Written by Gabriel Rodriguez
Doctoral Candidate, Education Policy, Organization & Leadership
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
This past March, I had the distinct opportunity to meet new colleagues from across the country as a graduate fellow at the 2017 American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education’s (AAHHE) annual conference in Irvine, California. As a doctoral candidate in the department of education policy, organization and leadership at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I was encouraged to apply by past fellows Eduardo Coronel, Moises Orozco, Joanna Perez and Victor Perez. Each spoke highly about their experiences, and I was attracted by the prospect of cultivating lasting relationships with peers from varied disciplines. Forging and cultivating an academic familia is difficult, but AAHHE invests an incredible amount of energy and resources in making sure graduate students leave the conference with a sense of community.
Participating in AAHHE’s annual conference challenged me to think more critically about the type of scholar I want to become. I attended a series of workshops that allowed me to dialogue with faculty who took distinct journeys, but each with a conviction to produce research that highlights the complexity of our Latina/o community. Attending a plática session with Professor Jeanett Castellanos from the University of California at Irvine was incredibly impactful. It helped remind the fellows of the importance of not losing sight of our cultura in our research. Her commentary was gratifying to hear; it furthered my resolve to engage in work alongside the communities I want to better understand. I also learned a great deal from professors Fernando Valle from Texas Tech and Victor Saenz from the University of Texas at Austin, particularly about how to better navigate the job market. Collectively, the graduate fellows came away with greater clarity on how to more effectively position ourselves in the job market.
As someone who hails from the Chicago region and researches the experiences of Latina/o high school youth in suburban schools, it is important that we expand our understanding of Latina/o youth and the spaces they traverse. In attending AAHHE’s annual conference, it was an amazing experience to engage with fellows, faculty and conference attendees. Our pláticas affirmed my research path but also challenged me to imagine new paths for my educational inquiry. My AAHHE mentor, Professor Leticia Rojas at Brandman University, has been a wonderful guide to me. She took the time to get to know me, listen and offer insights on her career to help me better navigate my graduate school experience.
The opportunity to attend the 2017 AAHHE National Conference as a graduate fellow was a reinvigorating experience. As I prepare myself for a career in academia, I came away with a great sense of pride. I built new relationships with such inspiring scholars, but even better people. I walked away from the conference knowing I have people I can count on professionally and personally. In short, being an AAHHE graduate fellow equipped me with additional tools and confidence to continue pursuing my goal of entering the professoriate. •