Hispanic Heritage Month: Educator’s drive to help Latinos get ‘human right’ of education

Hispanic Heritage Month

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Dr. Edith Fernandez sees education as a human right, and she has built a career around bringing education to the community.

Fernandez is the vice president of College and Community Engagement at Nevada State College. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree from UNR, and got her master’s degree at Harvard and a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. That’s turned into a 25-year career in education.

But Fernadez has strong roots in Southern Nevada.

“I keep coming back because there’s a need,” she said.

Fernandez is a first-generation American. She graduated from Bonanza High School and she says her parents were the ultimate role models.

“It really stuck with me how they worked so very hard,” Fernandez said.

She said her parents always gave back to the community.

And while her education and her dream of earning a Ph.D. led her out into the world, the path led right back home.

“Yeah, you know education for me … I mean, in essence, it’s this: It’s a human right,” Fernandez said.

“As a vice president, my role … I’m not involved in the academics of the day-to-day, per se, but part of a team that helps kind of create an environment that attracts students,” she said.

Fernandez and her colleagues work together to shape what a college should look like and serve the students of today.

“One of the things I’m very proud of that that I helped fund was this program called Nepantla. Nepantla is a summer bridge program.”

Fernandez said nepantla is an Aztec word that means “in the middle.”

The program focuses on first-generation Latino students who won’t just be getting a degree but also learning how to be independent and build relationships. They’ll be leaving their homes for the very first time and entering the college space.

“I mean, I think we have the potential to really be kind of a hub for new Latino thought leaders,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez has made a notable difference in helping students who come from underserved communities pursue a college education.

Another program she is proud of is “The Dream. Us.”

“Right now, we have over 120 undocumented students that have a full-ride scholarship, four years.”

“I’m really proud of that program because it’s not just a program where the foundation commits to giving money — literal dollars — but then the institution, Nevada State, commits to advising and mentoring,” Fernandez said.

Her message to all the students in the valley: “Well, I had to start with ‘echale ganas,’ ” she said. That means maximum effort.

“I mean, I look within their own family or even outside for those kind of role models of what you aspire to be,” she said.

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