Feature Stories 2023: Perla Michelle Tejeda Hernández '25: UMass Dartmouth has "positively prepared me for my future"

Student portrait in Library Living Room
Arriving in the United States just a few years ago, Perla Michelle Tejeda Hernández '25 is grateful for the support that enables her to attend UMass Dartmouth and thrive in her college experience.
Feature Stories 2023: Perla Michelle Tejeda Hernández '25: UMass Dartmouth has "positively prepared me for my future"
Perla Michelle Tejeda Hernández '25: UMass Dartmouth has "positively prepared me for my future"

Scholarship award enables nursing and Spanish major to focus on her studies, volunteer in the U.S. and Senegal, participate in campus activities, and make memories

A double major in nursing and Spanish, Perla Michelle Tejeda Hernández '25 has immersed herself in campus life and nursing studies at UMass Dartmouth, despite only living in the United States for eight years. After her family relocated from the Dominican Republic to Boston, Tejeda Hernández's brother received a difficult diagnosis. When she saw the care provided by his nurses and experienced the support they offered her family, Tejeda Hernández knew nursing was the field for her.

Thanks to the financial aid provided through her scholarship and the support she received from College Now and the College of Nursing & Health Sciences, Tejeda Hernández is halfway through her nursing studies. After earning her nursing degree, she hopes to provide care to Spanish-speaking communities throughout the world.

Community service is an integral part of Tejeda Hernández's life. By her senior year of high school, she had already completed more than 300 hours of community service through the nonprofit organization, BuildOn, a national partner with PwC. Last spring, she interrupted her nursing studies to travel to Senegal for 11 days to help build a school. She will serve as president of the UMass Dartmouth chapter of Chi Upsilon Sigma National Latin Sorority, Inc. that works to develop political, educational, cultural, and social awareness.

Inspired to become a nurse after brother's illness

What inspired you to become a nurse?

"I always knew that I wanted to work in the medical field, but I was a little blind to the unlimited opportunities the field offers. Back in 2017, my little brother was diagnosed with leukemia, and that was a breaking point for me and my family. After months of treatments at Boston Children's Hospital and at Dana Farber Cancer Institute, I was able to experience face-to-face the role that nurses play in a patient's treatment plan. Nurses were very supportive, understanding, and caring toward us, and I quickly realized that this was the field I wanted to immerse myself in. I plan on continuing to provide care, not only for patients, but for their families as well to ease their treatment plans."

How was your transition to your new life in Boston? What was most difficult/helpful?

"The transition to my new life in Boston was difficult at first due to the language barrier and lack of understanding of the country's culture, but I was fortunate to always find resources and people who were extremely helpful in my journey. While in high school, I had wonderful teachers and advisors who helped me make the transition, and when I arrived at UMass Dartmouth, the support only grew with everyone I had the pleasure of meeting."

Why did you choose UMass Dartmouth and your area of study? 

"I chose to study nursing at UMassD because I recognized how well it prepares students for a career in healthcare. The program offers a blend of theoretical coursework and practical experience through clinical placements in a variety of healthcare settings. Students learn from experienced faculty and have access to state-of-the-art facilities and equipment."

Is there a project or clinical experience that has made a special impact on you?

"My first clinical experience was at the New Bedford Jewish Convalescent Home. Attending that clinical made my dream of being a nurse come true, as I was able to work with Dr. Elizabeth Chin as my clinical instructor. I had the honor of putting into practice the knowledge and skills that I learned in class and at the lab to provide care for my first patients as a nursing student." 

Teaching women to read in Senegal
As a volunteer with BuildOn, Tejeda Hernández works with Senegalese women in the Adult Literacy Program that BuildOn offers. The schools she helped build are not only used for young children, but also for adults, bringing education to those who have been denied a seat in the classroom.

Community service

How did you accumulate 300 hours of community service?

"I feel like my community service involvement inside and outside of UMass Dartmouth represents a huge part of who I am and my future goals.

"It all started back in high school at the Community Academy of Science and Health in Dorchester. In 2017, I became an active participant of the nonprofit organization called BuildOn. I had the opportunity to serve the Boston community by volunteering at food kitchens, women's shelters, and even completed a partnership program with PwC that focused on financial literacy. Overall, I completed more than 300 hours of community service in Boston and in Senegal.

"During my senior year, I was very lucky to receive the opportunity to travel to Senegal to help build the foundation of a school in a rural area where the access to education was very limited. Being able to travel across the world to support the cause of providing education for young children, but also for older adults who never had a chance to go to school, was an eye-awakening experience for me.

