Elena De Costa, Carroll University faculty

Dr. Elena De Costa

Associate Professor of Modern Languages and Literature 262.524.7284 edecosta@carrollu.edu MacAllister Hall 310




Dr. De Costa received a B.A. from Boston State Teacher's College in Spanish and Secondary Education and a M.A. and Ph.D. in Spanish and Comparative Literature from UW-Madison. Her teaching experience includes second language methodology, experiential or community-based learning, Spanish language and Hispanic cultures, literature, politics, Hispanic Health and Human Services, and film. Her publications and research interests include Latin American popular theatre and poetry and human rights issues in film and literature. Dr. De Costa holds positions with a number of local organizations as a member of their Board of Directors, advisory councils and action teams. At Carroll University, she is editor of the annual Spanish language student publication, El Coloso, and co-director of Carroll's annual, bilingual theatre production. For Dr. De Costa, teaching is an engaging experience that reaches out to the community for input and inspiration, meaning and practical applications. Her personal interests include ethnic cooking, dance, theatre, popular and new age music, saltwater fish keeping, herpetology, gardening and travel. She teaches General Education and Spanish courses. Dr. De Costa has two faculty-led Cross-Cultural Experiences (CCE) to Nicaragua and Cuba and she is developing a domestic CCE on Civic Engagement in Latino Communities: A Model for Social Innovation. 


  • ​University of Wisconsin-Madison, Ph.D. in Spanish/Comparative Literature
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison, M.A. in Spanish
  • Boston State Teachers College, B.A. in Spanish/Secondary Education
  • Massachusetts Bay Community College, A.A. in Liberal Arts

Areas of Specialization

  • Contemporary Literature and Politics of Spain, Latin America & the Caribbean
  • Latin American Popular Theatre for Social Change  
  • Human Rights, Civic Engagement
  • Foreign Language Pedagogy

Scholarly and Professional Achievements

“The Sociopolitical Discourse of Violeta Parra and Víctor Jara: The Culture of People’s Power. Giving Voice to Social Justice in Chile’s New Song Movement” Chapter 6, pp. 122-142 in Music as a Platform for Political Communication, Uche Onyebadi, editor. IGI Global, 2017. [A volume in the Advances in Media, Entertainment, and the Arts (AMEA) Book Series].

“Bolivarianism: A Framework for Socialism in the Twenty-First Century?” Chapter in Revolution, Reform, and Rebellion: The Role of Agency and Memory in Historical Understanding, Gordon Andrews & Yosay Wangdi, editors, Cambridge Scholars, 2017 [Volume I in series on Historical and Pedagogical Issues in History: Insights from the Great Lakes History Conference].

“Does Democracy Translate across Borders? Participatory Democracy and the New Left in Latin America: An Experimental Approach to Democratization,” Saint Louis University Public Law Review, (Vol. XXXV, No. 2, 2016), pp. 257-280]. Special issue on democracy / ethical dilemmas underlying social current issues.

Engaging Communities: Social Justice Initiative and Stewardship” Community-Based College and Career- Readiness Programs for Underserved Populations. Co-authored with Donnie Hale. The Journal of Intercultural Disciplines. Academia.edu. pages 1-21, 2016

Community-Based Projects and the Performing and Visual Arts: Promoting Cultural Dialogue" June 21, 2014. NACCS Annual Conference Proceedings: San José State University ScholarWorks (Berkeley, California: Digital Commons bepress online publication.)

“Building Bridges, Breaking Barriers: Bringing Ethnic Communities Together through the Performing and Visual Arts,” Río Bravo: Journal of the Borderlands. Special issue on Chicano(a) Studies: Community-Based Pedagogies, Scholarship, and Activism (Vol. 23, Issue No.1, Spring 2014), pp. 251-267.

“A Gathering of Literary Voices: Truth, Justice and Reconciliation in Chile” chapter in Thinking and Practicing Reconciliation: Literary and Pedagogical Responses to Atrocity. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. 2013 [pp. 164-184 & Appendix D, pp. 256-259.]

“The Intersection between Art and Human Rights. A Poetics of Remembering and Memory” in Academic Quarter, Vol. 5, (Special issue on the Aesthetics of Human Rights), December 2012, pp. 113-125.

“Metaphor and Narrative in Mesoamerican Oral Tradition” in Latin American Narratives and Cultural Identity: Selected Readings. Peter Lang Publishers. 2004.

