Published on Aug. 17, 2020
Even over a Zoom call, it’s easy to see how much Ana-Maria Fernandez cares about those around her.
Her dedication to helping other people isn’t just about fulfilling the requirements of her job, instead it stems from a genuine interest in others. Fernandez, a student service coordinator for the Center of Academic Success & Excellence, has used her experience with students to create and coordinate programs to support underrepresented minorities on campus.
When she speaks about these programs, she highlights the students need for them rather than her role in starting and maintaining them. As the advisor for the KC Scholar students and the coordinator of Math at CASE, Fernandez has the opportunity to impact a wide reach of students.
“At the end of the day, I just want the students to realize what they have to offer, and realize that what’s hard right now, once the semester is over — that challenge you’ve overcome was worthwhile,” Fernandez explained. “I want them to enjoy the time here at the university because this isn’t just about studying — it’s also about finding organizations and leadership positions where they can blossom and feel fulfilled.”
While Fernandez sees this as something she hopes for, her students recognize it as their reality.
“One thing that I think is important to know about Ana-Maria is that she is always willing to go out of her way to support students and check up on them,” Leana Chen, a junior KC Scholar, said.
“I’m very thankful to have someone like Ana-Maria to assist me with things, honestly,” Kadir Galban Suarez, a sophomore majoring in Fine Arts and a member of the 2019 KC Scholars cohort, stated. “I believe students can live a more fulfilling life through campus because they can just go directly to someone that knows and can assist them. I believe she really cares for everybody that she mentors and looks over. She’s a very compassionate person.”
For students, having easy access to that support can change the way that they see themselves within the campus community. Emma Leto, a sophomore KC Scholar majoring in health sciences, identifies Fernandez as a source of confidence for her and her peers.
“There’s so much that she does that she doesn’t necessarily have to do, and she does it out of the kindness of her heart,” Leto explained. “It makes students acknowledge their worth. The way she treats her students and what she does for her students kind of shows them appreciation and that their hard work is worth it. It’s hard to do, especially with all the people that she knows and sees, but I think that’s what really makes a difference.”
Fernandez’s compassion for others stems from the fact that she sees her students as people who are worthy of support. After seeing her students make it through the COVID-19 campus closure, she knew they could survive any obstacle put in their way.
“These students, overcoming last semester — having to go back home and finishing up strong, that’s a lot of resilience,” Fernandez stated. “I’m always amazed at the resilience that the students have to offer. That’s what keeps me going. It’s wonderful to meet individuals. I get to touch other people’s lives. I get to meet with other students. To me, each person is a different story or a different book. These students have a lot to say.”
Being able to recognize students as unique individuals with something to offer has helped her establish an open conversation with students so they can find the support they need. If one resource doesn’t work, she finds them a new resource. In some cases, this means creating a new program. When she noticed a problem with how math tutoring was provided for her scholars, she stepped in and started the Math at CASE program.
“Math at CASE is a free tutoring program for all the students who are served under the CASE office, they go for an hour weekly,” Fernandez said. “It involves tutoring, but it’s not through other students, it’s actually through the TA’s that teach the course. That has helped a lot of students because math is something that some students are very challenged by and there’s anxiety in that, but by attending the program — it’s another way of connecting to their instructor on a more relaxed one-on-one basis.”
Chen pointed out Fernandez’s role in helping her find support for her business statistics class and explained how Fernandez was prepared to try more than one course of action.
“Since she was a part of CASE, she knew about Mizzou tutoring,” Chen stated. “She would help set up a request for me to get a statistics tutor in the Student Success Center. When I didn’t think that the statistics tutor knew much about business statistics, the statistics course I was taking, she would then also help me get a different tutor that was more focused on business statistics. This helped me pass my business statistics class.”
Despite the impact that she has on students, she remains humble and driven to provide them with the tools they need.
“I have the honor and opportunity to work with these students,” Fernandez explained. “Every day is a new chapter. I enjoy meeting with, listening, and advising students. Sometimes when I talk, sometimes because of my accent the message gets a little confused, but I’m very passionate about my work.”
The contribution Fernandez makes to the MU community is difficult to quantify. Between advising, supporting, and looking out for her students, she adds more life and passion to the university each year. If you were to ask her coworkers and students, most could offer an example of how she went above and beyond to show she cares, whether it’s just checking-in or going out of her way to offer students a safe space.
After Fernandez enthusiastically praised her students and their dedication, she offered advice for those worried about the already unpredictable 2020 fall semester, “Take it one day at a time. Use your mask. Practice social distancing and self-care. Cherish the fact that you have your health. That health can be not only physical but mental. Just one day at a time.”