I remember the first national academic conference I attended. It was March 2012, and I was in Costa Mesa, California at the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education (AAHHE) conference. The September before, I had just begun my first year of doctoral studies in higher education at the University of North Texas. I had also become part of a research team where I met Mayra Olivares-Urueta, an AAHHE fellow at the 2012 conference. She encouraged the Latina/os in our team to go to the conference and learn about AAHHE.
I did not know what to expect as I had never attended a national conference prior to AAHHE. Once I was at the conference, a sense of pride rushed over me as I watched the Latina/o faculty members and professionals gathered promote the professional, educational and political advancement of Latina/os in the U.S. I realized at that conference that I wanted to be a faculty member and mentor other Latina/os like myself.
In 2015, I participated in the annual AAHHE conference as a graduate fellow. This experience challenged me to think about the experiences of other Latinas/os across the nation and understand how to build lasting connections with my peers, faculty fellows and other attendees. These connections and friendships have been and will continue to be an immeasurable source of support. I am also grateful that AAHHE paired me with Professor Desiree Vega, a fellow Nuyoriqueña, as a faculty mentor. Her presence and kind words are a source of encouragement to other Latinas succeeding and pushing forward.
Through AAHHE, I have been able to present my research and gain critical feedback on improving my research and scholarly endeavors. I understand how to better cultivate my presence both through social media outlets and through networking opportunities provided through the fellowship. More than anything, this has become my academic familia. Graduate school can be overwhelming, especially when there are few Latina/o faculty members at my institution with whom I can connect. My AAHHE familia is comprised of those I can call upon for assistance or when I just need a shoulder to lean on.
As I prepare to complete my doctorate this year and prepare to transition to a career after graduate school, I am ready. Being an AAHHE fellow has equipped me with the skills, knowledge and support to tackle the journey ahead. AAHHE has not only provided me the support of fellow Latinas/os going through a similar journey but also an understanding of how to achieve my goals.