Getting to college is a challenge for almost anyone, and freshman Corps member Veronica Bahena faced additional challenges on her way to obtaining an education. As a Latina, the numbers were against her. According to a report by The National Women’s Law Center and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, roughly 42 percent of Hispanic females never graduate from high school, let alone go to college.

Veronica Bahena
Veronica Bahena

When she did start thinking about college her junior year of high school, Bahena says the process seemed complicated and the school too expensive.

That year she met Officer Javier Hernandez, who had started an organization in the Manor school district to help young Latinos reach their full potential as middle school and high school students. “He changed my life,” Bahena says of Hernandez and the Latino Leaders of America. In LLA, students attend regular meetings and get the opportunity to meet Hispanic leaders, such as Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo. Recently, the group visited College Station to learn about life as a student at Texas A&M.

“The LLA has a very clear mission: empowering students,” says Henry Musoma, a professor of Veronica’s in Mays Business School who helped organize the LLA’s trip to Texas A&M. “They help students to see the possibilities, not the limitations.”

A large part of what Bahena learned from the LLA was to be proud of her heritage, and to prevent any potential stigmas from holding her back. “The LLA focuses on teaching you about your culture, and that’s how you start,” explains Bahena. “You start building yourself up to where you know your background and you know where you came from, and you’re not afraid to say, “Yes I’m Mexican, and I can do more than just working in construction or cleaning restrooms or working in a restaurant.’ It gave me the idea that I can be a Latina who can make an impact in my community and be a role model for the younger girls.”

Once Bahena had built up confidence in herself and her heritage, she started taking the necessary steps to prepare herself for college. She says she decided to challenge herself and started taking a full load of AP classes. Her GPA dropped at first, she says, but she was able to bring it back up. Bahena graduated 12th out of 222 in her class, and admits if she had continued to take easier classes, she might have been able to graduate higher, but said “it wouldn’t have been the same feeling to graduate in the top 10 percent knowing that I didn’t fully challenge myself.”

Now at Texas A&M, Bahena continues to challenge herself as a member of the Corps of Cadets. Women make up about 10 percent of the Corps, making Bahena a double minority.

At times when things get rough and an easier life seems attractive, Bahena reminds herself she has to be a voice for women in the Corps. She says her sergeant also tells her that over the next few years she has the opportunity to be a leader for the incoming classes of women in the Corps. Bahena is also a Regents Scholar, which is reserved for students whose parents do not hold four-year degrees and whose income is below a certain threshold.

“Her drive is strong,” Hernandez says of Bahena. “There’s nothing that’s going to stop her from reaching her goals.”

Though Bahena is currently undecided in her major, she is very much aware of what she wants to do with whatever degree she gets. “The point of coming to college is to create an impact in the community, not just for ourselves,” Bahena says. “I want to be a part of a corporation that is helping in the community.”

Bahena is already making an impact. Last semester she met with girls on the soccer team from her high school who aren’t members of the LLA, and she is working with Hernandez to possibly set up something over the summer to share what she learned in the LLA. Bahena also says she wants to talk to girls at the middle-school level, because she believes that is where the desire to go to college should first be cultivated.

“Everything I’m doing right now, I’m doing for them,” says Bahena of the younger members of the LLA. “From my perspective, everybody’s smart; you just have to want it and be determined to get it. Don’t let anybody tell you you’re not smart or you can’t do it, because you can.”

About Mays Business School

Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School educates more than 5,000 undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students in accounting, finance, management, management information systems, marketing and supply chain management. Mays consistently ranks among the top public business schools in the country for its undergraduate and MBA programs, and for faculty research. The mission of Mays Business School is creating knowledge and developing ethical leaders for a global society.