Victor M. Hernandez ’09, MS ’13, grew up in a close-knit family of farm laborers. Thanks to their support, Hernandez and his oldest brother became the first in their family to attend college.
Now, Hernandez is paying it back in a big way by helping farmers throughout the state of California as outreach coordinator and sociologist for the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
A former Marine who did a tour of duty in Iraq and also started a family before beginning his undergraduate studies, Hernandez’s path through higher education was not a typical one. He began his studies at Allan Hancock College in his hometown of Santa Maria and then transferred to the University of California, Santa Barbara. While there, he couldn’t quite relate to the other undergraduates, who went to college straight out of high school and did not yet have life experience. He also needed a job to support his wife and children.
After some research, Hernandez learned about the University of La Verne’s Vandenberg Space Force Base Campus, which was close to Santa Maria and offered a business curriculum that both fit his interests and better accommodated his busy schedule. Once enrolled, he was also delighted to find his fellow students were just like him—adult learners, with varied life experiences, and many of them active duty service members.
“There were always lively dialogues in the classroom,” Hernandez said. “Everyone had a different perspective.”
While thriving at his new school, Hernandez landed a job at the USDA as a farm loan officer. He saw all the threads of his life coming together in a remarkable way as he worked toward a career for which he seemed to be born.
The Hernandez family’s roots in farm labor run deep. Hernandez’s paternal grandfather picked lettuce in Salinas Valley as part of the US government’s 1942 Bracero Program that sponsored farm labor from Mexico, while his maternal grandfather worked the cotton and tobacco fields of Georgia and North Carolina.
“Both of my parents and my middle brothers worked long hours while I was growing up,” Hernandez said. “They sacrificed so my oldest brother Hector could go to college. I was then inspired by Hector to pursue a similar path.”
Hector, who became a chemical engineer with the State of California’s Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, also showed his brother it was possible to work in agriculture as a professional.
Now, Hernandez provides technical and financial assistance programs to farmers from underserved communities—particularly Hispanic, Black, veteran, and urban farmers. Thanks to his efforts, the USDA has developed the “Growing Together” Latino Farmer Conference and the Black Farmer Conference with Urban Farmers to help build better communities.
Although he’s already accomplished a lot, Hernandez is just getting started. His many current projects include serving as president of the National Organization of Professional Hispanic NRCS Employees and working with the University of La Verne’s Bakersfield Campus on outreach to farmers statewide.
He also partnered with the university’s Small Business Development Center in 2016 to organize an annual outreach event for veteran farmers at Cal Poly Pomona; the event continues today as Future Forward. Constantly inspired by people, Hernandez is a proud Leopard who says his life’s purpose is to be a leader in “developing talent-based diversity.”