Luis Herrera Turns a Life-Defining Moment in 2010 into a Role Model Opportunity

Wednesday, October 11, 2023
Phoenix College alumnus Luis Herrera leans agains a railing with the sprawl of city visible behind him.
Phoenix College alumnus Luis Herrera sits on a stone wall with a sunset as a backdrop
Phoenix College (PC) alumnus Luis Herrera graduated from PC with a degree in General Business and is now pursuing his bachelor's in Business Management

Like many immigrants, Luis Herrera’s parents moved to the US looking for better opportunities for themselves and their children. Years after they arrived in Arizona, Luis was born. His parents separated when he was young, but both remained a significant presence in his life. “​​As a kid, my parents always provided for me–emotionally, financially–and gave their full unconditional support in whatever I wanted to pursue,” he said.

Then, in 2010, when Luis was in the second grade, he had what he now calls a defining before and after moment. In March of that year, his mom moved back to Mexico after a close relative died. Luis stayed in Arizona with his dad for the remainder of the school year and then joined his mom in Mexico that summer. While Luis was away, his dad was arrested and eventually became estranged from Luis and his siblings. “He was supposed to provide financially and emotionally for me and my brother,” Luis said. “The absence of my father was tough.” Luis stayed in Mexico with his mom, completing elementary and middle school. However, as he approached high school, he decided to move back to the US, where he is a citizen, to better provide for his mom and younger siblings.

In high school, his interest in being financially literate and having a solid financial mindset led him to accounting. “Accounting is hard,” he said, “but I now apply those principles when I budget my income from work and the expenses I need to pay.”  Luis and his brother lived together and supported each other, covering rent, food, and utilities with income from their jobs. After high school, “I had no clue what I was going to do,” he said. “But I knew I needed to finish college and set an example for my sisters and younger cousins.” Luis said his parents didn’t attend college for financial reasons, so as a first-generation college student, he had a lot of questions regarding financial aid and how to enroll. “I was scared, but at the same time, I felt like it would be wrong if I didn’t go to school. I knew scholarships and other grants were available if I filled out the FAFSA. Even if I didn’t know what I would study, I knew I needed to enroll.”   

Luis credits the help and support from Phoenix College (PC) teachers, advisors, and the enrollment office. Luis noted his advisor, Kay Harrison, was always available to answer questions and kept him on track to graduate. “Phoenix College is a very special place for me,” he said. “It has allowed me to continue my dream of becoming a role model for those who are coming behind me. Each challenge in front of me is a new way to think out of the box and find a way to fix it. It’s been difficult, but I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

With a full-time job in construction, Luis goes to work in the early morning and comes home in the early afternoon to start his schoolwork or attend classes. While Luis regrets not becoming more involved in PC's Student Life and Leadership, his focus on construction work and coursework in General Business led him to see the possibilities for the future. “I used to think hard work was physical, shoveling or other intense labor,” he said. However, in conversations with his boss and meeting with project managers on job sites, he sees other avenues in construction, like negotiating with manufacturers, managing supplies, or estimating project costs. 

“At the end of the day, what I want is a business of my own, something I feel proud to create myself,” Luis said. “But I know that I need a stepping stone and more experience.” With his associate’s degree in General Business from Phoenix College, Luis transferred to ASU West and is working toward his Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. What he appreciated about his time at PC and the cultural connection of going to a Hispanic-Serving Institution was “not feeling like an outsider. College is a big milestone, and it was intimidating because I didn’t know who would be there for me. But once I knew there were other people just like me–with their accomplishments and hard work to be in the positions they are–I feel I’m not alone in this.” 

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