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Grad Puts 'Purple Pride' to Work

Alumna Adelita Hernandez works to make a difference in Evanston

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December 3, 2010 | by Stephen Anzaldi
Adelita Hernandez calls her journey from Chicago to the northwest suburbs and then, ultimately, to Northwestern University a happy accident. The 2005 graduate was shocked when she first discovered Northwestern is among the nation's most elite institutions. Had she known, she would not have even applied.

The oldest child of Mexican immigrant parents, Hernandez started high school at Lane Tech College Prep High School in Chicago before moving to Hoffman Estates. She earned her bachelor's degree in history and international studies at Northwestern and then decided to remain in Evanston to work as a community outreach specialist for Evanston's health department.

"The job description was calling my name," she said. "I helped connect people in the community to resources and used my bilingual skills to bridge the gap to underserved non-English speakers."

Now as a Community Information Specialist in the Evanston’s Office of the City Manager, Hernandez draws upon her dual Northwestern/Evanston experience to contribute to a variety of community-based projects. She helped plan the recent Evanston Day at Ryan Field (see photo gallery on page 4) and will be assisting on a project to organize Northwestern campus tours for Evanston Township High School freshmen, emphasizing the great university in their own backyard. She even tweets for Evanston; follow her at twitter.com/CityofEvanston.

Hernandez spoke with Stephen Anzaldi, Northwestern News editor, sharing her perspective of both sides of the City/University partnership.

How did you get to Northwestern?

I'm the oldest of three siblings, so I was first in my family to go to college. When it came to choosing a school, it was like I was blindfolded. I applied to Northwestern, among other schools, because a friend also had applied there. I didn't know much about any of the schools I targeted, especially Northwestern.

How so?

After I was accepted, my father and I went to the orientation in Evanston. I was amazed at the beauty of the campus. Also, I remember seeing the college rankings in a brochure. I had no idea Northwestern is ranked so highly. If I'd known how great a school it is I would've been intimidated. But I used it to my advantage. Once I enrolled, I was determined to keep from getting weeded out.

What did you learn at Northwestern?

I learned to take pride in my work. I'm constantly setting goals and seeing my achievements as more tangible than just items on a resume. And I learned never to sell myself short. Now when I find something new I want to try, I just go for it.

How is that attitude reflected in your work?

It's given me a real sense of loyalty. I've spent the past five years working for the City of Evanston. I really value nurturing my career and gaining new experiences within my environment. I wear so many hats at my job, and I'm always learning.

What major project are you working on now?

Evanston is launching a 311 center this spring. It's one of the first such centers in Illinois. The idea is to streamline customer service and be more efficient in handling non-emergency calls. I'm part of a team, and our job is to do everything needed to get the center up and running by March 1, 2011 (3/1/11). We're working on how service requests flow and building the knowledge base, having collected and streamlined a list of more than 700 frequently asked questions.

For example?

'My garbage wasn't collected, what do I do?' or 'When can I buy beach tokens?' There's a link at cityofevanston.org called "My Citizen Dashboard" where you can ask questions like these. You can even make and track service requests. Many people mistakenly call 911 for these issues. Also we're incorporating a mass communication element so we can warn residents -- by e-mail or text -- about emergency situations, such as snow fall, street closings and power outages.

Did you consider yourself an Evanston resident while attending Northwestern?

Growing up, I moved around a lot. In fact I can’t remember living anywhere for more than two years until I came to Evanston. Obviously most students move away after graduation, but I stayed because it felt like home to me. I know there are several others like me who made a strong connection and felt part of the community. The number of Northwestern alumni living and/or working here is testament to that.

Given your ties to both Northwestern and Evanston, what special perspective do you have on the partnership?

Evanston is a great place to live and work. It blends the city with the small town feel. I appreciate that more now that I'm out of school. And Northwestern is this powerhouse where great students come to make a contribution to the community. The dynamic interplay among the two is what makes this a very special place. Each is better for having the other.