On Sept. 6, 2020, Diana Hernandez found herself walking across the stage in the Idaho Center during Northwest Nazarene University’s commencement ceremony. This moment was the final act in her journey toward achieving her Master of Education in Instruction, Curriculum and Innovation.
Hernandez was born in Mexico and immigrated to the United States when she was a teenager. When she was 16, she and her family moved into an apartment down the street from the NNU campus. She thought the campus was beautiful and assumed it was a church. It was her father who told her it was actually a school. Hernandez confided in her father that she hoped to attend the school someday. This shocked her father who informed her that he likely wouldn’t be able to help her pay for college.
“And he said ‘I know you want to go to college and I don’t have the money for it, but you will find the way. Once you set your mind to something you always find a way,’” she said.
To ensure that dream would someday be a reality, Hernandez dove into her schoolwork at Nampa High School (NHS). It was at NHS that she made the decision to be a teacher so she could help kids like her. She credits her ESL teacher, Caroline Flores, for helping her choose this path.
“She was a Mexican-American woman so I looked up to her in so many ways and she was also an immigrant,” Hernandez said. “If she can do it, I think I can too.”
While in high school, Hernandez asked her school counselor about applying to NNU, but was discouraged from following through. Instead, she attended Boise State University earning her BA in Spanish Language and Literature in 2017.
But the dream of being a student at NNU never quite left her and, in 2018, she applied to the Master in Education program.
“Diana enrolled in our accelerated certification in education program to earn her initial teaching certification and progress towards a master's degree in Curriculum, Instruction, and Innovation,” Dr. Jennifer Hill, College of Education associate professor, said. “The program is fast-paced and allows candidates to complete their teaching certification in as little as 16 months.”
When she received her acceptance letter to NNU, Hernandez recalls instantly thinking of her father who had already passed away. She credits him and her mother for helping her make it to that moment.
“It was definitely my dad’s face I thought of and all the sacrifices they made to get me to this point,” Hernandez said. “I was just overwhelmed by happiness and excitement, but I was nervous at the same time. It was a mix of emotions, but mainly I saw my dad’s face and remembered his words.”
The program required her to go back into the classroom and that was when she found herself inside the halls of her old school —NHS. She felt as if her life had come full circle as she was now the teacher to students like her, who are making their way through life.
“Going back to where it all started and volunteering there, that was very neat,” she said.
Hernandez had a very challenging upbringing moving from Mexico to the U.S., but in many ways it helped prepare her for the rigorous master’s program she embarked on at NNU. Dr. Hill says teachers like Hernandez are desperately needed right now.
“The teaching profession is experiencing shortages worldwide, but especially in the area of diversity, and specifically teachers of color. We know that effective, high-quality teaching is important at every level and all students benefit from having identifiable role models. As our schools are becoming more diverse, our teaching force needs to represent that diversity,” she said. “NNU is committed to producing culturally-responsive teachers. Students like Diana are helping us meet this critical need both locally and globally.”
Now Hernandez is starting a new chapter in her life as a teacher at Forge International School in Middleton, Idaho. She has plans to use her education to give back to the community and serve as a role model for other minority students.
“I hope to give back to this country, this community that has given me so much,” Hernandez said. “And give back to other kids who are migrating, who are new to this country and feel like they don’t quite fit in the education system yet. They don’t have enough role models who look like them or have a background like them. I hope that’s what I can do with this degree.”
By Veronica Craker