Biographical Dictionary of Literary Influences. The Twentieth Century, 1914-2000. Contributor of 2 articles (Juan Carlos I and Edward W. Said), Greenwood Press. 2003.

"Voices of Conscience: The Power of Language in the Latin American Testimonio” in Storytelling: Interdisciplinary and Intercultural Perspectives, Irene María F. Blayer & Monica Sánchez (editors). Peter Lang Publishing, 2002, pp. 41-57.

Service to Carroll University and Profession

  • Varied Campus-Committees, sub-coommittees and task forces including Waukesha Engage 
  • Program for College and Career Readiness for Underserved Populations
  • Waukesha Youth Collaborative
  • Carroll University Tenure and Promotion Committee
  • Horizontes Pre-College Program
  • Office of Cultural Diversity
  • Carroll University General Education Committee
  • Student Life Committee
  • Waukesha Hispanic Collaborative Network Board of Directors and Education Action Team
  • Plowshare Board of Directors and Education Committee
  • Waukesha Restorative Justice Program’s Teen Court facilitator

Honors and Awards

  • Carroll University Inaugural Annual Exemplary Contributions in Service Faculty Award, March 2014
  • Wisconsin’s Sister Joel Read Civic Engagement Practitioners Award, 2013
  • Faculty Development Grants for Innovative Teaching and Professional Activity, 2013, 2007
  • Women’s Center of Waukesha Outstanding Volunteer Commitment in Spanish Outreach Award

What is your teaching style?

Teaching is as much about passion as it is about reason. My function as an educator is not only to motivate students to learn, but also to teach them how to learn in a way that is relevant, meaningful, and memorable. It is important to listen, question, be responsive, and remember that each student and class is unique and, for this reason, the syllabus can only serve as a guideline and often needs to be altered to meet individual and group needs. Excellence in instruction also means pushing students to excel while, at the same time, it is being human, respectful of others, and professional. As in a symphony performance, I am the conductor and the class is my orchestra. All students play different instruments and at varying proficiencies. I often use humor to break the ice in a class, allowing students to learn in a more relaxed atmosphere conducive to second-language immersion. My methods of instruction are collaborative and cooperative, recognizing that the central role of the learner in the learning process. One of my greatest assets as an instructor is my ability to be caring and nurturing, developing minds and talents, devoting countless hours to every student to further enhance classroom instruction. Each student is a unique opportunity to share in the learning process, a gift to treasure!

Why do you do what you do?

I take pleasure in challenging students to achieve and to excel at what they might consider difficult. Students need to develop camaraderie with their instructors, a special relationship that helps them to exceed expectations, develop a more positive self-image, go beyond their limits. Every successful student—one success at a time, regardless of how small it might be—is a reason to celebrate! And I take the greatest pleasure in all of our successes of teamwork whether it be in community service settings, on the stage, in the classroom, in our student magazine El Coloso, or in more serious research learning endeavors. Variety is the spice of life! And learning venues of all sorts provide us with a rich variety of condiments! So spice it up a bit!

How do you make learning engaging?

For me, teaching is an engaging experience that inspires students to interact with the world around them outside of the classroom in service learning, volunteer, research and internship activities. Teaching and learning are creative endeavors that make a positive difference in the lives of others. I encourage and mentor students in leadership roles both on campus and in the community, positions that provide valuable, real-life experiences that put into practice the skills learned in the classroom—bilingual and bicultural communication, problem-solving, creative thinking, research and social skills, and networking. Skyping dialogues with Spanish-speakers and cultural field trips to local art exhibits, concerts, ethnic restaurants, speakers series, interactions with international visitors—all of these activities bring culture to life in fun settings. I love to add a dash of Latino music and dance, cuisine and human interactions to the mix of learning to make what we learn in the classroom meaningful, relevant, and just plain FUN!

What should students know about you?

I am always on the go, go go! But I am very approachable, engaging, making people laugh, sharing stories and sometimes tears with students in the sad moments of life’s events! I always have treats and small gifts in my office to make you smile (and to make others jealous!). Help me “put on the brakes” as I dash from one place to another across campus! Hand me a note...leave me a message, and I will find the time to meet with you! Sometimes we “run away together” to a quieter place on campus where we can talk without interruptions! I like getting away from my office sometimes and more formal settings! And coffee and a pastry are on me!

pano of main campus