Texas Tech University

Responding to Opportunity’s Knock

October 26, 2023

Texas Tech student Anyssia Hernandez shows resiliency and relentlessness are a tough combination to beat.

Even as a young girl growing up in Lubbock, visions of attending Texas Tech University danced in her head. Years later, Anyssia Hernandez now has watched as a collection of meaningful student experiences has coalesced into a symphony of personal success.

Do not be deceived, though. This has not been handed to her. In her two years on campus, Hernandez has punctuated her life story with generous portions of resiliency and relentlessness, working to neutralize the challenges of a dyslexia diagnosis while also helping her parents care for siblings on the autism spectrum, balancing the demands of work and school and still, somehow, finding time to participate in campus organizations.

It is the kind of busy schedule that would put even the most industrious of bees to shame.

But that's getting ahead of things. You ain't heard nothing yet.

“My parents wanted me to go to Texas Tech ever since I was little,” she recalled. “I had the kid's Texas Tech cheerleader outfit. We would watch games and cheer on the Red Raiders. Texas Tech has been very impactful since I was young.”

Hernandez is one of five children in a family that has always called Lubbock home. Upon graduation from Monterey High School, the obvious next step from her vantagepoint was attending Texas Tech, where her older sister earned a bachelor's degree in psychology in the spring of 2022.

“Texas Tech was my school,” she says from a surprisingly quiet corner of the Student Union, surrounded by phone, laptop, backpack and water bottle, a few tools of a student's trade. “I knew it was going to be great, and I was like, hopefully they would love to have me because honestly, Texas Tech has been my entire life.”

Today, Hernandez is a first-generation, third-year sociology major in the Honors College with a concentration in criminology and minor in forensic science. Upon graduation, she plans to pursue a master's degree and dreams one day of becoming a crime scene investigator for the FBI.

Lofty aspirations are the currency of her life as Hernandez repeatedly has set goals and then concentrated on achieving them.

“That is a very long way away,” she says of landing a gig with the FBI, “so I am going to work my way toward that by hopefully starting somewhere here in Texas and trying to work my way up.”

This has been Hernandez's way of moving through life from the jump – a matter-of-fact approach that analyzes, assesses and accomplishes.

“Texas Tech was one of my top choices,” she said. “When I was accepted, I was so excited, and my parents were ecstatic because it was a dream fulfilled, breaking the generations of not going to college, but it also was kind of a concern for me because I was worried about the idea of how I would be able to afford it. Would this be possible for me?”

Texas Tech helped make it happen through scholarships and on-campus work opportunities. After arriving on campus in the fall of 2021, Hernandez first worked as a student assistant in the Burkhart Center for Autism Education and Research and now works in the Office of the Dean of Students. She also is a student ambassador in the College of Arts & Sciences and a member of the High Riders, a student spirit organization that supports women's athletics.

“Texas Tech has helped me financially because academically I've succeeded in school,” she said. “My time here has been so beneficial. My first job at the Burkhart Center sort of broadened my perspective about all the opportunities here. I honestly can't imagine being anywhere else.”

The people at Texas Tech who have crossed paths with her feel precisely the same way.

“She has a great work ethic and a consistently positive attitude,” said Samantha Smith, assistant director of recruitment in the College of Arts & Sciences. “Anyssia is one of the hardest-working students I think I've ever worked with. She has a unique situation with school, work and her home life, so the fact that she remains smiling and optimistic at all times is incredible.”

Smith has seen Hernandez's dedication up close. Whatever she is entrusted with, she takes it seriously and, in some cases, literally.

“Much of what she does in our office over the summer is assisting me with Red Raider orientation,” Smith said. “One of our first orientations of the summer, Anyssia was outside with me waiting to pick up our students. I asked her to run over to Holden Hall once I had gathered our students so someone could be there to prop open the doors for everyone.”

Hernandez took the instructions at face value.

“When I say this girl sprinted to Holden when the other students were picked up, I mean it in every sense of the word,” Smith remembered. “She took me saying ‘run over to Holden' literally. I laugh to this day thinking about it. She clearly puts everything she has into whatever she is doing. This story, while funny, is a direct reflection of that.”

Her time at the Burkhart Center was especially meaningful because of the precious space autism occupies in her family's life. One sister has been diagnosed with Asperger's, a developmental disorder that is part of the autism spectrum, while two other siblings have a more severe version of autism.

“Growing up, I didn't really understand autism to its full extent because we were just kids,” she said. “We accept everyone, and we love everybody, but as I got older, I started seeing development differences between my siblings and me.”

The Burkhart Center was the perfect place at the perfect time. Hernandez quickly and easily made connections with everyone and had zero problems fitting in.

“The students there taught me so much,” she said. “Some of them have stories that just broke my heart because they are the sweetest people. They also taught me that nothing is impossible unless you make it impossible. There are just so many amazing people there.”

It didn't take long for the center's leadership team to realize Hernandez was a great addition to the staff.

“She worked so well with the students as they were attending the academy and preparing for competitive employment,” recalled Janice Magness, former Burkhart Center director who retired in 2022. “Students looked up to her as a role model and a peer they could interact with as a contemporary.

“There was never a day where she came in with anything but a smile and an encouraging attitude for everyone. I enjoyed working with her very much. She was mature for her young age, had good judgment and always handled herself in a professional manner.”

As Hernandez's experiences on campus widened, her responsibilities within her family also expanded.

“My parents would depend on me more,” she said. “I was able to understand and communicate with them, and then I started working in the Burkhart Center, and I learned so much about autism from being there – especially patience. I feel like my job there made me a better person.

