Abigail Gadea2021 Rising Alumni

Abigail Gadea

Abigail Gadea is co-developer and director of the Whole Learners Program at the University of Minnesota Healthy Youth Development – Prevention Research Center (HYD-PRC). Whole Learners is a successful research-based program to increase connections between teachers and students through tailored training and relational coaching. It has shown promising outcomes in improving teachers’ capacities to apply developmentally tailored, relationship-oriented and culturally responsive approaches to address the needs of all students. Abi arrived in Minnesota 17 years ago knowing very little English, with no sponsorship or connections. Five years later, she had successfully earned two master’s degrees from the University of Minnesota, in public policy and social work. Her passion for justice and her life experiences will continue to fuel her ongoing contributions to improving the wellbeing of youth.

Current Job

Deputy Director, U of M Healthy Youth Development - Prevention Research Center

CEHD Degree

Master of Social Work, Master of Public Policy

Please list any professional accomplishments you wish to mention.

I'm the Deputy Director at the UMN Healthy Youth Development - Prevention Research Center, and the co-developer and director of the Whole Learners© program. I also play leadership roles in multiple projects focused on transforming systems to better address the needs of youth and their families. I enjoy developing and disseminating research translation products to make knowledge, and best practices in adolescent health accessible to youth-serving professionals working in school and community settings. My latest and richest work entails the development of the teacher professional development program called Whole Learners©. This is a comprehensive teacher professional program focused on providing tailored training and relational coaching to educators. I'm currently exploring new opportunities to expand the relational coaching model used in middle schools to other disciplines. My current priority is to share and adapt lessons learned in Whole Learners© program to advance health and racial equity in the medical field. I have a longstanding commitment to participation and collaboration to move forward public agendas. I have been an active leader and engaged citizen since moving from Uruguay to Minnesota in 2003. In the last ten years, I have served as a board member for three non-profits dedicated to advancing the wellbeing of immigrant and refugee communities in Minnesota. I am also currently the co-chair at the Ramsey County Equity Action Circle - Family and Youth Committee formed to address the inequities aggravated by COVID-19. I’m deeply invested in promoting positive engagement and connections within the University of Minnesota community. I have contributed as a member of the Latino Faculty and Staff Council, an advisor to the Women of Color Council, and a career mentor to graduate students at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute.

What is your favorite memory from the University of Minnesota?

One of my fondest memories is when I walked through the UMN Saint Paul campus for the first time and saw Peters Hall. I wasn't a student back then; I was learning English in a community center and had just finished my bachelor's degree in social work back in Uruguay. I remember thinking, "one day, I will make it; I'll be a student here." Two years later, I was entering those doors as a grad student.

What professor(s) or course(s) were most influential during your time in CEHD?

A class and professor I remember vividly is Elizabeth Lightfoot - Community Organizing and Advocacy class. The class expanded the concept of advocacy in ways I never thought about before. Prof. Lightfoot was a terrific mentor and teacher, and my classmates were such an exceptionally creative and passionate group of people.

What was the impact and benefit of your educational experience in CEHD?

Education is often a path for liberation, and for me, it was in many ways. I was always a determined person, but mostly it was my strong, hard-working, and value-oriented mother who tirelessly nurtured in me the willpower and resiliency that led to who I am now. She insisted that education would bring opportunities for me that she never had. My parents weren't able to finish elementary school. Because of their sacrifice and my family's support, I was the first person in my nuclear and extended family to continue studying after high school. Obtaining my education in CEHD was not only one of the most outstanding achievements that opened a new life for me, but it was a way to honor the sacrifice of those who stood and still stand behind me, unconditionally supporting, loving, and believing in me.

What skills are important to succeed as an emerging professional today?

I think of values and purpose as driving forces. Even if the purpose is not clearly articulated at the beginning, it can be very powerful to name it. Values exploration should be something we all do and revisit every few years. I encourage my future colleagues to routinely reflect on whether their decisions and actions reflect the values they want to embrace, especially during difficult moments. I believe it is also important to balance self-care and community wellbeing. Centering ourselves in values of justice and equity not only honors our humanity but also greatly expands our impact.

When you have 30 minutes of free time, what do you do?

My free time typically involves playing with my kids, calling my family, or making some of my favorite fermenting foods or beverages. I also like going for walks around the block and catching up with neighbors.

How do you describe yourself?

I'm mostly a quiet and observant person who loves nature, children, and life stories, especially stories from folxs with very different lives than mine. I'm curious, creative, and committed to making my part in leaving a better world for the next generations.

What's a good book you'd recommend to others?

I have at least one favorite book every year; it's hard to pick. A book that is very close to my heart is El Astillero / The Shipyard, written by Juan Carlos Onetti. Just a masterpiece from my country.

If you could have coffee with anyone from history, who would it be?

Bartolina Sisa. I'm guessing we would most likely not have coffee but traditional coca tea. Bartolina was a courageous leader from the Aymaran indigenous people who fought the Spanish colonists in late 1700. She was critical in mobilizing the Aymaran and Quechua people's resistance against the brutal Spanish rules destroying their land and culture. In her memory, we celebrate the International Day of the Indigenous Woman on September 5th, which is the same day the Spanish executed her.

What gets you excited about work?

I am deeply invested in providing young people and their families with what they need to thrive and be healthy. I'm proud to belong to a Center that is a national leader in promoting adolescent health and advancing health equity through community-participatory research and strong partnerships. I'm lucky to work among people committed to removing systemic barriers and promoting effective ways to provide young people and their families with support, resources, and opportunities. I believe that through my professional and personal life, I'm contributing to a better society where the adults model vulnerability and accountability to young people, putting values, principles, and relationships upfront.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

During my childhood, I wanted to be both an astronaut and a painter. Later in my teens, when I learned about the military dictatorships and violations of human rights in Latin America, I wanted to be a revolutionary, like Che Guevara.