PEMBROKE — Five years ago, while deciding which college to attend, Bianca Hernandez was determined to find an institute of higher education that best met her academic needs, and just as important, gave her a feeling of home.
At UNC Pembroke, she found more than a home–she found a family.
“I loved my UNCP experience! I’m so thankful for the experiences the school provided me. The one thing I loved the most is how they are so giving to the Native students. Without the help from my sorority — Alpha Pi Omega — I wouldn’t have made it through my four years. They were like my family away from home.
“When I was considering where I wanted to attend college, I searched for Native American universities because I’m Native American. I wanted to go to a school far from home and experience a different way of life. UNCP was the perfect match for me.”
Hernandez wasn’t kidding about moving far away. Thirty-one hours separates UNCP from her hometown of Sacaton, Arizona, home to Hernandez’s tribe, the Gila River Indian Community. She completed her business degree in May 2020 and has returned to work for her tribe as the youngest staff accountant with Gila River Sand and Gravel.
At UNCP, Hernandez immersed herself in civic and academic organizations and service-learning opportunities. In addition to serving as president of Alpha Pi Omega, she was an ambassador with the Business Learning Community, a volunteer with the Office for Community and Civic Engagement, economic and finance tutor and member of the Spirt Squad. In the summer of 2018, she took part in a life-changing study abroad experience in France.
“It was amazing … one of the best trips of my life.”
In addition to working full time, Hernandez is enrolled in The Graduate School at UNCP, pursing her MBA degree. She chose the online program for its flexibility and because she was already familiar with the program and the staff and faculty in the School of Business.
“My advisor, Christine Bell, helped me through the application process. It was a smoother transition from the undergraduate to graduate courses. It’s also a very inexpensive program compared with online programs at other universities I was considering. I can work at my own pace and the class schedule provides me the opportunity to work full time.”
Hernandez aspires to follow in the footsteps of her late aunt, Viola Johnson, the first Pima Indian CEO of Gila River Health Care.
“I want to carry on her legacy and set an example and pave the way for the Native youth in my community. You don’t see many of the youth in my community choosing to further their education after high school. I want to show them that it is possible.”