Idalia Fernandez still remembers her first day in a fourth-grade classroom trying to understand the flurry of English around her. Just when she thought she was getting it, everyone suddenly stood up, put their hands on their chests, and began reciting.
“I just moved my lips because I didn’t know the words.” Then and there, the determined youngster made it her mission not only to learn to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, but to understand what every phrase meant.
That kind of dedication to learning and experience as a first generation student has driven Idalia Fernandez for 40 years since her mother made the difficult decision to emigrate from Honduras so that Idalia and her brother would have a chance at a quality education.
Today, she is a director at Community Wealth Partners in Washington, D.C., a consulting firm that works with nonprofits to help them achieve the results they seek from their programs. Previously she was president of the Hispanic College Fund, a nonprofit that prepared Latino high school and college students to succeed in careers in business and STEM.
In July, Fernandez becomes the chair of the State Board for Community Colleges, where she continues to champion 1st generation college students and those from all backgrounds who aspire to realizing their full potential. Her one-year term as chair begins with the State Board meeting on July 15-16, to be held at the Virginia Community College System offices at 300 Arboretum Place in Richmond.
“I feel a moral obligation to provide for others the same opportunities that I received – to help them maximize their ability to be full participants in the workforce and community,” she says. “It’s an exciting time for community colleges,” with the national focus on increasing the percentage of college graduates and a renewed emphasis on completion of industry-recognized credentials, our 23 colleges are positioned to help students succeed in whichever pathway they choose.
“The end game is not the credential, not the degree. The end game is for people to have choices and apply their skills and talent in the workforce.” Fernandez notes. “Completion has to be part of the strategy for people to realize their full potential.”
The ripple effect of the students she has touched through her work and volunteerism is inestimable. Some of them, too, are continuing to give back. She recalls one former student who went on to become a software engineer, and now dedicates time to running robotics camps in his hometown and getting young kids excited about science and technology.
Appointed to the State Board for Community Colleges by former Governor Tim Kaine in 2009, Fernandez – who has a bachelor’s degree in biology from Boston University and an MBA from Averett University – was reappointed to a second four-year term in 2013. She currently resides in Centreville.
Beginning a one-year term as vice chair at the July meeting of the State Board is James Cuthbertson of Glen Allen.
About Virginia’s Community Colleges: Created more than 40 years ago, the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) is comprised of 23 community colleges located on 40 campuses across the commonwealth. Together, Virginia’s Community Colleges serve approximately 400,000 students each year in both academic and workforce training programs. For more information, please visit vccs2staging.wpengine.com.