were not accredited in the states. I had to go back to college to receive my credentials,” Murillo said. “While I came to the United States to become a citizen, I understand the fear, obstacles, and challenges faced by the migrant worker who is here on a work permit.”

Migrant workers are usually defined as people who have left their home countries to work temporarily or seasonally such as agriculture workers who work in farm fields, orchards, canneries, plant nurseries, fish/seafood packing plants, and more. Many bring their families with them. Once the seasonal work is over, they must find other employment to keep their work permit until seasonal work returns. Many do not speak English. The inability to speak English narrows job opportunities and threatens work permits once seasonal work is over. (Source: Migrant Clinicians Network)

Another hardships faced by migrant workers is what to do with their children when they are in the fields working. This problem led Murillo and fellow adjunct faculty member Frank Scala, M.A., to design a professional development program named Professional Growth Learning Community (PGLC) offered through Union Institute & University to breakdown these barriers, in order to provide educational services to this underserved population of adult learners who in turn will be capable of transforming the lives of children. Paola Murillo, Shirley’s daughter and a 2021 Union graduate with a Master of Arts in Health & Wellness also works in the program.

The PGLC instructs preschool teachers and teacher assistants or those that want to be preschool teachers who serve the migrant families children in and around the Sacramento area. This satisfies the Child Development Associates Credential for the California Permit renewal preparation /Professional Development program.

“We run the workshops as dual language and thus far we have completed four sessions or 10 hours of professional training through on-demand webinars through Union’s virtual continuing education platform. Frank and I fought hard to keep the cost affordable at $15,” Murillo said. “This professional development allows migrant workers to keep jobs and to assist with their advancement as preschool teachers teaching the children in Spanish.”

“The challenge to speak English is daunting. When seasonal work is completed and migrants and their families must find other work to keep their work permits, they find most applications are in English and online,” Murillo said. “English and computer literacy are necessary for economic self-sufficiency. It is also necessary if they would like to higher education degrees.”

Murillo’s career has taken her on many pathways. One path led her to become an infant/toddler specialist for the Program for Infant Toddlers Caregivers (PITC). A much longer path crossed halfway around the world to New Zealand. There her exposure to “Learning Stories,” a widely used technique to assess children’s learning in New Zealand’s “Te Whāriki” early childhood curriculum, inspired her to publish multiple books, including Observation and Infants and Toddlers Growth and Development. Her books provide additional resources and content in Spanish to help expand the knowledge of providers, caregivers, and early childhood professionals in the Spanish-speaking community.

“This work is fulfilling. I am making a difference and helping to continue Union’s mission to transform lives.”


Union is a global leader in providing higher education degrees for the adult learner. Your Goals. Your Success. Your Union. We’ve Got U!

 Click to learn more.