Newsroom > News > Press Releases > Poet sets out to teach Chicago youth

Poet sets out to teach and serve in Chicago

Meet the Class of 2021: Juan Sandoval

Juan Sandoval
A first-generation college student, Juan Sandoval will graduate from DePaul's College of Education with plans to pursue a career in Chicago Public Schools. (Image courtesy of Juan Sandoval)
Juan Sandoval knows what it’s like to have a teacher change your life. A longtime resident of the Gage Park neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, Sandoval is a first-generation, queer, Latinx college student. He credits teachers with lighting a fire in him for poetry, political activism and his own teaching career.

Juan Sandoval
A published poet, Juan Sandoval plans to continue his writing career as he teaches. (Image courtesy of Juan Sandoval)
This June, Sandoval will deliver the commencement address to his DePaul University​ College of Education classmates, as he graduates with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education. He will stand as a Chicago-made graduate, ready to serve the city that shaped him. Sandoval’s mentors say he is dedicated to the university’s values of inclusivity and excellence in education.

“Juan exemplifies DePaul's mission in his commitment to the difficult work of social justice. He seeks opportunities to speak up on behalf of those whose voices often are silenced, whether queer youth or immigrant families,” says Jennifer Cohen, associate professor of secondary education. “And while he is unwavering, he is always gentle so as to invite conversation.”

Sharing a love of literature is at the heart of Sandoval’s conversations. He is a publishing poet whose poem "The Masculine Eye" was published in the 40th edition of DePaul's “Crook & Folly” literary magazine. He's also a 2017 Golden Apple Scholar and has spent each summer of his college career working in schools of need in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. His goal is to return to Chicago Public Schools, where he learned as a child, and to work as a high school English teacher.

Public school roots
DePaul’s many connections to Chicago helped draw Sandoval to enroll at the university. “Education is all about service, and DePaul’s mission completely aligns with my goals as an educator,” Sandoval says.

Reflecting back on his own public school experience shaped Sandoval’s vision for his career. Born in Texas to a family of undocumented Mexican immigrants, Sandoval moved to Chicago as a child. Raised by a single mother, Sandoval is the first person in his family to attend college.

He credits his Chicago Public Schools teachers for opening opportunities for him. During his senior year of high school, teachers encouraged him to publish his first poem. He also traveled with them to Seattle and shared his family’s story at an immigration rally.

As a Latinx man who identifies as queer, Sandoval says he aims to be a role model for students who may not have had a “teacher who looks like them.” When it was time to start student teaching, Sandoval was excited to return to CPS, though it meant teaching online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Part of the job of teaching is flexibility, meeting the moment with what you've got,” says Sandoval, who taught English to freshmen and sophomores at Hancock College Prep on Chicago’s South Side. When students had their cameras turned off, or the virtual classroom crashed, Sandoval learned how to keep up a class discussion. On a recent afternoon, he made space for students to talk about racial justice and gun violence.

“Juan has continued growing every single day,” says Jeschelyn Pilar, Sandoval’s cooperating teacher. “He is constantly reflecting and thinking about ways to improve his lessons and to build relationships with students so that they are engaged,” Pilar says.

Literary aspirations
At DePaul, Sandoval found a home for literary pursuits. He contributed a poem to “Write Your Heart Out,” an anthology from DePaul’s Big Shoulders Books. He also read at open mic nights sponsored by the DePaul Activities Board. He plans to continue his writing career, alongside his career as an educator. “I thought it would be cool to show other people like me, other youth, the power that language has,” Sandoval says.

This year, his favorite lesson was on Julia Alvarez’s novel, “In the Time of the Butterflies.” Students grappling with how to achieve justice and accountability in the U.S. connected with the story of a Dominican family torn apart during a dictatorship.

As a student, Juan always reflected deeply and questioned broadly on his assignments, says Cohen. “He is already bringing these qualities into his teaching, approaching students with humor and compassion and drawing them in during a difficult time. Juan's intelligence and heart will make him a unique and successful teacher,” Cohen says.

DePaul is hosting outdoor activities for graduates at the Lincoln Park C​ampus May 19-28. Reservations are required. The university will launch online commencement celebrations May 22 for the College of Law and June 12 for all other colleges, including the College of Education. For more information, visit


Media contact:
Kristin Claes Mathews​