May 03, 2024

The belief that home is where the heart is has been held since biblical times and that sentiment is a truism for Stanislaus State graduating senior Nathalie Hernandez. 

Nathalie Hernandez

Whether it’s her family residence in Keyes, at Turlock’s Pitman High School or Stan State, Hernandez pours her heart into the places she calls home. 

As a Warrior, she started her college journey online and engaged in Black Lives Matter and Indigenous Students in Activism Club events through Zoom. This semester, she is finishing as a McNair Scholar and applying to extend her studies in English in Stan State’s master’s program after she graduates this month. 

In addition to establishing herself as a scholar, Hernandez spent time making Stan State feel like home to others as part of the International Peer Program, which partners domestic students with international students enrolled through International Education and Global Engagement. 

“You help students coming in,” Hernandez explained. “You’re a buddy to them, show them around campus and you become friends with them. I was a buddy with a girl from Japan and made friends with some students from Korea. That was fun.” 

She even invited the trio of Korean students to her family home for her niece’s birthday party. 

“It was a culture shock for them,” Hernandez said. “They were recording everything. My family’s Mexican American, and the students said they never ate a taco or tasted tequila. Culturally, it was a big thing inviting them to my home. I learned that despite cultural or language barriers, you can still be friends with others. I was close to them, and when they left it was hard.” 

The experience was educational too. 

“I’m an English major, and I want to be an educator, so languages are important to me,” Hernandez said. “Helping fight language barriers is important to me. I also wanted to learn their language, their culture and be friends with them. I wanted the students to have a nice experience on our campus so they wouldn’t get a bad sense of America.” 

“Being a McNair Scholar is one of the best things to happen to me as a Stan student. The program has made me feel included and granted me many intellectual opportunities, not only for research, but also scholarship, networking skills and being able to attend unique events.” 

-Nathalie Hernandez, McNair Scholar and English Major

Additionally, Hernandez introduced incoming students to Stan State as a leader during New Student Orientation, is part of the Educational Opportunity Program and works as a student assistant in the College of the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. 

At Pitman High School, she found a home as an advanced placement student, vice president of the Hispanic Youth Leadership Council and writing and editing for the yearbook and school newspaper. 

The pandemic happened during her senior year, canceling her planned trip to Santa Cruz, the prom and class graduation trip to Disneyland. 

“I attended Stan State during the pandemic, because the world was so crazy, I just wanted to be near home,” Hernandez said. “I had friends here, and they really liked it, so I decided I'd just stay here. I ended up loving it. I really feel I belong at Stan State, because it’s so inclusive.” 

She was able to pursue her love of English with an eye toward teaching, a dream that began when she was in middle school. 

“My mother was a babysitter, and we lived next to an elementary school, a church and a public library,” Hernandez said “I grew up reading books. My mom had a language barrier not knowing English. When a student she babysat needed help with homework or translating – most of the students she took care of spoke both English and Spanish – she would have me or one of my siblings help them.  

“In high school and middle school, I always found myself in the English classrooms. As a first-generation student, I wanted to inspire and help other students go to college and be a role model for students as an English teacher.” 

Just where she will teach has yet to be determined. 

“I wanted to be a high school English teacher, and then if I got bored, I’d go back to school to become a college English professor,” Hernandez said. “That’s still my ultimate goal.  

After talking to Ellen Bell (the primary investigator for Stan State McNair Scholars and co-director of the University Honors Program), she told me if I go straight into a master’s or Ph.D. program, it’s going to take less time and money, so why not just go for it? That’s where I am now, thinking of going into Stan State’s master’s program for English and writing.” 

Hernandez also has been accepted into the University’s single-subject credential program. 

She’s completed observations of high school classes and sees a change in classrooms since students returned to class after the pandemic. Those changes are part of the reason she is leaning toward staying in school to earn her master’s degree. 

“Being a McNair Scholar is one of the best things to happen to me as a Stan student,” Hernandez said. “The program has made me feel included and granted me many intellectual opportunities, not only for research, but also scholarship, networking skills and being able to attend unique events. The McNair Scholars program is one I highly recommend for students to investigate. The support from staff, faculty and peers is heartwarming.” 

All her McNair Scholars’ work —researching learning methods experienced by second-language learners at Stan State —and the encouragement from Bell, McNair Scholars’ Director Nicole Cochran, administrative assistant Kirstin Normark, her fellow scholars in the program and even her brother, make the master’s program that much more appealing to her. 

Deciding which program is the best option is up to her, but whichever she chooses, she’ll make herself at home.