SDSU alumna empowers change through advocacy and service

SDSU alumna Stephanie Hernandez ('17) was honored with the Heart of Service award for her commitment to providing support to asylum seekers.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024
Stephanie Hernandez, dressed in a white jacket and red top, smiles for the camera during a photoshop.
Stephanie Hernandez (‘17) works for the County of San Diego and was recently promoted to Program Coordinator for the Office of Labor Standards and Enforcement. (SDSU)

San Diego State University alumna Stephanie Hernandez ('17) encompasses what it means to be a positive change in the world.

As a social justice advocate, Hernandez has dedicated her career to advancing equity-focused initiatives in San Diego's impacted communities. Embracing her unique background, Hernandez’s passion and drive for her work have led her to make a difference in the community around her.

Hernandez’s interest in serving and helping those in her community started before her journey reached SDSU. As a woman of color and the daughter of working-class immigrant parents living in a high-crime area of San Diego, Hernandez saw the need for advocacy and equity in vulnerable communities.

In sixth grade, Hernandez joined the Barrio Logan College Institute, a non-profit organization with the mission to break the cycle of poverty by preparing underserved students for college through after-school programs. And in ninth grade, she was accepted into the Aaron Price Fellows Program, where she was given opportunities at government, cultural, business, and nonprofit institutions.

“Without the support of these two programs, I wouldn't have had the same courage, excitement, and opportunities that I had while at SDSU,” said Hernandez. “I used what I learned at these programs and was able to apply to scholarships and graduate SDSU debt-free .”

During her time at SDSU, Hernandez studied International Security and Conflict Resolution (ISCOR) with an emphasis on environment and security. She credits her professors at the university for teaching her fundamental principles of helping others, which has been instrumental in her career journey.

“They taught me that to truly make a difference in the world, we must first take the time to understand people's experiences,” said Hernandez. “This approach and mindset have been invaluable in my career and have enabled me to connect with individuals from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and beliefs.”

Using the skills she gained at SDSU, Hernandez jump-started her social justice career after graduating in 2017. For the past two and half years, Hernandez has been working for the County of San Diego, where she was recently promoted to Program Coordinator for the Office of Labor Standards and Enforcement.

In her role, Hernandez helps create a culture of labor standards that protects the safety of workers, manages initiatives, supports wage theft victims, educates small businesses on compliance, and conducts workforce readiness training for justice-involved workers.

But before working her way up to the local government, Hernandez spent several years dedicating her time to nonprofits where her efforts made tremendous impacts around her.

“I championed equitable policies that addressed neighborhood-based inequities such as public safety, transportation, food access, tree canopy, housing, and air quality.”

Honored for Service

Hernandez’s hard work with the San Diego community hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Each year, the County of San Diego’s Chief Administrative Office recognizes employees for their dedication to public service. This past year, in December 2023, Hernandez was honored with the Heart of Service award for her commitment to providing support to asylum seekers.

With her colleagues, Hernandez and others provided toiletries, connected asylum seekers to the internet, helped them book plane tickets, reconnected families who were separated, and transported migrants to the airport and bus station.

“This recognition affirmed my belief that, even in the most challenging circumstances, we can make a difference by going above and beyond to serve our communities,” said Hernandez. “I am proud to have been a part of this effort, and I hope that this will inspire others to serve their communities as well.”

Hernandez’s other accomplishments include serving on the City of San Diego Mobility Board, being a facilitator for the Aaron Price Fellows Program, President of the City Heights Rotaract Club, SD Regional Chamber LEAD Impact Graduate, and Mana de SD Latina Success Leadership Program graduate.

“These achievements showcase my diverse involvement in community service, leadership development, and advocacy.”

While her time on campus may have ended almost seven years ago, Hernandez enjoys reminiscing about her favorite memories from her days as a student.

“I would say that one of my top five would have to be listening to Ron Finley speak at the Student Union – Ron Finley is an artist, designer, and South LA gardener who made a positive change in his own community.”

When Ron came to campus in 2015, Montezuma Hall was packed full of students, all eager to hear his story about how community engagement can facilitate change. One of those students is Hernandez.

“It was incredible to be able to experience and learn from a renowned Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) speaker on campus, something I had not experienced before.”

Hernandez stays connected to the university by mentoring students through professional networks such as Rotary and A Bridge for Kids, staying in contact with her old professors and peers, and always sharing the story of how receiving scholarships from SDSU changed her life.

For current students or alumni looking to pursue a career in social justice and advocacy work, Hernandez's advice is to not shy away from who you truly are, as that can be a driving force in your success.

“Embrace your unique background and use it as a source of strength and motivation in your career.”

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