Graduate student inspires others to pursue STEM education

Xavier Hernandez hopes to empower Latinx students and students from rural areas to pursue science and math fields. His company STEM and Create provides inspirational talks and resources for students interested in STEM. 
(Ada Toydemir | Daily Trojan)

Xavier Hernandez has always been passionate about science, technology, engineering and mathematics education. As a graduate student in the Iovine and Young Academy, he wanted to create new and innovative ways to empower other Latinx students pursuing STEM fields.

Hernandez, who completed his undergraduate degree in the Viterbi School of Engineering, founded a STEM education company in January 2017 after realizing the ways in which he can help students and entrepreneurs develop STEM ideas and leadership. STEM and Create empowers individuals and organizations through networks that allow individuals to share their own experiences by writing community blog posts, attending speaker events and purchasing merchandise that contributes to STEM scholarships. 

After launching his company, he knew he wanted to return to USC when he heard about IYA during his junior year and said he knew he wanted to join the school post-graduation. 

“I had always been really interested in getting a cross-disciplinary degree that could use different sides of my mind … different skill sets that I have,” Hernandez said. “I want to be creative but still use my technological background. [I wanted to do] something great for my culture, my people and for my community.”  

Hernandez said his Latinx background motivated him to launch STEM and Create before attending the academy. Through his company, he hosts public speaking workshops for students and parents that focus on diversity in the field. 

“I’ve done a lot of work trying to help excite people to get into the STEM field, and also helping people on how to succeed,” Hernandez said.

Cassandra Flores-Montano, a doctoral candidate in the American studies and ethnicities program, met Hernandez in the Latinx Graduate Student Association and works with him in Graduate Student Government.

“He’s always willing to go the extra mile for the things that he is passionate about,” Flores-Montano said. “Even though he is not an executive board member of the Latino Graduate Student Association this year, he has still been super involved with them in supporting their programming, trying to collaborate with them through his role with GSG and just helping promote their events as if he were a board member.”

Hernandez said his goal is to be a role model for Latinx college students as well as students who come from rural communities who hope to enter into STEM majors. According to the American Society for Engineering Education, Latinx students only held 10% of all engineering degrees in 2015. 

“I come from a Latinx background and I grew up on a farm, so I know that there’s a lot of kids that come from my background who have struggled to step into this field because they’ve never seen someone from their background, their family [or] from [anyone in] their network,” Hernandez said. “[After] starting STEM and Create, I not only see myself as a creative and engineer but as some kind of educator that looks like [them], talks like [them] and comes from a similar background and socioeconomic status.”

Hernandez said his journey to USC was challenging because it was hard leaving his hometown in Woodlake, a small town in central California. He said he was the first in his family to leave the farm.

“When I left, I knew I had one super large goal in mind which was to make an impact on my people from my community and the world in general,” Hernandez said. “I want to make the world a better place. I know it sounds cheesy, but when I grew up,  my parents made our world a better place for us even though they didn’t have all the money in the world, all the job titles, all the cool success … They did everything they could to make us really happy and empowered to do anything we set our mind to.”

Samuel Garza, a doctoral candidate in the molecular pharmacology and toxicology program, said Hernandez’ work is inspirational. Garza met Hernandez through GSG and said he brought people together and lead projects..

“He makes you want to do more and be more involved and makes you feel like you want can make a difference,” Garza said. “He is determined, in the way that he has such strong determination and clearly gets things done.”