"I never fathomed teaching at the college level, and that may be because I'm the first in my immediate family to graduate from high school — let alone pursue a doctoral degree."
Estee Hernández cannot remember a time when she didn't want to be an educator.
Now, the first-generation Mexican-American is pursuing a doctoral degree in higher education at Florida State University.
In recognition of her outstanding commitment to education, she has been selected as a fellow of the Graduate Student Fellows Program of the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education.
The program is a national and nonprofit organization that provides exceptional Hispanic students seeking doctoral degrees an opportunity to meet with a network of Hispanic professors and administrators who can mentor the students through the difficulties of higher education.
"It was a great opportunity to meet senior scholars in my field and to be mentored in my current projects and future goals," Hernández said.
Hernández, who wears dual hats as full-time program coordinator for the FSU Center for Leadership and Social Change and the main coordinator of the Service Scholars Program, is equally committed to community service as she is to pursuing higher education.
"I was so impressed by the program and the students, I knew I wanted the opportunity to work with this community," Hernández said. "Service scholars are catalysts for social change: they care deeply about a variety of social issues, and they work tirelessly to find solutions to our world's problems."
In between her time as the main coordinator of the Service Scholars Program and her doctoral studies, Hernández also works with the President's Undergraduate Humanitarian of the Year Award where she helps recognize one student from each of the university's 16 colleges who display an exemplary commitment to community service and humanitarianism.
"I am always struck by our amazing students who do so much for our communities — both in Tallahassee and beyond," she said.
Hernández says that education has always been her true calling and that teaching the Leadership for Social Justice course at FSU has been a highlight of her time at Florida State.
"The class has had a tremendous impact on my life, and I hope students walk away with such an impact too," she said. "It has taught me that students will rise to the expectations that you set; if you ask students to come to class with the intention to change the world, they will do so and as an educator, it's my responsibility to create a community of trust, empathy and sharing — where change can best be cultivated."
Hernández dreamt of becoming an educator since she was a young girl but never imagined she would be working at the university level.
"I never fathomed teaching at the college level, and that may be because I'm the first in my immediate family to graduate from high school — let alone pursue a doctoral degree," she said.
Kathy Guthrie, associate professor of higher education in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, describes Hernández as an excellent educator who goes above and beyond the call of duty.
"She is a passionate instructor who engages with her students to provide a supportive yet challenging learning environment," Guthrie said. "She challenges them to think critically, but also supports their process in doing so."
Hernández believes that imparting the morals of justice and equity to students is important. She emphasizes to her students that injustice never rests and the world should never cease in its pursuit to eradicate inequity.
"Oftentimes, we are so distracted by our society's progress that we neglect to consider how much more work we have to do," she said. "As an educator with access to high quality education, it's my privilege and responsibility to educate others on all forms of systematic injustice, so that we address root issues and engender real change."
Hernández fulfills her own request to her students by exhibiting a commitment to service throughout her community and by continuing to pursue higher education.
Ultimately after graduation, Hernández seeks to serve as a faculty member in higher education or in a student affairs program.
"I will definitely look for programs that emphasize equity and social justice, where I may use the lessons I have learned from my time here at FSU," she said.
By Victoria Sagebiel, University Communications Intern
Student Star Profiles are produced by the offices of Information Technology Services, the Provost, Student Affairs, Undergraduate Studies and University Communications.