Spotlight on Teresa Hernandez of Prospanica, Part I

Teresa Hernandez is a maverick professional and activist.  She is a Latina who is changing things for our community  with her passion, tireless work  and commitment to healthcare and education reform and her positivity and engagement with the issues that affect Latinos.

  • What is your background?  Where were you born/raised?

This once shy girl is a third generation Boricua, born and raised by two wonderful parents, Mario and Alba Hernandez, in the Bronx. I have one older sister who is literally my best friend and I am surrounded by an awesome network of friends. No matter where life may take me, The Bronx will always be home. I want everyone to know that good people and good things come out of the Bronx. There are beautiful stories of success, not just the negative that is heard in the media. Something that needs to change drastically.

  • What were the significant experiences/events that shaped your young life?

It’s actually a funny story. When I was around six or seven years old, my father took me to work with him for a week (he was a Branch Manager for Banco Popular de Puerto Rico at that time). I was the BIG boss’s daughter and my mother made sure I left the house each morning dressed to perfection. My dad’s co-workers and staff treated me like I was a little princes, and I walked into the bank like I owned the place. I was proud to walk alongside my father as if I was his little assistant. I would ask my father a million questions about work and I would take notes whenever he interacted with his clients in his office. I literally set up my own desk with a notebook, crayons, pens and even pretended I was making client calls. I thought it was the best gig ever! I learned what it was to work in a bank and to see my dad interact with everyone in English and Spanish.

I also had the opportunity to work with my mother one summer during high school. She was a nurse (now retired) at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx and enrolled me into their Summer Youth Employment program. That was my first experience working in healthcare and my first time earning my very own paycheck. My mom is an amazing nurse and to see her in action for an entire summer was such an enjoyable experience.

  • What was your education trajectory?  What did you study?

Well, this is an interesting anecdote. One would think I would go straight into healthcare or finance because of my parents’ career paths, but I had another idea. I graduated with a BA in English Literature and Secondary Education from MaryMount Manhattan College. I wanted to be a teacher and follow in my aunt’s footsteps to be a great educator. I did teach for a few months at a nearby high school in Yonkers and that is when I realized it was not my calling. I made the decision to leave that job and embarked on a career in healthcare. I always tell people, I did not find healthcare, healthcare found me.

  • What has your career path been?  What jobs have you had? 

I started my journey in the healthcare industry at the Hospital for Special Surgery, thanks in part to my aunt who knew someone who worked there. I was in my early twenties and was a medical secretary for an orthopedic surgeon. In that role I wanted to learn more, I wanted to know how a hospital functions, how health insurance worked, what is/isn’t covered and why, who wrote the policies and procedures, who signed off on the financials, who hired staff/doctors and who were the decision makers. I then had the wonderful opportunity to work for other prestigious institutions as I made my way up the ladder: Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Montefiore Medical Center, Columbia Doctors, Columbia Orthopedics and for the past four and a half years, I have been with NYU Langone Health as an Administrator for Quality and Safety. While at Montefiore Medical Center, I decided to return to school for an MBA in Business Management with a triple concentration in Human Resources, Business, and International Business.

It was not easy balancing life, making time for friends and family, working full time and attending grad school in the evenings and on weekends. At times, I wanted to give up, but I knew I could not stop, I would not stop. I needed to finish because I knew it would open the door to many opportunities and I had come too far to quit. I didn’t want to be a failure, and I also wanted to make my parents proud. They worked extremely hard to provide my sister and me with a solid foundation and they are my biggest cheerleaders.

  • Tell us about your activism?

Throughout my career it has been such a rewarding feeling to know that I have helped someone in their academic, professional and/or life’s journey. I find happiness in encouraging and uplifting those who feel as if they are stuck or unsure of their career path, if they want to pursue higher education and need a little assistance in helping them overcome obstacles that may stand in their way. I would say that I take after my father when it comes to learning and getting involved in activism and community/national organizations. He was a member of the Hispanic Federation, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and The Rotary Club, just to name a few. I remember my father attending meetings for these organizations when I was a child and I never knew why, until now. I am just as invested as he was.

I stumbled upon National Society of Hispanic MBAs, now known as Prospanica upon completing graduate school. The work they do to elevate Latinx business professionals is remarkable. They host workshops, conferences, trainings as well as various networking events at the local and national level to promote the advancement of the community. I started out as a volunteer with the New York Chapter in 2015 and became a member of the New York board shortly after. In 2019, I along with the former president and New York board members, led the organization to being named Prospanica’s Chapter of the Year. In 2020, I accepted the role of president and in January 2021, I passed the torch on to the fantastic executive vice president to continue to lead the way.  I will remain with the chapter as President Emeritus, to guide and mentor the team and fulfill my commitment to the Latinx community. I have seen the growth of the New York Chapter and I am extremely proud of the work we put forth. I am confident they will continue to do a phenomenal job.

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