"In the spring of 2022, I visited Senegal one more time to help build another school. I was a little nervous in terms of how I was going to manage my academics while being away from school, but my nursing professors were very understanding and accommodating. It was very fulfilling to know that my professors supported my passion outside of my academics without risking my progress in their courses. 

"This experience with BuildOn is the reason why I have chosen to travel across the world and do international humanitarian work. While I am an active participant on campus, I always encourage students to contribute their time and effort to create the change that society needs. All of us are capable of helping others, and if we do our part we can make drastic changes. I found that the most important thing was to be more empathetic with the people around me, to feel for the people who have no one to feel for them." 

Tell us about your on-campus involvement.

"I am the current president of the Chi Upsilon Sigma National Latin Sorority organization on campus, which has been at UMass Dartmouth since 2017. It is a multicultural organization that focuses on promoting their motto of "Wisdom through education" through the development of political, educational, cultural, and social awareness.

"Joining a sorority was very impactful for me because this organization provides academic support and helps young college women develop social and leadership skills that they can use while in school and in their professional field. Joining Greek culture has helped me continue to participate in service opportunities, find a home away from home, create campus connections, and, most importantly, have access to a network of women where my voice is heard. Greek life on campus is a way for students to get involved as well as find a place that fits their needs while providing support." 

Logo for Chi Upsilon Sigma National Latin Sorority
As president of the campus chapter of Chi Upsilon Sigma National Latin Sorority, Tejeda Hernández hopes to increase membership and help college women develop social and leadership skills.

UMassD experience

How has your experience been at the university and in CNHS?

"I have loved my experience as a student on campus. I have grown in multiple ways as a student and as an individual overall. Through campus involvement, having a strong support system, utilizing my resources, and networking, I have been able to help myself and others recognize their challenges and strengths and use them to their advantage for their academic success.

"CNHS has always supported me when I have struggled and has always encouraged me to keep going when times get tough. Resilience has been the key to my success and having that support system behind me has encouraged me to continue." 

How has your scholarship assisted you in obtaining your education?

"I was awarded the Red Pine Scholarship. This scholarship aims to help students reach their full potential by providing individual mentoring and funding enrichment opportunities for as long as they are in school.

"Receiving this scholarship has helped me cover my expenses, allowing me to spend my time participating in extracurricular activities, focus fully on my academics, and make memories rather than worry about covering the various expenses associated with attending college."  

Is there a particular organization you've been involved in that is most meaningful to you and why? 

"College Now has been incredibly supportive while I was attending UMass Dartmouth, always pointing out opportunities that can help me grow and clarifying any doubts I had. I would not be here if it weren't for all the help I've received from everyone at College Now.

"I will be eternally grateful to everyone on the team. Over the years, I have found a home away from home with them, and I am proud to say that I am carrying on the legacy of assisting other students as a peer mentor and office assistant."

What do you think makes UMassD special?

"I believe that what makes UMassD special is the unlimited opportunities the university offers for students to grow and how students are able to express themselves through campus involvement, such as holding leadership positions in organizations, as well as creating new spaces for others to feel welcome and cared for.

"As a student leader on campus, I have experienced growth not only in myself but in those around me. I am very happy that I made the decision to attend this institution, as it has shaped me into the woman that I imagined myself to be as a little girl back in the Dominican Republic."

What advice would you share with future Corsairs? 

"My advice to future Corsairs is to get involved on campus as much as possible and utilize the resources available. Through networking and creating connections, they will be able to form a campus environment that is supportive of all and encourages growth and discipline." 

Digging foundation for a school in Senegal
Tejeda Hernández visited Senegal twice as a volunteer with BuildOn, most recently last year, to help build schools for children and adults who were unable to attend school earlier in their lives.

Future plans

How would you like to use your nursing degree?

"I plan on combining my nursing and Spanish degrees with international humanitarian work, providing healthcare services to Spanish-speaking communities in countries around the world where healthcare services are scarce or limited.

"My long-term goal is to become a nurse practitioner. It aligns with my studies and the patient-focused path I would like to follow."

Do you feel that UMass Dartmouth has prepared you for your future?

"I strongly believe that UMass Dartmouth has strived to provide me, as a nursing student, with a well-rounded education that includes both theoretical and practical training. Its goal to prepare graduates with the knowledge, skills, and critical thinking abilities needed to provide high-quality patient care in a variety of healthcare settings has positively prepared me for my future endeavors."

Author's Note: Perla happily reports that her brother is now cancer-free and is living the "normal, chaotic life" of a 14-year-old-boy entering 8th grade.