Jocelyn Hernandez

For new Spider alum, the hits keep coming

June 6, 2023

Student Experience

Early in life, Jocelyn Odette Hernandez showed varied interests. As a child, she played in the mud, held tools to help her father renovate houses, and drew butterflies in such a fun way that daycare classmates requested her sketches.

Childhood interests would prove prescient. “I should have known back then,” the 2023 Spider graduate said. “I had so many clues.”

Like many children of immigrants, Hernandez, a first generation Mexican American, planned to become a medical doctor. She was born and raised in Chicago, the eldest of five siblings. Her mother came from Mexico City and her father from Michoacán. Both entrepreneurs, they had Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and then went through the process to become U.S. citizens.

“Especially having six kids, you don’t want your ability to stay in the States to be a year,” Hernandez said, referring the annual DACA renewal requirements. “It’s not stable.”

In high school, Hernandez participated in the Schuler Scholar Program that connects high-achieving underrepresented students with selective colleges.

A University of Richmond tour inspired her to apply for early decision. She felt the school was a great fit and loved the red brick Collegiate Gothic buildings. Another clue.

UR offered a full scholarship along with another opportunity to visit campus, this time with her father.

“He just cried,” Hernandez remembered. “He said, ‘This is such a dream. I’m so proud of you, and I’m so happy you’re going to be in this environment.’”

Richmond presented new paths. Having led her varsity high school soccer and volleyball teams, Hernandez enjoyed getting physical, even if it meant diving for the volleyball or risking red cards on the pitch.

“I found rugby my freshman year,” she recalled. “It was a sport with a lot of minorities — it was a place I felt safe.” Seniors on the UR team tapped her to become captain after they graduated.

Then the pandemic struck, and Hernandez went home to Chicago. Between remote biology and chemistry courses, she worked with her father fixing properties to rent or sell. Participating in the family business led to a life-altering realization.

“I don’t think I want to be a doctor,” she told her parents. They asked what she’d do instead. Her response: “I want to be an art major and pursue architecture.”

Although Richmond doesn’t have a formal architecture program, art department faculty quickly offered support. Erling Sjovold and Jeannine Keefer met with Hernandez via Zoom.

In addition to an independent study with Keefer, she studied architecture for a semester abroad in Copenhagen. Hernandez was also drawn to hands-on media: sculpting, dark room photography, and etching copper for printmaking.

“They guided me, and it was a seamless transition,” she said. “My professors are more like my mentors.”

Outside college, with encouragement from her father, she took a self-paced online real estate course. “We were tired of giving real estate agents our little commissions,” she explained. The day after returning from Denmark, Hernandez passed the Illinois real estate exam.

She graduated magna cum laude in May and is back home working as a licensed real estate agent. In the fall, Hernandez will tackle another challenge. She’s been accepted to grad school, where she’ll turn her business savvy and lifelong passion for art into a career in architecture.