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WGU Alumni Spotlight: Fernanda Torres

First-gen college graduate perseveres through barriers and obstacles to become a bilingual teacher

Jun 29, 2022

Fernanda Torres completed her Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education from WGU in December 2021 during a pandemic. It took her eight years to complete her program, persevering through language barriers and personal obstacles to realize her dream of becoming a teacher.

Fernanda immigrated to the United States from Mexico in 1994. She didn’t speak English and didn’t have a support system in place to help navigate through the barriers and obstacles she faced.

Born into a family of ten girls and three boys, she would become the first to attend college in a foreign country; two siblings had attended college in Mexico. To make ends meet, she took her first job at McDonald’s and then worked as a custodian for Bastrop Independent School District for 13 years, while married and raising three children. Like Fernanda, 73% of WGU students hold full- or part-time jobs while attending school and about 25% are first-generation college students.

While working at the school, Fernanda’s passion for education and teaching grew. After working many years in the same district, she became a paraprofessional, providing hands-on experience in the classroom and assisting students. Through her experience as a paraprofessional, Fernanda saw firsthand the growing need for bilingual teachers, further feeding her passion and solidifying her decision to become an educator.

Armed with the motivation to become a licensed teacher, Fernanda enrolled at Austin Community College (ACC). The curriculum was challenging, as English was her second language. The language barrier meant extra time in completing coursework and classes, but she persevered and overcame the barriers to obtaining her degree. “English is my second language, and most of the time, I had to read everything three or four times to make sure I understood the content,” said Torres. “However, I have a few teacher friends who were my cheerleaders and supporters. They gave me coffee gift cards to make sure I stayed up and completed my studies!”

After completing her coursework at ACC, a close friend recommended WGU Texas to continue her education and dream of becoming a teacher. Fernanda enrolled and pressed on to continue her path to earning a bachelor’s degree. She loved the competency-based model that allowed her to take courses on her schedule, the online environment that eliminated commute time, and the affordable pricing structure. “The WGU Texas experience is structured to support students in any capacity, and the course instructors are always available and supportive. WGU focuses on student success,” she said.

Although she was in a good place with her schooling, Fernanda faced personal obstacles. “I went through a divorce during my time at WGU, and my mentor was crucial to my success.” Fernanda credits her continued motivation to her Program Mentor, who she said was there for her over the phone when she needed encouragement on her darkest days.

With determination and support from her course instructors and colleagues, Fernanda completed a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education. She plans to become a first-grade bilingual teacher to show students that anyone, with any background, can earn an education and accomplish their goals. Once she passes the teaching certification, Fernanda plans to continue learning and return to WGU to earn a master’s degree.

Learn more about our online degree programs in the Teacher’s College. Contact an Enrollment counselor to get started today!

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