(Santa Ana, CA) — Nineteen-year-old Santa Ana College (SAC) student Adrian Hernandez just returned from a whirlwind, nine-day tour of six national parks in three states. Hernandez was one of seven college students, and the only community college student, to be selected by the Hispanic Access Foundation (HAF) for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The purpose of the tour was to seek to engage Latinos with the outdoors and raise awareness about the need to protect these treasures from oil and gas development. The youth shared their experiences through social media and video blogs (#4Stops1Destination).
Hernandez, who was encouraged to apply for the rare opportunity by SAC counselor and director of the MESA Program Cathie Shaffer, didn’t think he would be picked because he was “only a freshman in college.” He’s not sure if it was his skills in social media that landed him the all-expense-paid trip plus a $2,500 stipend, but he’s glad he was selected. His application reflected his dedication to his studies and his engagement on the Santa Ana College campus. Additionally, he was the only applicant who took the time to submit a video.
Born in Mexico, Hernandez is an active member of MESA and maintains a 3.77 Grade Point Average. He says that when he first arrived at SAC, he attended a Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) orientation. It sounded fun so he got involved. With the support of his MESA counselor, adjunct engineering instructor Humberto Gallegos, and friends, he is working on establishing a SAC chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). He also serves as the president of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) and chair of the Civil Engineering Advancement Association Committee. In addition, he volunteers for the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Teaching Scholars Program where he helps organize instructional material for professors and motivates his peers to complete assignments. He also puts in 16-20 a week as a courtesy clerk for Ralphs in Santa Ana.
Covering 1,400 miles, the trip included stops at Rocky Mountain National Park (July 12) in Colorado, Dinosaur National Monument (July 13) in Colorado, Arches National Park (July 15) in Utah, Mesa Verde National Park (July 16) in Colorado, Chaco Culture National Park (July 17) in New Mexico, and Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve (July 18) in Colorado.
“It was so beautiful seeing the natural formations and prehistoric geology in Arches National Park in Utah,” says Hernandez. “In Mesa Verde National Park, I got to see the Milky Way for the first time. All you could see all the way around you were stars. I never had experienced anything like that before.”
In Rocky Mountain National Park, Hernandez got his first glimpse of how oil and gas exploration and drilling are affecting the environment. He recalls seeing drilling rigs “circled by dirt and no life.” From talks with naturalists, he learned how the oil rigs were impacting animal migration and native plants. He remembered hearing how the oil and gas companies plant non-native plants in an effort to replace plants that they have removed. Unfortunately, these species are often invasive and choke out native plant growth.
He vividly recalls seeing a baby deer standing between an oil rig and a highway. He imagined the young animal thinking, “Where do I go; what do I do; and what do I eat?” He says that he has been converted to a believer in balance between progress and the wilderness as the U.S. advances towards energy independence. Hernandez affirms that we need energy development, but we also need to protect wildlife, native plants, water and other aspects of our public lands.
During a stop at a restaurant near Arches National Park, a conversation with the eatery’s staff, many of whom were Latinos, drove home the purpose of the trip. These employees, who were 15 minutes from a national wonder, did not even know that park existed. He has thought a lot about why Latinos don’t tend to visit national parks and recognizes the obstacles. According to Hernandez, his family and Latino families in general don’t make time for trips such as this one. One reason is financial. Being able to carve out a week to take an entire family to a national park is not simple, but now he knows how valuable doing so is. For those who are undocumented, the fear of deportation from a “national” park may also be an impediment.
When Hernandez returned to his home in Santa Ana, where he lives with his mother, his brother, and his sister, he encouraged his family to go out and experience what he has. He will always remember the fun times he spent mountain biking near Dead Horse Point State Park in Utah, whitewater rafting on the Green River near Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, hiking in the parks, the camaraderie with the HAF travelers, and so much more.
But what will stick with him the longest is the fact that he wants to devote himself to a career that helps protect the environment. Prior to embarking on this journey, he planned on studying civil engineering with an emphasis on water resource and environmental engineering. Now he is considering marine biology or environmental science.
“I strongly want to keep on pursuing my dreams to help change the world. I really hit the jackpot when I was selected because I now can see where I'm going and what I need to do to get there,” says Hernandez.
About the Rancho Santiago Community College District
The mission of the Rancho Santiago Community College District (RSCCD) is to respond to the educational needs of an ever-changing community and to provide programs and services that reflect academic excellence. Santa Ana College and Santiago Canyon College are public community colleges of RSCCD, which serve the residents of Anaheim Hills, East Garden Grove, Irvine, Orange, Santa Ana, Tustin and Villa Park. Both colleges provide education for academic transfer and careers, courses for personal and professional development, customized training for business and industry, and programs to train nurses, firefighters and law enforcement personnel.
About Hispanic Access Foundation
Hispanic Access Foundation (HAF) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that works to promote responsible citizenship, educational attainment, and active engagement in improving the health, environment, and financial well-being of Hispanic families throughout the United States. HAF designs and implements initiatives that combine the strength of media with our faith-based and community grassroots network to turn information into action. We build the bridges that connect Latino communities with the information and services they need for a better life. For more information, visit hispanicaccess.org.
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