Thursday, 18 October 2018 17:01

Grad student explores success among Hispanic students Featured

Written by Braedyn Tutton
Denise Chavez Reyes' research looks at success among Hispanic students during high school and college. Denise Chavez Reyes' research looks at success among Hispanic students during high school and college. Braedyn Tutton

Denise Chavez Reyes was working on her master’s degree in technology when she got the idea of a thesis about enrollment of Hispanic students at East Tennessee State University. She began to research, focusing on what helped Hispanic students who were graduating from college.

“I feel like the research that I found looks at the barriers, but I wanted to see what the other part was,” she said. “What [were] the factors that motivated the individuals to change their behavior?”

She studied how much hardiness, grit and motivation were present in people who answered her survey. Other variables she studied were the students’ demographics, the education level of their parents and the education level the parents and students achieved in the United States.

Through her research, Chavez Reyes found that first-generation Hispanic students, the first in their families to be born in the U.S., have more hardiness and grit, feel they have more to prove and have a tougher work ethic as compared with other Hispanic students. She defined hardiness as the factor of not giving up and grit as the commitment to long-term goals.

Chavez Reyes decided to attend ETSU while she was finishing high school at the American School of Guayaquil in Ecuador. She had met two ETSU professors who were on sabbatical in Ecuador, and came to ETSU in 2012. She earned her bachelor’s degree in human services, her master’s in technology with a concentration in entrepreneurial leadership, and is now working on another master’s in public health with a concentration in epidemiology.

Chavez Reyes was passionate about helping other Hispanic students, so she became a graduate assistant at the Language and Culture Resource Center from August 2016 until May 2018. The LCRC is an office at ETSU that increases awareness and understanding of diversity throughout campus. It offers a hands-on, community-based experience that helps expand cultural awareness and build friendships.

Her main jobs were interpreting, translating and coordinating events. Among student workers at the LCRC were Kimberly Grez and Estrella Hernandez, first-generation Hispanic Americans.

“There is definitely a lot of pressure, at least from my family and community, to go to college and come out with a degree and a job."

                                                   – Kimberly Grez

Kimberly Grez

Grez was born in the U.S., and her parents are from Mexico. She says she is adapting well at ETSU and that the LCRC helps Hispanic students familiarize themselves with the school. Grez chose ETSU because of the pre medical-program, and despite a few struggles has been successful. She now majors in music.

Grez said that a lot of Hispanic students feel pressure from their families to succeed, and that could cause them extra unwanted stress.

“There is definitely a lot of pressure, at least from my family and community, to go to college and come out with a degree and a job,” she said.

Chavez Reyes said that each student has a different family situation.

“Some of our students have to be enrolled part time and help their family economically, which also hinders their probability of success in college,” Chavez Reyes said.

Hernandez was also born in the United States and was able to successfully make the college transition, but said she had troubles with school before she got to college.

“At first, yes, I found myself struggling. When my parents came here they were migrant workers, so I would move a lot, every semester I’d move,” said Hernandez. “I was never stationary until like the fifth grade when we came to Tennessee. … It’s just where we landed, it was the last place they worked and my mom no longer wanted to move.”

Chavez Reyes agrees that moving around a lot can have an impact on a child’s education.

“There is a lot of families that move with the farm,” she said. “For our high school students there is an organization called Conexion Americas, and they do work with summer programs to help these children.

“They do have to move, which doesn’t allow them to finish in one place,” she said. “And that is hard for them to attach and get to know the language if they continue to travel.”

College for the both Grez and Hernandez was an exciting new adventure they couldn’t wait to start. Not only does ETSU continue to be their home as they work toward graduation, but home for Chaves Reyes as she finishes out her schooling and works on her new project.

She is currently working with Dr. Mildred Maisonet in the Department of Epidemiology to find research on chemical exposure to Hispanic women from the cleaning agents they use, and how it affects their reproductive systems.

“I’ve been here for seven years. I can easily call this place my home,” she said. “My things and my life are here. However, given that I have a student status, I legally cannot call this place my home.”


Above left, Kimberly Grez workes at the LCRC, which strives to expand cultural awareness throughout campus. Photo by Braedyn Tutton

Read 926 times Last modified on Tuesday, 22 January 2019 20:39