Joe Hernandez, a student in CED’s MS in Counseling with an emphasis in Student Development in Higher Education, is on a career path to connect with and positively impact at-risk kids. However, Joe is not your average graduate student. As the recipient of both the Graduate Research Fellowship and Sally Casanova Pre-Doctoral Scholarship, Joe has earned tremendous honors. While a teenager growing up in an urban neighborhood, his choices and goals were very different. A high school dropout twice, Joe says he gave up on education in the seventh grade and wanted to be gang member. He eventually made it through high school and signed up for community college and dropped out again, convinced he did not like school. Now, years later, Joe is completing his Master’s degree and looking forward to the next step in his education, a doctoral degree.
Joe was inspired by his own interactions with counselors from CED’s SDHE program, one of whom became his mentor and to whom he attributes his graduate school career. His mentors made a tremendous impact, offering encouragement and creating a sense of belonging within the field of higher education. Having these critical mentor interactions affirmed Joe’s career path.
This [mentor experience] has impacted my goal, which is to help those who have been incarcerated, been a part of gangs, been addicts, high school dropouts, or that feel they do not belong in school. I want to be here to welcome them and show them that they too can succeed. Because I have experienced each of these things firsthand, they can also see a living example, proof, that it can happen for them as well.
As a Graduate Research Fellow, Joe plans to conduct research on students who have experienced incarceration, focusing on skills these students already possess in order to achieve their educational goals. As a Sally Casanova Scholar, Joe sees himself being able to better prepare for his next educational step by connecting with scholars with similar research interests, and to prepare him for his doctoral degree. As a recipient of both awards, Joe remarks, “To me it is a win for anyone who has felt like an underdog. According to what society says, I should be dead or in prison for the rest of my life, and that I am no good…I feel these awards have affirmed that I do belong in school, that I can make it and that the research I want to conduct is valuable. Most importantly, I feel that it gives a voice to someone who comes from where I come from and shines a light on what they can accomplish.”
Joe’s ultimate career goals are to represent a demographic that is often overlooked and marginalized through administrative work that assists with the transition between incarceration and education, while recognizing and amplifying the abilities, skills, and knowledge incarcerated youth already possess. Joe hopes to one day be a Vice-President of a community college or a professor to educate those who will teach future students of color and those who are, “often disproportionately impacted by poverty.”