Samantha Hernandez didn’t set out to be a role model when she made good grades in high school and got accepted to college. In fact, if anything, she was inspired by others to set those goals. However, the sociology major at California State University, Dominguez Hills has become just that as the featured student in a Spanish-language video produced by the U.S. Department of Education intended to promote college attendance among children of Latino families. The video is also currently streaming on the website for the documentary “Waiting for Superman.” For Hernandez, her educational superheroes were her teachers at Bishop Conaty – Our Lady of Lorreto High School in Los Angeles.
“The teachers I had basically guided me with hard work to prepare me for college material,” she recalls. “The staff was always reminding me that college was … something that I definitely had to look forward to after high school.”
Hernandez says that she chose CSU Dominguez Hills because of its diversity and welcoming atmosphere.
“On other campuses, I felt like I was out of place and that I was just going to be a number,” she says of visiting her other options. “Over here, it’s perfect. I have a one-on-one relationship with teachers. It’s close to my house, so I don’t have to leave my family yet.”
Upon her arrival at CSU Dominguez Hills, Hernandez entered the Educational Opportunity Program, whose staff mapped out her education and gave her a good start as a freshman with the Summer Bridge Program.
“EOP is my second home,” says Hernandez. “They guided me to Dominguez Hills and with the advisors here, they made everything so much easier for me in helping me select my classes, what roadmaps to follow, and basically giving me a priority seat in my classes with the Summer Bridge program.”
One of Hernandez’s advisors, Imelda Quintanar, is the associate director for EOP. She recruited Hernandez to appear in the U.S. Department of Education video. “La universidad: un sueÃ±o alcanzable” (College: A Possible Dream), which targets Spanish-speaking families and shows through Hernandez’s story that is not only possible but affordable. Through her high school counseling office, Hernandez applied for and received Pell Grants to finance her way through the university.
The South Los Angeles native says that representing students like herself, “feels great. A lot of the feedback I’m getting is from students who went straight to work right after high school. People who have seen the video send me messages like, ‘You’ve inspired me to come back to college, can you help me fill out the applications?’ It feels good, coming from a minority background, a female from South Central L.A. and [showing students] that college is possible.”
Having received the benefits of the Summer Bridge Program for incoming freshmen, Hernandez takes the opportunity to give back as a peer mentor in her sophomore year in both that program and Toro Network, another mentoring program that is administered by EOP. She says that the experience of helping her fellow students has shown her that, as she says her advisors tell her, the success of one is the success of all.
“Through the advising of Dr. Quintanar and other staff members, I saw that students do come first [at Dominguez Hills],” Hernandez says. “Being part of that organization has opened my eyes to the fact that… if you mentor someone your own age, it’s a hands-on experience. I was able to help them from my own previous experience and guide them through the Summer Bridge with their work. It’s a cycle: I help the freshmen, and they can help the next freshmen.”
Hernandez, who plans to become a social worker, says that she was inspired toward this career path by a social worker who helped her through a 10-year battle with juvenile systemic arthritis.
“I had [several] social workers from different hospitals but the last one did a lot of work,” Hernandez says. “In high school, I was constantly missing classes and she would be there to support me in doing my work and it reflected in my grades.
“Her role was to counsel me not just in terms of my health, but also on my personal life and guidance with school and on what [career] would best fit me,” says Hernandez. “Social workers can work in hospitals, counseling, and they interact with people. Hearing her stories and having her be there for me made me want to [become one].”
Hernandez says that she is also inspired by the example of her older sister, who recently transferred from Pasadena City College to begin her study of theology at Loyola Marymount University.
“She’s the first in my family to go to college,” says Hernandez. “The usual [thinking] is that nobody can finish community college in two years and she proved them wrong. She finished her two years and with a 2-year-old son. She wants to be a theology professor. She’s very inspiring.”
As the middle child, Hernandez also strives to be an example for her 10-year-old twin sisters. She is also encouraged by her mother, an executive secretary, who is in her second year at Mount St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles, majoring in business administration.
“My mother has always been a supporter of education,” says Hernandez. “She says that’s the only thing that everybody can take with them. To her, it’s important, and for the betterment of our family, she wants to have a degree.”
Surrounded by inspiration and with her focus on leading by example, Hernandez says that she sees the traditional stereotypes of Latinas forgoing an education to raise a family as changing.
“Women have a voice that is being heard now, like in no other time,” she says. “We have a lot of strong leaders like Hillary Clinton. We have a female president at Dominguez Hills. The idea of women just staying home to cook and clean is now in the past.
“I tell my sisters, ‘Work hard now and party later.’ Without an education they can find no career that will stabilize their futures. My mom says there is always time for everything. More than ever, I see now that is true.”
For more information on EOP and its programs at CSU Dominguez Hills, click here.
View Hernandez’s video by the U.S. Department of Education below: