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Fresno State Talks: Family played important role in couple’s higher education journey

Dr. Ignacio Hernández’s first teachers were his parents, immigrants who planted roots in Southern California and encouraged “Little Nachito” to “always do your best and go to school.”

Hernández and his wife, Dr. Susana Hernández, both Fresno State educational leadership professors, were the first in their families to pursue and graduate from college. The two earned their doctorates in educational leadership in 2013 from Iowa State University – an achievement both said would not have been possible without their families, who ingrained in them the attitude that college was a realistic possibility and desirable goal.

In what served as a tribute to their parents, the couple presented “Degrees of Connection: Familia, Educación, and Success,” the second installment of this year’s Fresno State Talks lecture series, Thursday night at the Satellite Student Union.

Through each of their upbringings, the two professors hoped to provide a “counter narrative“ of the value of education in Latino families.

Susana and Ignacio Hernández described their parents’ hard work – Ignacio’s father immigrated in the 1960s and found work as a farm laborer picking strawberries. Susana’s mom worked 3 a.m. shifts as a machine operator at an airplane manufacturer so she could pick up her kids after school.

“For many of us, we are the first in our families to graduate from college. For me, this is not just an honor, it’s also a really big responsibility that I carry, not just for my family, but for my community,” Susana Hernández said.

“It’s really important that I create meaningful change for other first-generation students, because I know the impact that it’s had for me and my family.”

Their narratives, the couple said, are ones that prevail at Fresno State, where Latinos and Hispanics make up about 43 percent of the student population, according to 2013-14 data from the school’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness.

The professors, who were individually nominated by two of their graduate students to speak at the lecture series, are currently researching ways the university can engage and promote inclusivity for first-generation students and their families.

Susana Hernández, whose parents and brothers were in attendance, shared pictures of her father wearing the caps and gowns of his three children during their college graduations because “we wanted to make sure that he was a part of his kids’ success.”

“For me, [these photos] represent that we’ve normalized going to college in my family.”

Ignacio Hernández said his parents’ encouragement in attending college fueled his passion for studying and researching higher education.

“My parents would retell their stories about how educational opportunities had eluded them, how college seemed out of reach for them and how they aspired for my brothers and I to do our best,” he said.

“And now my job has become to tell others to go to school and do your best.”