Alumni Spotlight: An Interview with Trailblazing Judge Marilyn Zayas


Brooklyn Tech alumnus Judge Marilyn Zayas is the first Latinx judge elected to Ohio’s Court of Appeals. She was recently nominated for the first Good Morning America Inspiration List for “Who’s Making Hispanic Latinx History Right Now.”

“I really respect Good Morning America for making the list more than entertainers and athletes because when it comes to Latinx Hispanic Heritage Month, it feels as if that has been relegated to be food, fun, and fiesta…and when you see the list, you see physicians on there…medical field people, and a judge, and that’s great, because that’s what the list should be,” she said.

Before Zayas pursued a successful career in law, she had to endure a rough childhood in New York City. She grew up in Spanish Harlem, Washington Heights, and Bay Ridge, and she described her family situation as having been “chaotic.” Prior to beginning her education at Brooklyn Tech, Zayas studied diligently on her own for the SHSAT, motivated by her goal of getting into Tech.

“I enjoyed being in a school where all of my peers were motivated and intelligent, and so for me, it was really important to get into Brooklyn Tech, and it was really important for me to stay in Brooklyn Tech,” she said.

At Tech, Zayas decided to join the Electronics major, which she enjoyed the complexity of her STEM curriculum. Still, Zayas acknowledged that her four years at Tech were demanding. “I just remember having a lot of homework…and knowing that the quantity and the quality of homework that I had was not the average high school experience. So it gives you a certain amount of confidence of knowing, ‘Well, golly, if I’m able to do that, then what else can I do?’”.

Zayas attended Brooklyn Tech in 1978, seven years after women were first allowed to do so. She remembered an impressive number of women at the school less than a decade after the change. “The only time that I was very cognizant of it…is that the girls bathrooms were still boys bathrooms…All they did was change the sign,” she said.

While studying at Tech, Zayas also developed an appreciation for the diversity of the school, especially compared to others around the city. “There were students of all different backgrounds and circumstances…we had the true sense of diversity, not only from ethnicity, not only from students that were born abroad… Students that were first-generation Americans, but also socioeconomic, as well,” she said.

Zayas first developed an interest in law during high school. Her parents divorced when she was a senior. During that time, Zayas accompanied her mother to the court proceedings, which exposed her to what a career in law entailed.

When Zayas graduated in 1982, she felt as if her experience at Tech had set her up for success. She said the school had a “tremendous” impact on her career and helped set the foundation for the person she would become. “Brooklyn Tech was really that which allowed me to live out all of those dreams, because it gave me the foundation, and it gave me a direction,” she stated.

After graduating high school, Zayas felt that it was natural to continue her pursuit of electrical engineering. She attended City College over more prestigious options because her family could afford to send her there. After graduation, she moved to Cincinnati, Ohio.

While in Cincinnati, Zayas contemplated changing her career path to law. She went over the decision many times. “There’s always going to be a reason not to do it…I’m either going to do it now or I’m probably going to do it never, and I’m going to spend the rest of my life talking about ‘one day, I want to go to law school; one day, I want to go to law school.’” Ultimately, she decided to make the switch.

Guided by her passion for law, Marilyn Zayas decided to run for the Court of Appeals. After she joined the Court, she found out that she was the first and only Latina judge to be elected to the court in 2016. She was then re-elected in 2018, supported by over 60% of voters. “It gave me a tremendous amount of pride in my Ohio and Cincinnati community… What it means is that the door is open for anyone who perceives themselves to be an outsider or to be different,” she said.

After the election, Zayas created the “Educating Tomorrow’s Leaders” program for high school students. “There’s a lot of young people out there that also are dreaming big, that also feel limitations, that also have assumed that certain career paths or certain things in life are not for them,” she said. Zayas wanted to work with the youth to share her story and help students recognize that they can achieve what they set out to achieve, not only what they are told to.

Today, Judge Marilyn Zayas is an accomplished judge in Ohio, and has been elected twice to Ohio’s Court of Appeals. She is the highest-ranking Latinx judge in the Ohio region and one of 69 appellate judges in Ohio. Zayas was also hand-selected to sit on Ohio’s Supreme Court for a case.

Zayas’s story serves as inspiration to many Tech students today. Tausifa Haque, a senior in the Law & Society major, noted, “I think it’s amazing that someone from Tech, especially a woman, is in such a position of authority… It gives me hope for my future and the future of the students at Tech because we can go a long way from here.”