I spent my whole life on a farm before coming to USC. I would spend my summers working in extreme heat and my winters working in extreme cold. Back in those days, I could never have pictured myself being where I am now. I left the farm to attend USC for aerospace engineering. This was difficult for me since I was the first in my family to leave our small farm town in Central California. USC was a dream come true, but it came with tremendous struggles. I felt like I didn’t belong because of how I looked, my lower socio-economic background, and my life experience. Before we get further into the story, this is a good place to introduce myself. My name is Xavier Hernandez and I’m a double trojan. I have my undergraduate degree from USC in engineering and my graduate degree in the STEM field as well. The most important thing to know about me before reading more is that I am a brown Latino farm boy.
I struggled being away from my family and the farm life. At the beginning of my time at USC, it was hard to understand how to be my full self. It’s hard to relate to people when my best go-to conversation is about being a farm worker and how much I love fruit. The Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) and the Center for Engineering Diversity (CED) helped me find a family at USC. Some of my closest friends are people I met from SHPE-USC. My family is big and we show love and support to each other all of the time, so I would do my best to show love and support to my closest friends because now they were my family.
Along the way at USC, I changed my major to Industrial and Systems Engineering because it better suited my new goals and how I wanted to solve problems. Honestly, aerospace engineering was a struggle for me academically. I come from the world of rural education that didn’t prepare me well for the world of a top tier engineering school. My grades were always some of the lowest in my classes, and there were moments where I felt like giving up. Once I switched my major things started getting better because I was understanding the material better and I liked it more. I ended up securing my very first internship which was at Medtronic and I began to find my way in school. It’s okay to change up the path along the way, my struggles and decisions helped me find the path in engineering that I really loved.
As a graduate student, I found myself in a familiar place in an unfamiliar setting if that makes sense. I was back at USC for a masters degree, something I’d never thought I would be able to achieve with a below 2.8 GPA as an undergraduate. I understood how to better navigate USC this time around, so I took up every opportunity that came my way after working so hard. I was able to work for one of my dream companies, I became an Astronomy and Physics teacher, and I was able to make an impact for the Latinx community through great collaborations with the LA CASA cultural center at USC. In my program, I always made sure to bring my full Latino farm boy self to represent for myself, my family, and my community. I would engineer and design products that I could bring something from my background into. I ended up being featured on ABC TV, USC News, Daily Trojan, and much more because I was my authentic self. No longer did I let go of who I was just because I felt like I didn’t belong. This was how I made a space for myself to belong, just by being myself.