70-year-old grandmother to earn Doctor of Education at Cal State LA

Cal State LA student success inspires many

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When Berenice Onofre Vasquez walks across the stage to receive her Doctor of Education, it will mark a proud moment in a life-long journey for the 70-year-old Santa Monica grandmother.

As the most senior member of the California State University, Los Angeles Class of 2017, Onofre Vasquez has shown that that is never too late to pursue a passion.

She will conclude a long history of success at Cal State LA when she walks across the stage at the Charter College of Education ceremony on May 22. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing, a Master of Science in Nursing and Master of Arts in Public Administration from the University.

“When I got my BSN that was a very proud moment. Now I am getting my Ed.D. for a very clear purpose, it is amazing and I am really excited,” she says.

Since her days as a child on a small farm in Peru, she has placed education at the center of her life. Her reason for pursuing an Ed.D. in educational leadership began taking shape long ago when she arrived in the United States at the age of 21.

After moving in with her aunt in Santa Monica, Onofre Vasquez enrolled at Santa Monica College to become a nurse, but she recalls being restricted to introductory level math courses due to her lack of English skills. Onofre Vasquez, a bright student who had attended a university in Peru, was frustrated. Then she heard from a fellow student that Cal State LA had an excellent nursing program.

She still remembers receiving her first paycheck as a registered nurse.

“It was my proudest moment as a product of Cal State LA,” she says. “I really was very thankful to the institution and my teachers who helped me.”

She worked nursing and nursing administration for about 38 years. A single parent, she often worked two jobs, but still found time to attend Cal State LA part time to further her education.

Juggling jobs and coursework wasn’t always easy, but she coped during stressful times by telling herself: “I am knowledgeable, I am experienced. I am a Cal State LA graduate.”

Her can-do attitude is showcased in her work on her dissertation, which focuses on the experience of Spanish-speaking Latino parents and the issues English learners face.

“Us immigrants, we come with the desire to do something better. To be somebody, to do something,” she says.

Onofre Vazquez grew up raising chickens, cows and pigs on a small family farm in the province of Huánuco, in central Peru. She attended the local school until third grade, the highest level the school offered. Her father wanted her to continue her education, so she moved to a nearby city and finished her elementary education. She attended high school in Lima, the capital of Peru, during the week, returning to the farm on weekends to visit her family.

She opened a school at Santa Isabel, a town in Huánuco, in a small room donated by the community. She worked there as a teacher and principal for two years. She later attended Universidad Nacional Federico Villarreal (UNFV) in Lima to become a professor of chemistry, physics and mathematics.

Once she receives her Ed.D. in educational leadership, Onofre Vasquez plans on teaching at a university and continuing her research related to Latino parent engagement and English learners. Her goal is to help Latino parents and English learners stand up for themselves and empower their communities.

“I hope that in my life I can contribute toward that,” she says, “maybe in small ways, maybe in big ways.”

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70-year-old grandmother to earn Doctor of Education at Cal State LA