Karla Hernández

Karla Hernández

Associate Director, McNair Scholars Program at the University of Nevada, Reno, Student Services She/Her/Ella


Languages: Spanish and English

I was born in la ciudad de México where I attended elementary school. I spent most summers in a small town in Michoacán where my grandparents lived. At the age of 10, my nuclear family was granted legal U.S. residency, and we relocated to Reno. The culture shock I experienced moving from the largest city in North America, Mexico City, to the Biggest Little City in the World, Reno, was ineffable. Needless to say, that transition shaped many aspects of my life and education. The culture shock and learning a new language directed my interest to math and science. In high school, I had involved teachers who became life-long mentors and fortified my interest in STEM. As an undergraduate I received academic and moral support from the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) Program, the Center for Student Cultural Diversity, and TRiO Scholars. Moreover, I became a founder sister of the Iota Chapter of Sigma Omega Nu, Latina Interested Sorority – the first chapter to be established outside the state of California. SON upholds the objectives of Academics, Cultura and Sisterhood.

I am the first person in my family to attend college and obtain graduate degrees. In high school, I participated in a Gifted and Talented Internship Program which paired me with researchers at the the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine. There, my curiosity for science intensified by the mentorship of Dr. Ron Pardini. At the age of 17, I decided my academic goal would be to pursue a research-intensive doctorate. As an undergraduate, I participated in materials science and engineering research under the mentorship of Dr. Olivia Graeve. I credit much of my success and grit to Dr. Graeve’s example as a successful Latina in STEM.

Subsequently, I returned to work in Dr. Pardini’s laboratory to investigate the role of nutritional intervention in cancer therapy for my biochemistry senior thesis and biotechnology master’s project. With advice and support from Dr. David Shintani, I completed my doctoral training under the mentorship of Dr. Thomas Kidd in the biology department. I was fortunate to receive guidance from an outstanding graduate committee: Dr. Patricia Berninsone, Dr. Cherie Singer, Dr. Patricia Ellison, and Dr. Dennis Matthew. I acknowledge my mentors as I am cognizant of their vital role in my path to completion of the Ph.D. in cellular and molecular biology.

My life, academic, and research experiences have reinforced my decision to pursue a career in higher education and administration. In my role as assistant director for the McNair Scholars Program at Nevada I work directly with graduate-bound students like myself: first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented. I harness the skills I developed as a researcher, along with my commitment to guide students towards the attainment of doctoral degrees. I aim to inspire the next generation of researchers and academics with the goal of diversifying higher education.