First Generation Grad

By: Ashmar Mandou

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - EducationChicago native Erin Hernandez established a profound impact as an undergrad at Northern Illinois University (NIU) with her altruistic demeanor, persistent deposition, and her loyalty to her community. “You cannot forget your roots or where you come from, you have to share your resources and knowledge with others to help them succeed,” said Hernandez. Hernandez’s passion for education propelled her to become the first in her family to graduate college, a moment she will cherish for years to come. “It was a surreal moment because I am the first to attend and graduate college. To come from a neighborhood that had limited resources, I had to take what was given to me and make it work. I worked hard, sought out programs, talked with my teachers, and, of course, received so much support from parents.”

As the first member of her family to attend college, Hernandez forged a path that is inspiring her two younger brothers to follow in her footsteps. As a member of Dream Action NIU, she was also an inspiration to undocumented Huskies and their families, advocating on their behalf and lobbying to promote the issues they face locally and nationally. “I was searching for this sense of community. That’s what I was missing from home. I received so much support and help that I wanted to share that with my peers. It was important to create a sense of community,” said Hernandez. Professor Mandy Faretta-Stutenberg at NIU shared her insight into Hernandez’s efforts. “She is a fantastic role model for her classmates, both in terms of maturity and scholarship,” her professor said.

Hernandez has credited many mentors at NIU who helped her along the way. She said they provided the guidance and support she needed, especially as a first-generation college student. But Hernandez said it was her work ethic and personal integrity that helped her thrive and make a difference at NIU. “The first year can be frustrating for many students coming into a big campus. You can feel lost in what we call the Freshman shuffle. You get bounced around from office to office, from classroom to classroom without feeling a sense of connection. I had to be my own advocate and get answers to my questions. I had to build a network of support for myself because no one was going to do that for me. You have to be persistent, you have to take a chance, you have to stay focus,” said Hernandez.

Hernandez’s was a leader among her peers. She was an Academic Career Exploratory Scholars House leader and assisted freshmen as they transitioned to university life. She joined the ranks of Huskie Service Scholars, where she worked with other student mentors and with the Academic Advising Center to help with training and orientation. She was also a native speaker with the Foreign Language Residence program, where she helped students studying Spanish to fully immerse themselves in the language through weekly dinners and teachings about Mexican culture. “I truly enjoyed every experience I gained as a student in NIU,” said Hernandez. Hernandez was able to accomplish all that while pursuing a double major in Spanish language and literature and international politics – while maintaining a 3.8 grade point average. Hernandez plans to work in the nonprofit sector in Chicago after graduation hopes to attend law school next year.

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