By Stacy Braukman
Cuba native Diley (Dyla) Hernandez was in high school when she became fascinated by psychology and decided she wanted to pursue it as a field of study. Her father, who was a musician, and the rest of her family had not attended college and didn’t know how to help her get into the University of Havana.
“I had to figure that out myself,” she said. And she did.
Today, Hernandez is a senior research scientist at the Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing (CEISMC), where she serves as the program director for GoSTEM, which aims to strengthen the pipeline of Latino students into postsecondary education. She is also the director for Culturally Authentic Practice to Advance Computational Thinking in Youth (CAPACiTY), an NSF grant-funded program to develop the new curriculum for the Introduction to Digital Technology course taught in Georgia high schools.
“My work is a combination of research, curriculum development, and teacher professional development,” she explains. “I have the great luck to actually be able to implement programs and strategies to help students in K-12 deal with a lot of the social and psychological consequences that prevent them from pursuing careers in STEM.”
Hernandez says her work is most fulfilling “when we actually get to talk to the students who are in our programs and we see in action the work that we’ve been doing, or hear from the students about the impact of that work. You realize that what you’re doing matters to people; that it’s actually making a difference in their lives, even if it’s small.”
She describes one event that is especially important to her: the Annual Latino College and STEM Fair, which attracts between 500 and 1,000 Latino students and their families. Held at the Student Center, the event helps attendees envision a future at Georgia Tech—and feel like they belong.
“Sometimes, when they’re having conversations and they’re asking questions as part of this event, you feel like the stories of other Latino professionals, STEM leaders, and faculty really resonate with the students,” says Hernandez. “And you can see on their faces, ‘That is possible for me,’ or ‘I could do this.’ It’s like a little light that turns on. You can see the magic of something wonderful happening. Just to be able to be part of that is very rewarding.”
She sees a lot of potential at CEISMC and is committed to making an impact on the educational lives of Georgia students through innovative teaching methods, particularly in STEM fields. “It is an incredible opportunity to bring about real change,” said Hernandez.