Dr. Eva Serrano

  • Power of education inspires Serrano to advocate student success

    At a recent community event, Dr. Eva Serrano asked the audience, “What inspires you? What creates a sense of urgency for you to give back?”

    For Serrano, her source of inspiration came when she was a student at Morton College in the early 1980s from instructor Elia Lopez. Serrano’s parents were immigrants from Mexico and Puerto Rico and worked at Western Electric. They wanted a better future for their daughter, but were uncertain about what road led to success.

    “For me, Morton College was a really good entry point.”

    Enter Lopez, who taught French and Spanish. Lopez didn’t carry the title that Serrano has today in her position at Aurora University. But Lopez’s impact left a lasting effect on Serrano, who went on to earn an MBA from the University of Dallas and a doctorate in educational administration from Northern Illinois University.

    “She was great,” Serrano recalled. “She was a mentor to me because I was the first in my family to go to college. She got to know my family. She filled a void in my world of college navigation. I didn’t really have anybody I could easily relate to.”

    Lopez convinced Serrano’s parents to let their daughter further her education beyond her associate in arts degree in education from Morton College in 1981. Serrano did, attending Mundelein College and graduating from the then all-women’s school with a BA in Spanish and a minor in French.

    Serrano, who was the president of Morton College’s chapter of the honors society, juggled attending school full-time in the day and working a part-time job nights at the Alden Catalog Company in Chicago.

    “That’s the beauty of the schedule at Morton College,” Serrano said. “You could go to school in the day and work in the evening. I went to Morton College because I didn’t have a clue what direction I wanted to go. For me, Morton College was a really good entry point.”

    When Serrano attended Morton College, the school’s Latino population was in the single digits. It was an Eastern European-dominated clientele.

    “Back then, there were not many Hispanic families,” said Serrano, a graduate of Cicero’s Morton East High School and Our Lady of the Mount School. “The brown wave hadn’t hit yet.”

    Today, Serrano finds herself doing many of the same things Lopez did for her. Serrano is an assistant professor of foreign languages and director of the Latino Initiative at Aurora University. She’s also the advisor of the school’s 75-member Latino Student Club and has been recognized for her work. In 2012, Serrano received the Aurora Hispanic Heritage Advisory Board’s Pete Perez Award, named after a longtime advocate of the city’s Hispanic community.

    “I’m repeating a lot of the things that Elia Lopez did for me – advising and mentoring students,” said Serrano, who has been at Aurora University since 2004. “We’re trying to introduce the college culture to many families who are first-generation. We have the students bring their parents on campus and we meet them.

    “We’re trying to establish a point of connection and comfort level. We want to help them understand what the university level is all about. It’s paying off because the word is out.”

    In Serrano’s role of director of Aurora University’s Latino Initiative, she helps the school respond in a proactive manner to the needs of their growing Latino student population. The number of Latinos in Aurora’s freshman classes has increased fourfold from 40 in 2005 to 160 in 2013.

    Serrano estimates she has taken over 300 Aurora University students to leadership conferences across the country. She likes that the students meet Hispanic role models.

    “The point of the conferences is for students to engage and be exposed to national conversations,” Serrano said. “They’ve seen people like Michelle and Barack Obama, Karl Rove and Bill Clinton. It’s important to expose them to national leaders in education, government. Plus, the kids are meeting their peers from all across the country.”

    Her students appreciate Serrano. David Aquino, a Serrano student and president of Aurora University’s Latino Student Club, said in a 2012 press release from the Aurora Hispanic Heritage Advisory Board, “She gives so much of her time and effort to this organization. Because of her, we dream of more. She does not allow members to set limits on what they can accomplish and provides them with wisdom, experience and leadership.”

    Serrano’s career path is definitely one where she gives back to the community. She’s worked in the not-profit sector for El Valor, the Girl Scouts and the Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement. Serrano also was Morton College’s Title V director, a grant-funded program from the U.S. Department of Education for promoting Hispanic student success.

    “I love what I’m doing,” Serrano said. “I believe in education – it’s the great equalizer. The more I can help students from all backgrounds finish what they started, it’s very satisfying.” 

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