Meet Your Team
Lezlee Ware (Professor and Umoja Program Coordinator)Humanities and Social Sciences - Political Science
LEZLEE WARE is originally from Palo Alto (born—Stanford Hospital—and raised). She is a proud graduate of Paly (Palo Alto High School) who relocated to Los Angeles to begin her college career at UCLA. There, she majored in Political Science with an emphasis in International Relations and earned her Bachelor’s degree. She stayed on at UCLA to secure a Master’s in African Area Studies with a focus on politics and religion—a requirement of which was to learn an African language. Lezlee chose Hausa, the most widely spoken—as a first, second, or third—language in Africa. As part of her in-depth graduate study, she spent a summer in Northern Nigeria practicing her new language skills and being immersed in the culture—a life-changing experience (literally) that she is grateful to have had. Lezlee continued her educational journey at the University of Southern California (USC), where she racked up another Master’s, this time in Political Science with an emphasis in Comparative Politics. She remained at USC and completed the last stage of her formal higher education by earning a PhD in Political Science with foci in politics and religion in America. Dissertation defended and diploma in hand, she ended her thirteen-year stay in Southern California and returned to Bay Area to be near family.
Upon her return, Lezlee worked full time as a researcher at a South of Market (SoMa) housing developer and provider for low-income individuals and families. She began working as a part-time instructor at Cañada in 2001 and was hired as a full-time faculty member in the Political Science Department in January 2003: “I finally had my DREAM JOB! Yes, this is my dream job—I knew while in graduate school that I wanted to be a professor at a community college [different from a four-year university where the emphasis is on research and publishing] because I greatly enjoy teaching and supporting students in their pursuit of excellence. I find absolute joy when teaching and learning in my classes and during office hours when I get the opportunity to support students individually.”
Lezlee’s interest in Political Science was solidified by one of her favorite authors, Chinua Achebe, in Things Fall Apart, which tells a story that brings to life the political concepts she had been eagerly learning about during her undergraduate career: “I am excited to be an Umoja instructor incorporating Pan-African concepts, ideas, and experiences into my class material. I hope you, too, will have an experience similar to what I had during my undergrad career—a solidification to follow and achieve your academic goals.”
When not with her students, Lezlee enjoys family time, the great outdoors and international cuisines of the Bay Area.
Michael Hoffman (Professor & Umoja Program Faculty)Science and Technology - Mathematics
MICHAEL HOFFMAN grew up in South San Francisco, “The Industrial City,” where he was lucky enough to be surrounded mostly by families of recent Mexican and Filipino immigrants. As one of the few white kids on his block, he learned a lot of cultural humility and respect for all the different ways people create community and express their intelligence. From an early age, he was able to observe the way that racism pitted people against each other—often in competition over resources that were made artificially scarce: “In particular, white supremacy seemed to be a way for some people to justify why they had more than others. These experiences helped to push me towards principled anti-racism.”
Michael received both a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Physics and Mathematics in 2005 and a Master’s Degree in Mathematics in 2008 from San Francisco State. During those years, he learned a lot, not only about math and science but also about the world and its injustices. His involvement in the anti-war, anti-racism, socialist, and labor movements taught him the importance of organizing for social change. His perspective—that ordinary people have the collective power to solve social and environmental problems—informs his teaching: “I am inspired by what regular people can do with expanded knowledge and skills. Also, I know that mathematics is something that every human society has developed and thus it is everyone’s birth-right as a human being to have access to the accumulated wisdom of people all over the globe.”
Michael began his work with Umoja because Umoja practices align with what he deeply believes about teaching: that we learn through community and connection. Because he recognizes that the dominant mode of education is oppressive, he wants his classroom to be a space where people can heal and learn to love their innate intelligence.
Michael loves percussion and percussion-based music from around the world and from Western Asia, India, and the countries of Africa in particular. As a child, he learned traditional African rhythms and spent many years in a rock band that toured the country and released several albums before turning his focus to West Asian percussion. After that, he fell in love with Northern Indian tabla drumming and studied intensely for several years. Now—with two kids and a full-time job—he has a hard time finding time to practice, but percussion is still a part of who he is. In what remains of his spare time, Michael reads about the history of social movements, the economics of social change, and the role racism plays in shaping deep social problems.
Elizabeth Terzakis (Professor and Umoja Program Faculty)Humanities and Social Sciences - English
ELIZABETH TERZAKIS grew up in Spring Valley, New York, and graduated from Spring Valley Senior High School. After spending a year at College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, she transferred to Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, where she majored in English and Creative Writing. With a bachelor’s degree, but very little idea of what to do with it, she moved to the Bay Area and worked as a bartender, an office assistant, and a house cleaner before returning to the east coast to earn a Master’s in English Literature from Brown University and a Master’s in Creative Writing from Hollins College.
Elizabeth eventually made her way back to the Bay Area and worked in legal publishing before getting a certificate in teaching post-secondary reading from San Francisco State. She was hired at Cañada College as an adjunct in 2003 and became a full-time member of the English Department in 2004, teaching composition, critical thinking, literature, and creative writing.
An active anti-racist, Elizabeth has been involved in struggles against police terror, capital punishment, and mass incarceration. Under the auspices of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, she worked to publicize the cases of people imprisoned on death row, stop executions, and attain justice for the falsely accused. She believes that no one should be judged for their worst action and that all people have the capacity to change. “To me, building an Umoja chapter at Cañada offers an opportunity to bring together two of my greatest passions: the fight for racial justice and teaching writing and critical thinking.”
Elizabeth is also co-author of Tigerbelle: The Wyomia Tyus Story, published in 2018, and contributed a chapter on the writings of Paulo Freire to Education and Capitalism. Her fiction has been published in the New England Review, Transfer, Roslyn, Minerva Rising, Solstice, Birdland Journal, and Calyx, and her nonfiction prose includes articles on human nature, capital punishment, academic freedom, eco-socialism, and the global AIDS crisis.
In Elizabeth’s free time, she enjoys rock climbing, baking pies, and spending time with friends while enjoying nature.
Mahitha Rao (Retention Specialist)Student Services - Vice President, Student Services
Kassie Alexander (Promise Counselor)Student Services - Counseling