“My family depends on me a lot because sometimes they just need me to help out with something. When I tell people about it, they're like, ‘Really?' But it's my normal. I do everything I can to help my parents. They both have full-time jobs, so they need me and count on me to be there.”

It is all in a day's work for Hernandez, being there for each and every member of the family, regardless of what else might be going on in her life.

“I remind them sometimes that there are life skills we all need,” she said. “My youngest sister is in high school right now, so I like helping her. She will say, ‘I don't know what I'm doing,' but I tell her, ‘OK, we will walk through this together because she has dyslexia too.”

It was as a fourth grader when Hernandez first learned she had the language-based learning disability that makes reading, spelling and writing difficult.

“It was hard at first as a kid trying to understand what the diagnosis meant,” she said. “But I have always been a hard worker, so I pushed myself to be the best. If I don't understand something, I will find a way to figure it out.”

In high school, she attacked the challenge straight on, staying after class most days to push herself. Then, at Texas Tech, she was up front in communicating with faculty about her challenge and enlisting their support to ensure her success. That approach was noticed and appreciated.

“Students who proactively reach out to a professor in any capacity are already ahead of the curve,” said Haleigh Larkin, one of Hernandez's sociology professors. “For Anyssia, starting out communicating, introducing herself and maintaining a rapport, whether in need of clarification or saying a quick thanks, set her apart.”

Her yeoman work has paid dividends, although it has not been an easy process. Hernandez's relentlessness often masks just how complicated the effort can be.

“When I'm reading a page in a book there will be a few words I don't know,” she said. “I'll ask myself what it means and if I am reading it right. Then I look it up and once I figure out what it is, my brain automatically is like, ‘OK, that's what that word means to you.'

“Sometimes I'll ask a friend if I am saying something right or what a word means, and I've been very blessed to have friends who understand my disability and help me, but I still have days where I will say the wrong thing, or something doesn't make sense. It's practice and reminding yourself it's OK.”

Classwork has given her plenty of opportunities to hone and polish her skills, and she is grateful for the way Texas Tech faculty have helped her stretch beyond her comfort zone.

“Her contributions to our class discussions were insightful, her assignments were well-composed, and she was proactive in reaching out with questions and concerns,” recalled Jeffrey Patterson, who also is part of the sociology faculty. “Our interactions were largely restricted to course material and assignments; I did not get to know her beyond being a diligent and intelligent student.”

Hernandez has lots of good memories of her classes in sociology, pointing out how Larkin, Patterson and Patricia Maloney each were caring, compassionate and influential.

“They all just taught me so much about sociology and opened up a new world for me,” she said. “Professor Larkin gave me a new perspective on the definition of sociology and was so warm and welcoming. I am never going to forget them.”

Equally unforgettable have been the memories she's made as a member of student organizations. As a student ambassador, she has represented Arts & Sciences while learning about the community.

“I've met so many lovely people, and I finally got my official pullover for community service hours,' she said. “So far, we've done a lot of things in the community. I really appreciated the chance to go to the Lubbock Animal Shelter. There's a bunch of dogs there, and we got to play with them, and they were so excited when they saw us walking up to them. I love the chance to give back. When we do, we can build something amazing.”

As a High Rider, there's another important ideal involved.

“I'm really a big fan of women supporting women,” she said. “That was one of my favorite things. At first, I wasn't sure what it would entail, but I love athletics and wanted to be involved. I even got to ring the Victory Bells after a win.”

So far, almost every moment of her time at Texas Tech has been unforgettable – even times when she was struggling and at less than her best. Texas Tech was there for her then too.

“It's OK not to be perfect in everything you do,” she said. “It's OK if you are at your lowest and feeing like you aren't doing the greatest because there are people who will pick you up, and Texas Tech has been a place that has helped me pick myself up.”

Hernandez came to campus while the world was still working through the COVID-19 pandemic. She took some classes remotely, which, she doesn't mind saying, isn't her favorite thing. Beyond that, though, her shoulders have borne a lot through the years, not that she's complaining, but almost everyone needs a little help from time to time.

“I have bad anxiety,” she said. “I used to have the issue of stretching myself way too thin, and because I am so overinvolved, I was awful at time management. I would get to a point where I was doing way too much and not prioritizing myself and got lost with everything else.”

Being a textbook strong-willed person, Hernandez tried her best to push through the emotions she was experiencing, but eventually, she reached out, and she wants other people who might be in the same space to know that's just fine.

“I pushed it off until I was at that point that I knew I needed help because where I was just wasn't healthy,” she said. “I was not in a great place. I was doing everything I was doing, and I was doing my best in everything. I just wasn't good.

“I went to the Student Wellness Center. They were so welcoming and understanding and they never made me feel bad because I was there. I was scared because I thought I was going to be judged. There is such a stigma about mental health, but they were so sweet.”

Eventually, Hernandez took the initiative to talk about her mental health to friends and family. Everyone affirmed her and made sure she knew she was supported.

“My friends were great, and my family was like, ‘OK, we will help you get through this,'” she said. “I had a good support system, but taking the first step is really hard. It's important to understand it's great to do well in school and to join organizations, but do not forget yourself in the process. Sometimes the best thing you can do is take a little break for yourself and appreciate where you are and what you're doing.”

For Hernandez, what she will be doing between now and the end of her undergraduate days is continuing to press on, seize opportunity and make sure the juice is always worth the squeeze.

“I have had so much fun along the way and am so appreciative,” she said. “One thing I wish I had told my younger self is college is a fresh start. It is something you can make your own. It's different than high school with so many more opportunities.

“With Texas Tech, anything is possible, right? All you have to do is keep trying.”

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