Cristina Fernández
Senior Director, Programs
TGR Foundation, A Tiger Woods Charity (CA)

What drew you to the world of college admission/college access?
I started college with dreams of being a lawyer and discovered that it wasn’t the best fit for me while attending law school. I transitioned into a master’s program focused on public policy and my passion for community-building grew from there. After graduation I worked with a local community college focusing on outreach to high school students and educators. Later, an opportunity opened with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and TGR Foundation to develop and create a satellite site for Orange County families focused on college access and readiness. Once I came into this “world” I never looked back. Working within the community I grew up in as a young child to provide full wraparound services for students and families who come from similar backgrounds has been extremely fulfilling. Throughout my career the program has grown to support more marginalized students and families across the country and exceeded my initial expectations.

What is your favorite part of the job?
I love being able to interact with our families. The students are amazing, but connecting with a parent, older sibling, aunt, uncle, or grandparent is the best. Our programming goes beyond the students we serve to make an impact on their families and be a resource for them. We become a second family and our students appreciate the support provided beyond themselves.

How has NACAC played a role in your career?
I initially joined NACAC upon recommendation from a colleague. I had no idea what I was getting into, but the resources it provided me and continues to provide are immeasurable. It’s a great community for those in the college access arena to grow in our knowledge and professional development. I have attended many conferences and also presented at the national conference in Salt Lake City. The experience was a great reminder of the amazing network of professionals who are part of NACAC. You can feel the energy and passion for helping the students we serve and meeting their needs beyond college access.

It’s also been great to have NACAC’s support with some of the professional development TGR Foundation offers to educators in the Southern California and Washington, DC, regions.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing our profession today? Establishing equity among all students on the path to higher education is the biggest challenge facing our profession. I work predominantly with first-generation and underresourced students. For many it’s difficult to focus on college because of the various challenges they face daily, although it’s a goal they and their families have been working toward for many years. Trying to eliminate barriers and look through an equity lens to help them access a postsecondary pathway, whether it’s a community college or four-year university, is something I see will not be going away anytime soon. And it’s not only students in urban settings; rural communities also lack fundamental resources and opportunities to access, pursue, and succeed in higher education.

The elimination of the SAT and ACT at major institutions of higher ed is a step in the right direction, but there is so much more to be done.

When you aren’t working, what do you like to do?
My happy place is watching my son play basketball. He’s been playing since he was 5 years old in YMCA, city leagues, and the like. He’s now in sixth grade, and it’s becoming more competitive. I enjoy being a gym rat on the weekends and cheering him on.

If you could be any fictional character, who would it be and why?
I would be Wonder Woman. I had a fascination with her in elementary school and donned my plastic Halloween costume of her in kindergarten and first grades. She’s a strong and independent woman who can fight her own battles and make the world a better place.