Remarkable Researcher: Psychology Major Jessica Hernandez

Jessica Hernandez. Photo courtesy of the Office of Executive Vice Provost and Chancellor.

When children have a strong advocate for their education, there’s no limit to their potential. That’s where Jessica Hernandez comes in.

The Raleigh native wants to stand in the gap for marginalized elementary school students as a school psychologist. Her passion for early educational intervention and equitable treatment for all stands out.

“There’s absolutely no excuse for some of the disparities we’re seeing in our educational system today,” said Hernandez. “There’s an overrepresentation of minority students in special education, which results from biases in learning ability diagnoses. I want to be part of the next generation of school psychologists who ensure biases aren’t employed when diagnosing children.”

Biases form the basis for some of the research Hernandez conducted with Scott Stage, the director of NC State’s school psychology program. Upon transferring from Wake Tech, she joined his lab and studied the overrepresentation of minority students in office referrals and special education.

She then joined Lynne Baker-Ward’s lab working on narrative coding, transcribing interviews and data organization for a doctoral student’s dissertation project. With Baker-Ward’s encouragement Hernandez eventually started research of her own.

Previous research shows that African-American males in middle school report negative perceptions of classroom climate, which may predict low math test achievement. Hernandez wanted to see if there was a correlation with students as young as second graders.

She eventually found through studying interviews with elementary school students that a correlation existed between classroom perceptions and gender (i.e., girls were more likely to report positive perceptions than boys), but not with race.

In the future, Hernandez would like to continue her research through pursuing a doctoral degree at NC State. She hopes to study peer interactions and their impact on educational climate, including how parents and teachers impact student success.

“I want to help achieve the best student and school outcomes by building on my undergraduate experience and continuing school-based intervention research,” said Hernandez. “Dr. Baker-Ward has been a great mentor to me in this area and she’s helped set me on a path to being able to truly do what I love.”

In preparation for graduate school, Hernandez will start work this spring at a local elementary school as a special education instructional assistant. She wants to combine this experience with her time with Voluntarios Ahora en Raleigh, where she served as a interpreter for parent-teacher conferences.

“I want to engage with Spanish-speaking students and their parents to give their students the best education possible,” said Hernandez. “NC State and my research have prepared me to advocate for children and ensure that equity in the classroom is not just a good idea, but a reality that can help all students achieve.”

 This content was originally published in Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost News.