Dr. Renee Polanco Lucero, Chief Academic Officer

Renee Polanco Lucero

Dr. Renee Polanco Lucero, Chief Academic Officer

Dr. Renee Polanco Lucero says that her mother had one of the biggest influences on her outlook. When she was young, her mother told her, “You have three strikes against you: you have a hearing loss, you are a woman, and you are Chicana. This doesn’t mean that you cannot do what you set out to do, but you will need to work that much harder to accomplish your goals.” Her advice provided the framework for her future successes.

About Renee Polanco Lucero

Doctors diagnosed Lucero with moderate hearing loss at 3 years old, and her story is somewhat typical of her generation. In the 70s, hearing screenings were not mandatory. Despite others telling her mother, nothing was wrong, she knew something wasn’t right and followed her gut. Eventually, she found John Tracey Center. The non-profit helped to diagnose her with hearing loss and fitted her with hearing aids. She attended an auditory-oral program for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) in the Los Angeles Unified School District. By first grade, Dr. Lucero was in a mainstream classroom while still receiving speech therapy.

According to Lucero, her personal experiences paved the way for her to become a teacher of the deaf. After completing her studies at Columbia University and pursuing a Ph.D. in Special Education, she worked as an educator and recognized the need for program enhancements to improve the support provided to families and children with hearing impairments. 

Her hard work resulted in a unique partnership between the Oberkotter Foundation, Alexander Graham Bell Association, and LA Unified School District, aimed at enhancing listening and spoken language services. Renee currently holds the position of Chief Academic Officer at the John Tracy Center. In this role, she is tasked with overseeing the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Graduate Program’s teaching training. Her work allows her to ensure exceptional educational opportunities for children who experience hearing loss. 

“I simply would not be the person that I am if it were not for being deaf.”

According to Lucero, her deafness impacted her life positively. “I know some people say that they don’t like to be defined by being deaf, but I think there is a difference between being defined and being limited,” Dr. Lucero points out. “I have no problem with the idea that being deaf has defined, or rather, shaped my identity.

New Challenges for Lucero

Although Lucero grew up with hearing loss, the newest part of her journey involves navigating low vision. She was diagnosed with Usher Syndrome Type 2, a leading cause of deaf blindness. Relieved to have a diagnosis behind the progressive hearing and sight loss, she is constantly learning how to traverse this new path. In anticipation of the progression of her visual impairment, Dr. Lucero received her second cochlear implant in 2021. She says her goal is to maximize her hearing ability. “I now identify as a deaf blind woman who uses bilateral cochlear implants,” Lucero says.

“There are so many lessons that I have learned based on the experiences of being someone who is deaf.”

Lucero believes a few of those lessons include the value of a strong work ethic, the importance of advocating for herself and others, and the numerous relationships developed with her family, colleagues, students, and their families. “I have led a rich life so far and that is what I choose to focus on,” Dr. Lucero says.

Although her journey hasn’t come this far without learning how to overcome communication barriers. “As someone who uses spoken language to communicate, I value my hearing technology as a tool to help me maintain communication with the people that I interact with on a daily basis,” Lucero said.

She also had to discover the important role of advocacy, which Renee points out was challenging for her to master. “I was a poor self-advocate when I was younger because I just wanted to fit in,” Lucero says, “and didn’t want to bring attention to myself or let it be known that I needed help. Maturity and confidence helped her find her voice. She still considers herself a work in progress but hopes to be an example for her students and families about the value of advocacy.

“What I value about advocacy is the ability to teach others to advocate for themselves.”

A Full Circle Moment

Lucero says that in her current role as the Director of the DHH graduate program at Mount St. Mary’s University and John Tracey Center, she’s able to promote advocacy to even more people. “I love working with graduate students who are training to be future teachers of the deaf,” Dr. Lucero says, “and teaching them the value of advocating for their students, but also making sure that they teach their students and families to advocate for themselves.”

“This truly feels like a full circle moment in my life, to be back to where my journey with hearing loss began, working with the next generation of teachers of the deaf.”

And so, in the month of March, we are honored to recognize Dr. Renee Polanco Lucero.