A Pathway to Success Story

Photo of Iliana HernandezIliana Hernandez understands sacrifice and hard work. When she was 5 years old her parents gave up promising careers in El Salvador for the sake of their children. At the time, El Salvador was emerging from civil war, its economy was in turmoil, its capital was dangerous – and then an earthquake hit, damaging their home.

“For my parents that was the last straw,” Iliana said. The family qualified for refugee status in the U.S. and moved with Iliana and her brother, eventually settling in Siloam Springs. Iliana went to school and her parents went to work supporting their children.

“They couldn’t find anything like their office jobs in El Salvador,” Iliana said. “But they told us they had no regrets.”

While her parents worked, they also pursued the ultimate security for their children citizenship. It was a long, slow process, but finally, two years ago, Iliana and her family became U.S. citizens.

Long before that happened Iliana mastered English but found that her real passion was in numbers. She wanted a career that used her talent for math. Then she heard about ECAP -- the Engineering Career Awareness Program at the University of Arkansas, which recruits students from underrepresented populations and prepares them to meet the demands of the College of Engineering. Career problem solved. Well almost.

“I didn’t even know there were different kinds of engineering,” she said. A three- week summer Bridge program introduced her to chemical engineering, and the idea of working with the processes of manufacturing appealed to her.

Meanwhile, Iliana was also being recruited by the Honors College Path program, which, like ECAP, provides peer and professional mentors to help students adjust and succeed at the university. She became both a chemical engineering major and a member of the Honors College.

“Path really pushes you to do things you didn’t think you needed that turn out to be exactly what you do need,” she said.

Like a pair of internships, first at the L’Oreal plant in Little Rock, the next at Frito-Lay in Jonesboro. Both went well – so well that after she graduates Iliana will start a job as a process engineer at Frito-Lay.

When she graduates Iliana will wear a cap she decorated with a message in Spanish for her parents. Roughly translated it means “They gave up their dreams so I could have mine.”

“My parents are proud and happy for me, but I could never have done this without their support and example,” she said. “They are my inspiration.”


The full Newswire story can be found here.