UO PhD student receives national leadership award

Teresa Hernández, a doctoral candidate and graduate student instructor in the Department of English, was recently selected out of one-hundred graduate student nominees to receive the 2022 K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). Hernández was one of nine recipients of the prestigious nationwide award.

According to the AAC&U, the award recognizes graduate students who show exemplary promise as future leaders of higher education and who are committed to academic innovation in the areas of equity, community engagement, and teaching and learning.

Hernández, who is originally from Rio Grande Valley, a border community in South Texas, aims to be a mentor for Latinx and BIPOC students by not only teaching them about their respective communities and histories through literature but also by engaging in conversations in the classroom around race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality, in ways that don't diminish their lived experiences, but build from them. For Hernández, working with these students on these topics has been one of the most rewarding parts of her PhD program.

“Teaching here at the University of Oregon has really given me the opportunity to work with other first generation, BIPOC students, which has been a reinvigorating part of my career,” said Hernández.

As a first-generation college student herself, making students feel welcome and safe within the classroom has become the core of Hernández’s work.

“I think student retention for Latinx and first-generation students more broadly happens when there's that kind of faculty representation,” she said. “So that's been one of my key goals since I first started this program, when I really knew I wanted to become a professor.”

Hernández’s work extends beyond the classroom and University of Oregon’s campus. She has worked in Lane County to identify at risk Latinx high school students and provide them with mentorship and support to continue their education beyond high school. As someone who has overcome similar adversity, Hernández feels that the students she works with are not only able to relate to her but are also inspired by her own educational journey.

The cumulation of Hernández’s research as well as her achievements both within and outside of the classroom, contributed to the Director of Graduate Studies within the Department of English, Mary Wood, choosing to nominate Hernández for the K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award.

For Hernández, receiving this award is not only a recognition of her research and the four years of service work she has been doing with the Department of English, but also a testimony to the support she has received within the University of Oregon.

“The faculty were invested in my success, which has been a true defining move for me,” she said. “And I feel like if I had not come to the University of Oregon, I don't think I would have received the same type of support elsewhere.”

—By Molly Cruse