An Interview with President Hernandez: His Advice on Change

President Hernandez connects his experiences with change to students and offers advice on going through change.


Hernandez at a welcoming event, photo by: Logan Hall-Potvin.

Growth. That is the word President Alex Hernandez associates with change. 

“I’m pretty optimistic that new opportunities can lead to growth even if it doesn’t feel that way when you first get there,” he said.

Hernandez can often be spotted handing out ice cream, attending school social events, or among students around campus on nice days working on stairs and benches. On move-in day for first years, Hernandez said that he would be learning and experiencing Champlain for the first time alongside us, as he had just moved in as well. During my interview with Hernandez, with each question I asked, he would return the question. I found myself having a complete discussion rather than just a Q&A. It made me wonder: how does President Hernandez’s experience with Champlain compare to my own?

Hernandez helping first-year students move into their dorms. Photo from Champlain College Flickr.

My own word, for example, would have been “opportunity.” I believe that change is an opportunity for adventure and, as Hernandez said, growth.

Many students, including myself, have traveled far to get to Champlain and have lived in various places before landing here. Hernandez can relate, coming to Vermont from the University of Virginia. He explained that an essential thing about Champlain College is that it represented his beliefs.

“If I were to build a college from scratch, this is the college that I would build,” he said.

The focus on helping students get ready to have opportunities is something that he has spent his entire career working on, so while Champlain College is a new place for him, he described that “it feels like coming home.” 

Community is the other important part of being in a new place for Hernandez. 

“People will glow about the Champlain community unprompted; they don’t even know I’m the president, and they’ll tell me why they love Champlain,” Hernandez said.

At his inauguration, Hernandez shared that his family had an incredible journey, and as much as they believed in hard work, it is clear to him that a lot of their journey was influenced by luck and having the right mentor at the right time. 

“What I’ve always thought about as an educator is: how do you build an institution that gets students ready by design, so it’s not just about being at the right place at the right time?” He asked. 

He aims to minimize the “luck factor” that aided his family.

When going through change, there is often a moment of culture shock or adjustments. One has to adapt to their new environment. 

According to Hernandez, “Every community is its own place. When I was younger, I would think a lot about whether I fit into a new place, and now I think about ‘how do I honor this new place?’ Which is a bit of a change in perspective.” 

Hernandez circled back to discuss opportunity.

“The opportunity is to learn about and embrace the history here and figure out how I make my space within it,” he said. “It’s not to diminish who we are and where we came from, but to honor that too, and find a way to be ourselves in this new place. It’s important to look both inward and also look outward.”

Despite the beauty of Vermont and the thrill of college life, most of us miss the places we’ve come from. There are days when all I want is a view of the sunset over a Nebraska cornfield. Hernandez is not immune to this either and explains that he recreates his home wherever he goes. When he wants to stay grounded and connected to his family and home, students will find him playing his guitar around campus. He said that when he cooks, he’ll often cook recipes that he grew up with. It’s the same as when the IDX Dining Hall serves food from the Midwest; I’m comforted by the familiarity of home. 

However, comfort can be found in the change as well. Hernandez recommended building relationships with people to make the process easier.

“I think it’s easy to come to a new place and throw yourself into your work, but I think it’s important to take time to build relationships, not just professional, but people you can be yourself with and feel like you’re going to be loved for it and accepted,” Hernandez said.

He explained that as an introvert, it’s easy to feel untethered, and those people can tether you. Whether through your dorm, your major and classes, or other activities, college is a more accessible place to build relationships, even for introverts like Hernandez and myself. 

When Hernandez first went to college, he struggled and felt ready to transfer because he felt so untethered. He said that he was focused on whether or not he fit in, crowding out the other amazing things he could have been experiencing. 

During the time he was struggling the most, Hernandez turned to his father for help.

“…my father said, ‘you know where you come from, everything you have to learn is right here.’ And it was like a light switch flipped on for me, and I was able to look at college in a whole new way,” he explained. “All of a sudden I loved being there. I looked at it as opportunity for growth. By saying that, he was validating who I was, and everything that seemed foreign or strange was an opportunity to learn.” 

“The Trough” by Judy Brown.

When you get to college, it’s easy to feel less than. You start comparing yourself to the people around you, and their experiences. However, Hernandez emphasized that “you are enough just as you are,” whether you fight and struggle your way through and challenge or if you take the opportunities and run. Hernandez finished our conversation with a poem that he felt embodied the feeling that one has when going through change and feeling adrift: “The Trough” by Judy Brown.