Jackie Cerón Hernández grew up in a diverse and cultured community. Her childhood began in Estado de Mexico until her family moved to Durham, NC when she was 10 years old. With such a big adjustment at a young age, Jackie came to America embracing new opportunities. Being a minority was not easy. However, it did not deter Jackie from keeping her eyes on the prize. Through the adversity Jackie faced, she learned what was important to her – the inclusion of all races and cultures.
During her undergraduate career, she served as a panelist at recruitment events for high schoolers in pursuit of attaining a college education as part of her work with The University Office for Diversity and Inclusion (then called Diversity and Multicultural Affairs). After graduating from UNC with a degree in Public Policy, Jackie now works with the Emily Krzyzewski Center, where she continues her passion for helping other underrepresented students in attaining a college degree. In her role as a Postsecondary Access Advisor, she assists Durham high school students to accomplish their dreams of being admitted into college.
Where did you grow up? Was it a diverse community?
I spent my early life in el Estado de Mexico, but most of my memories are from Durham, NC where I migrated with my family at 10 years old. There was variance in diversity. For example, my middle school and high school were predominantly Black, and I was one of the few or only Latinx students in my classes. The majority of the students on the bus were Black and there were a few white and Latinx students. I remember going to the local supermarket and seeing a mix of Black, white, and a few Latinx people, and these settings were more diverse than my school experience.
How does your identity shape your approach to diversity work?
I am a Latina immigrant who speaks English as a second language and these demographic groups (i.e. woman, Latinx, ESL, immigrant) have traditionally borne the challenges of oppression and discrimination in many different forms. The work that I do requires me to bring an awareness of the challenges that these groups of people experience in an effort to stem and mitigate the systemic inequity in education, health care, economics, and the general quality of life. The work I do and aspire to continue doing will always be geared towards creating a society where women, immigrants, English language learners, people of color (especially the Latinx population) will have a fair chance of excelling like everyone else.
You currently work as Postsecondary Access Advisor at the Emily Krzyzewski Center, where you support Durham public school students with college access. What drew you to this work?
I was a high school student at the Emily K Center who had benefited significantly from the support of college access professionals. I would not have been a college graduate without their support; they opened the gates for me. I am now opening the gates for other students like me, as my college advisors did for me years ago.
Did the community/lifestyle you grew up in influence your career path?
Absolutely. I grew up in a community of minorities and with a mother who has strongly influenced my values.
What do you enjoy most about your area of work?
Sharing resources and opportunities with students is what I enjoy the most. I find it very rewarding when students learn new information that allows them to know they can go to college or pursue whatever dream they have for themselves after high school.
What were your prior work experiences like before your current position with the Emily Krzyzewski Center?
Before my current role, I served as a College Readiness Counselor (CRC) for the Scholars to College program. As a CRC, I provided holistic support to the high school cohort of 2021 in the areas of college planning, personal and academic skill development, leadership, and career exploration. Prior to joining the Emily K Center, I had different roles. A few of these positions included Diversity Education and Celebration Coordinator for the University Office of Diversity & Inclusion, Student Consultant under the Masters in Accounting mentorship program and Public Policy department, Congressional Intern for Congressman G.K Butterfield, and Intern for the White House Hispanic Prosperity Initiative.
I had various roles within the department. For example, my first role was as a Select Member. In this role, I had the opportunity to serve as a panelist for high school recruitment events. Additionally, I was a Project Uplift Counselor and Resident Advisor, Latinx Programs Coordinator Intern, North Carolina Renaissance Counselor, Student Mentor and Mentee for the Latinx Mentoring Program, and Diversity Education and Celebration Coordinator.
Can you share a fond memory of that time?
It is hard to pick one memory. I truly enjoyed the years I spent with the department. From chatting with prospective students and families about my experience to hosting university-wide events for Carolina students and the local community, all of my work was memorable, rewarding, and impactful. My roles were a foundation for my career, they gave me a breadth of knowledge and experience that I continue to cherish and build upon.
Did you have a mentor during your undergraduate years?
I was fortunate to have many mentors during my undergraduate experience, I had staff from the Emily K Center, professors from the Public Policy department, academic advisors, and staff from the University Office of Diversity & Inclusion cheering me on as I persisted through my time at Carolina. Everyone had a positive impact on me. It is because of those individuals that I had access to opportunities, knowledge, and support as I navigated my way around and beyond Carolina.
Are you bilingual? If so, what is it like having that knowledge?
Yes! My first language is Spanish. I went to school in Mexico until the middle of 6th grade. I love being able to switch to Spanish whenever I encounter fellow Spanish speakers. It opens doors of opportunity and helps me advocate for more language justice for students, families, and the public in general. While many in the U.S. allow their xenophobic biases to view speaking in Spanish as a disadvantage, I embrace this as an opportunity that also allows me to build bridges between English language speakers and hispanohablantes.
What is your life motto and the significance behind it?
“Keep your eyes on the prize.” Don’t let the noise distract you. You will find obstacles on the journey to reach your goals, but it will be worth it. Just keep your eyes on the prize.
What would your advice be to a student that wants to excel, but does not have the best socioeconomic opportunities?
Knock on every closed door you see; walk through every open gate you approach; ask for help; find role models who share similar experiences as you; know your school administrators/professors and allow them to know you too, and ensure that your advisors and you have frequent conversations about your dreams and aspirations. In your journey of success, you will stumble, slip, and fall many times and that’s fine. Just get up, keep going and keep your eyes on the prize.
Written by Joe Heilmann, University Office for Diversity and Inclusion