Patriot Profile: Valeria Fernandez


Valeria Fernandez
Year: Senior
Major: Psychology
Hometown: Woodbridge, Virginia

Valeria Fernandez’s journey as a fellow with Generation Hope’s FamilyU* began even before she arrived on campus. The mother of a three-year-old, Fernandez realized when applying to Mason that the housing application did not account for the needs of student-parents, so she raised the issue and potential solutions in a FamilyU interview. Fernandez, who had just finished an associate’s degree in psychology at Northern Virginia Community College, was selected as Mason’s FamilyU fellow for the 2022–23 cohort. 

Portrait of Valeria Fernandez sitting and reading a book to her daughter
Valeria Fernandez and her daughter in the child-friendly Contemporary Student Lounge on the Fairfax Campus. Photo by Evan Cantwell/Office of University Branding

Growing into Leadership: Each FamilyU fellow develops an advocacy project during the year. To help address the gap in student-parent mental health care at Mason, Fernandez created a child-friendly support group that focused on mindfulness activities. “Even when I encountered people who would admit to having zero concept of what it’s like to be a student-parent, [Mason] was still a safe, welcoming environment.” She now has greater pride and confidence as a student-parent because of the peers and others she met at Mason who were willing to listen. For Fernandez, it was also encouraging to meet other parents who were pursuing personal dreams alongside raising children.

Advocating for a New Normal: Fernandez says some problems, like how difficult it is for student-parents to meet each other, have simple remedies, like highlighting child-friendly campus activities; but others require long-term solutions, such as changing assumptions about the typical college student. For example, inflexible online tests or assignments present challenges to student-parents with limited child care who may need to schedule an alternate time. Faculty members should recognize that students, whether parenting or working, “have lives outside of being students,” explains Fernandez. “And that doesn't mean that they have less respect for your course.”

Building Momentum: Fernandez currently works as a student-parent ambassador with Mason’s Contemporary Student Services. The mindfulness group she created grew into Student Parent Community Spaces, where student-parents can connect with each other and learn about university services. She is also working to increase student-parent visibility at Mason for potential transfer students. Sometimes her daughter even accompanies her to campus, which Fernandez says she feels comfortable doing because of relationships she is building with colleagues. She has applied to graduate programs at Mason and elsewhere with the goal of someday working in forensic psychology or perhaps pursuing teaching.

* Mason alum Nicole Lynn Lewis, MPP ’06, founded the nonprofit Generation Hope to support young parents and their children as parents pursue further education. Read more about her.