Q&A with Brenda Hernandez, Executive Assistant and Office Manager

As a first-generation college graduate, Brenda Hernandez, Washington STEM's Executive Assistant and Office Manager, knows the power of a postsecondary education. In this Q&A, she talks education policy, family, and her TV obsession.


A woman sits on a low rock wall with a city skyline in the background
Brenda on a trip to Barcelona.

Why did you decide to join Washington STEM?
I really wanted to join a space that focuses on advancing education policy. I wanted to uplift people of color and end the cycle of poverty for marginalized groups. I think that education is really a gateway to a sustainable lifestyle, especially for historically unrepresented students.

What does equity in STEM education and career mean to you?
It means making career paths accessible to people who have difficulty navigating high school and postsecondary education.

Since I am a first-generation college graduate, I know firsthand what doors an equitable education can open. Something that’s stuck with me is this statistic that I heard during my freshman year of college: the dropout rate for first generation students is 92% higher than legacy students. I’m kind of stubborn, so when I hear things like that, I’m like: I’m going to do this. I’m going to be the first person in my family to have a college degree.

When we think about first generation students, we don’t always think about the barriers that come along with that. Washington STEM is so awesome to me because ultimately what we’re doing is removing those barriers.

Why did you choose your career?
I grew up in a neighborhood in Chicago that was predominantly Latino and where having a postgrad degree was a rarity. From the start, I’ve cared about accessibility and affordability of higher education – changing graduation rates is a great place to start and really supports that upward economic mobility. Education is so important because it gives people economic security. I did my most recent degree in public administration and public policy, and this was exactly what my focus area was.

Can you tell us more about your education/career path?
I got my Bachelor’s degree in political science. After that, I immediately started working for the Federal Aviation Administration as an executive assistant. After that, I worked in global health policy, specifically around tuberculosis, malaria, and AIDS. I relocated to Seattle, where I was an assistant to an executive director of a behavioral health care agency and got into behavioral health policy. It was all really fascinating, but my ultimate goal was always to do education policy – that’s what excites me most.

Hiking in her happy place.

What inspires you?
My family inspires me. I credit my grandmothers a lot. Although they’re different from each other, they’re both badass women who took risks for the benefit and future of their families. Their tenacity is something that I’ve always admired, especially in a time where women didn’t have that much access to opportunities. Hearing about what they’ve gone through really motivates me.

What are some of your favorite things about Washington state?
The national parks for sure – especially Mount Rainier. It’s my favorite place to hike – it’s so beautiful and the views are amazing. One of my favorite memories is driving down Sunrise Road – the serenity is remarkable and the vast mountain ranges seem to be endless.

What’s one thing about you people can’t find through the internet?
I’m a huge Bridgerton fan – I’m anxiously waiting for the next season.