UB Student Spotlight: Athena Hernandez

South St. Paul Secondary student recognized with Gold Award for getting straight A’s

Athena Hernandez, 15, is a student in 10th grade at South St. Paul Secondary. Athena is also participating in the TRIO/Upward Bound program at Dakota County Technical College. She’s on track to graduate from high school in 2024.

Athena was recently recognized with a Gold Award at her school. Students receive Gold Awards when they achieve straight A’s during one trimester or for the entire school year.

Athena Hernandez

Upward Bound provides academic/personal support and guidance to help qualifying high school students prepare for enrollment in college. Low-income students and potential first-generation college students can qualify to participate in Upward Bound. In some cases, they may lack awareness regarding the numerous academic and career paths available after they graduate from high school. Upward Bound at DCTC closes that gap.

Athena is already looking forward to attending college and majoring in programs that will help her pursue her career goals.

“I want to go to University of Minnesota,” she said. “My plan is to major in finance, marketing, and psychology.”

Athena added that her career aspirations are centered on becoming a real estate agent. “After I graduate from college, I want to work for someone else for a year or two,” she reported. “I would then I like to move on to my own real estate business and work for myself.”

Keia Chapman

She related that she chose to pursue a career in real estate because she has always been interested in houses.

“I’ve always wanted to look inside and see more,” she said, “and I love the decorating aspect. In other words, I like to be nosy.”

Keia Chapman serves as Athena’s Upward Bound advisor at DCTC. Keia has been impressed by Athena’s academic achievements and drive to succeed.

“Athena is exactly what we look for in an Upward Bound student,” Keia said. “She’s committed, determined, and almost always has a smile on her face. Her winning this award for her outstanding grades isn’t a surprise to me because I know how dedicated she is to her schoolwork.”

More about Athena…

Originally from St.Paul, Minnesota, Athena comes from a large family. She has two brothers, Joshua, 16, and Jayden, 11, and two sisters, Ariya, 7, and Cassady, 4. Her dad, Josh, works as a contractor. Her mom, Rosa, is a stay-at-home mom.

The family has two dogs, a 3-year-old, male Shih Tzu named Fluffy, and a 9-month-old, male golden retriever/poodle named Ghost.

In her free time, Athena loves to play basketball because she finds the sport enjoyable and motivating.

“I don’t play on an actual team at the moment,” she said. “The last time I played was in 8th grade. I follow Paige Bueckers and Mikey Williams.”

She enjoys food, especially tamales, and hanging out with friends. Athena resides with her family in East St. Paul.

More about Upward Bound

Upward Bound student eligibility criteria

  • Low income and/or potential first-generation college student
  • Grade Point Average (GPA) of 2.5 or better
  • Potential for academic success in postsecondary education
  • Consistent class attendance
  • Committed to graduating from high school
  • Committed to pursuing a postsecondary program
  • Committed to the Upward Bound program requirements
  • Citizen or permanent resident of the United States
  • Must be a current student at one of the following high schools: Burnsville, Two Rivers, or South St. Paul

Upward Bound services

CLICK IMAGE to learn more about Upward Bound

Academic Year

Our after-school programs target South St. Paul Secondary, Two Rivers High School, and Burnsville High School. Our academic advising ensures that our students enroll in classes that prepare them for college.

Mandatory monthly Saturday educational workshops focus on the following activities:
  • Intensive skill development
  • Preparation for college entrance exams such as the ACT and SAT
  • Career research
  • College applications and planning
  • Scholarship and financial aid applications
  • Recreational and cultural learning experiences. Previous sessions have featured bowling, snow tubing, a Science Museum of Minnesota visit, volunteering at Feed My Starving Children, and five-day, end-of-the-summer trips to exciting cities like Washington, D.C., and Chicago, Illinois.

Summer Session

During our six-week summer session, Upward Bound provides academic instruction in mathematics, laboratory sciences, composition/literature, foreign culture, and languages.

Other services may include some or all of the following:
  • Assistance in college searches and campus visits to gain information on postsecondary education opportunities
  • Career visits to business, industry, medicine, publishing, and so forth to expose participants to careers requiring a postsecondary degree
  • Cultural enrichment activities
  • Other opportunities to help students grow and become more motivated to succeed, such as leadership conferences as well as occasional overnight and multi-day trips

Athena Hernandez Q & A

What do you like best about Upward Bound?

I love the support and how it keeps me in check and makes me realize real-life situations.

How has Upward Bound helped prepare you for college?

Upward Bound has really made me think about my future a lot, and this program has helped me with college by thinking more about college and showing me different ways to either get into college or how to use college as a resource.

What Upward Bound activity have you enjoyed the most so far?

I haven’t really done any because I joined during the pandemic, and we are just getting started this year, but one of my favorite online activities was meeting lots of people and learning about their jobs and what has helped them in life.

What person has influenced you the most in life and why?

My mom—I say this because if you know her you know I act exactly like her. She has been through some rough things in her life and has still continued to push through and be a strong person. She has shown me that it’s okay to not be okay, but never show anyone you are not okay. She has taught me to be strong-minded and always fight any battles I have and that I can get through them and get through them in silence.

Where do you see yourself in 20 years?

I see myself successful with a family in a nice house and driving beautiful cars. I also see myself just enjoying life and having fun. Living the dream I’ve always wanted.

Athena Hernadez 12 Answers

  1. Favorite physical activity: Basketball
  2. Place you would most like to visit: Mexico, any part bad or good
  3. Most exciting thing you’ve ever done: Went to Disney World
  4. Three things you would do if you won a $1 billion lottery: 1) Buy myself and my family a house  2) Take my family on a trip 3) Help the unfortunate
  5. Time period you would explore if you could time travel: 1950s–60s
  6. Best movie you’ve seen lately: Freedom Writers
  7. One thing you most want to accomplish in life: I want to graduate both high school and college.
  8. Your national bird if you were your own country: Flamingo or a parrot
  9. Dream occupation: Real estate agent
  10. Person you would most like to meet: Maya Angelou
  11. Skill you would most like to learn and master: Reading, writing, and basketball
  12. Most important issue or problem facing humankind: Inequality
Learn more about TRIO/Upward Bound at DCTC by contacting:

Caitlin Siefkes
Director of TRIO/Upward Bound