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On Her Way

Giving News

Humble beginnings did not stop Jessica Hernandez
from graduating with highest honors — and
nothing’s going to stop her now.

Jessica Hernandez on South Mall

Growing up in Monahans, Texas, under the primary care of her grandmother, Jessica Hernandez, BS ’16, lived a sheltered life. College wasn’t on her radar. That changed when, at age 11, she and her mother, who faces mental challenges, found themselves living in nearby Midland with a cousin. Hernandez’ introduction to UT was seeing Longhorn football on TV. As her exposure to the university grew, so did her admiration.

It was her grandmother’s 2005 death that led Hernandez and her mother to relocate, but out of that tragedy, her life began to bloom in ways she could not have foreseen.

“Due to that move, I became more aware of all the resources available to me,” Hernandez says. “I began to understand the importance and the impact that education has on someone’s success.”

With her cousin’s encouragement and guidance through the critical years of high school, Hernandez became involved in a college-readiness program for disadvantaged students. After visiting and ultimately being accepted at several universities, the lure of UT’s excellent communication sciences and disorders program — her area of academic interest — and the encouragement of an alumnus relative sealed the deal.

But as many before her have learned, enrolling was one thing; having the means to attend was another. Enter the Texas Exes.

“Jessica is amazing,” says Jackie Rendall. As president of the Exes’ Midland Chapter, Rendall gave Hernandez the news that she would receive a chapter scholarship for all of her four years at UT — provided she kept up her end of the bargain and continued to do well academically.

“I have had the privilege of watching her grow from a rather timid, shy girl,” Rendall says, “to an accomplished, confident young woman who graduated from the Moody College of Communication with highest honors.”

CSD lab

Students in communication sciences and disorders can select from several specializations.

As she immersed herself in campus activities and organizations such as the Alpha Lambda Delta and Phi Eta Sigma honor societies, Hernandez also participated in student success initiatives to help her thrive.

Those included the Longhorn Link Program, which provides opportunities for academic development, and Horns Helping Horns, which focuses on social and financial support for students who arrive at the university with few or no family resources.

“The Texas Exes Midland Chapter introduced me to Horns Helping Horns to help ease my adjustment at UT,” Hernandez says. “I was — and still am — extremely touched by the chapter’s compassion and support.”

Being a speech-language pathologist is her goal, and it requires a master’s degree. Once again, she was accepted at several top schools and chose UT. Well acquainted with the university’s speech-language pathology graduate program and knowing firsthand that Moody’s professors are among the best in their field, Hernandez says the decision was ultimately an easy one.

“I feel very proud to have earned my bachelor’s at UT Austin. This graduate program is ranked in the top 10 nationwide, and this university has become a second home to me. I just couldn’t imagine myself graduating from another program that wasn’t UT.”

As a grad student, her days are longer, Hernandez says, but more rewarding. After she earns her master’s degree she intends to work in a public school system.

“Throughout my undergraduate experience, I received so much support and care from so many individuals. I want to give children — rich or poor — what they need to succeed in their education and in their life,” she says. “My mother was not provided with the appropriate resources growing up, which did not allow her to reach her full potential. I don’t want any other child to suffer the same consequences.”

Jessica Hernandez with UT seal

Hernandez celebrates her May 2016 graduation from the Moody College of Communication.

Hernandez’ scholarship was named for Don Evans, who served as President George W. Bush’s secretary of commerce. He received the Distinguished Alumnus Award in recognition of his success in the energy business and his public service, which also includes a stint on the UT System Board of Regents.

Just as the Evans Scholarship has been crucial to Hernandez, Evans the businessman has been a key mentor, employing her as an intern at his Midland office during summer and winter breaks and encouraging her to explore growth opportunities such as study abroad, which she did ahead of her senior year.

“Jessica is a beautiful example of the vision and dream for America that our Founding Fathers had over 225 years ago,” Evans says. “If you live in this great nation, and you work, and you are honest, and you have a heart for serving others, we will give you the freedom and create the opportunity for you to accomplish your dreams.”

While the scholarship helped Hernandez excel at UT, Rendall says, equally important has been her inherent desire to succeed and to help others.

“She has totally changed the trajectory of her family, and I am confident she will change many lives through her work as a speech therapist.”


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