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LCC Chief Diversity Officer Invited to Present TEDx Talk on reaching At-Risk Students

Dr. Paul Hernandez's compelling personal journey at the heart of TED Talk Appearance

May 11, 2017

LANSING, MICH. - Dr. Paul Hernandez grew up surrounded by gangs and violence. For him, the poverty of his Los Angeles neighborhood was the norm, with familiar streets and corners where kids met, formed bonds and hung out. The thought never crossed his mind that there might be other ways to live.

"There was no option," says Hernandez. "You couldn't go beyond your one-mile radius to talk or try things out. You were stuck with what you got. It was the only life I knew."

Today, Hernandez leads a different life as the chief diversity officer at Lansing Community College (LCC). He holds a doctorate in sociology and is an award-winning, nationally-recognized leader in community outreach and college access. And while his life has changed since he was a youth, Hernandez has never forgotten where he came from. He has also never forgotten the teachers who took an interest in him and helped him move beyond the streets.

"Those handful of educators were the difference makers for me," says Hernandez. "They were honest, transparent and real. They were willing to share and be vulnerable and to hit upon those universal themes of feeling angry, frustrated and lost. I wasn't willing to learn from someone I didn't like or trust, but when these particular teachers found me, they planted the seeds that grew and changed my life."

Those encounters with teachers motivated Hernandez to beat the odds and attend community college. They also form the basis of his book The Pedagogy of Real Talk: Engaging, Teaching, and Connecting with Students at Risk-which will be the framework of his upcoming presentation at TEDx Traverse City on May 17.

Hernandez will use the small group setting of the locally-organized TEDx to share his ideas for empowering educators to reach students who are at-risk of not succeeding or dropping out. His hope is to spark discussion on ways to create learning experiences, build rapport, and develop meaningful relationships with students.

"If you've ever worked in education you constantly hear talk about relationships," he says. "But the problem is, you also hear people asking 'How do I connect? How do I build those relationships? Can you train me to do that?' That's what's missing, and what I hope I can provide."

Hernandez says his research and book outline a systematic way to work with students and to use practices that can change the course of someone's life. His work can be applied by educators in K-12 and higher education, as well as to professionals in non-profit organizations. The overarching goal of his approach, he says, is not just to inspire educators-it's to motivate action.

"As educators, we all agree that relationships are key, and we share passion and commitment," he says. "That willingness to understand is commendable, but without taking action, we'll stay in the same place."

Hernandez recalls being filled with bitterness and hate, and remembers the teachers who helped him take small steps that led to larger victories. Now, Hernandez says, it's his turn to give back by building programs that empower educators to reach and mentor students at risk.

"My life changed because of people who had the courage and commitment to learn how to connect with a student like me," Hernandez says. "Sometimes the little moments are what make or break someone's life."

Hernandez has received numerous awards for his work with at-risk youth and college students, including the National Education Association Reg Weaver Human and Civil Rights Award, the Larry T. Reynolds Award for Outstanding Teaching of Sociology, and the Equity in Education award by the Michigan Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

Questions regarding the TEDx Talk and/or media inquiries for Dr. Paul Hernandez can be directed to LCC Public Relations Director, Devon Bradley at (517) 483-1426 or

Paul Hernandez

About Lansing Community College

Lansing Community College is Michigan's third largest community college with approximately 15,000 students attending each year. LCC offers courses in general education for those interested in transferring to a four-year institution, career and workforce development, developmental education, and personal enrichment. To meet the professional development and training needs of regional employees, the college offers customized programs for credit, non-credit, and continuing education. The University Center at LCC offers students the opportunity to earn bachelor's and master's degrees from six partner universities on the downtown LCC campus. For more information, visit

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