My experience with the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education (AAHHE) began in the summer of 2005. I was living in Washington, D.C., completing the last couple of weeks of a fellowship with the Bert Corona Leadership Institute, a nonprofit organization that provides civic education and political empowerment programs for immigrant and migrant youth. As I prepared to transition back to Arizona, I received a phone call from one of the professors in the master’s program that I would be entering that fall. We discussed an employment opportunity as a graduate assistant; I would be helping plan the first annual meeting of an organization that formerly had been the Hispanic Caucus of the American Association of Higher Education. That professor was Dr. Alfredo G. de los Santos Jr., someone I came to know as a devoted mentor and student advocate before I knew of his extraordinary legacy as a higher education leader, especially in community colleges.
That organization was the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education, and I was helping to plan the first meeting held in San Antonio, Texas, in March of 2006. Admittedly, I had accepted the opportunity more because it was a job and I was a graduate student than because I had any idea that this was a turning point in my early career.
When I was selected to be a graduate student fellow at the 2010 conference in Costa Mesa, Calif., I was simultaneously honored and humbled. While I knew that the program brings together graduate students from different disciplines who are doing research on issues related to Hispanic education, I could not have expected the character with which it does so. Yes, the program creates a supportive space for intellectual exchange and productive collaborations. However, in my experience with the graduate fellows program, its true exceptionality is in the familismo that permeates interactions among those involved, especially graduate students and faculty fellows. For instance, during our weeklong meeting, graduate students had the opportunity to present research in progress at a symposium where faculty fellows provided quality and critical feedback without the detachment that characterizes similar activities at other conferences.
This and other experiences during my fellowship week confirmed the impressions I was left with after observing the graduate fellows at the first conference in San Antonio, Texas – this fellowship program fills a void that many Latina/o graduate students (and faculty members) sense in academe.
Our insightful conversations around issues of isolation and estrangement from community and family that often accompanies our journeys through graduate school and the professoriate were as important as discovering our shared experiences. Now, as a thirdyear doctoral student in educational policy and social context at the University of California-Irvine, I continue my research on race and gender inequality in urban education, and I feel tremendously fortunate to have access to the personal and academic resources of my AAHHE academic family.