We had the good fortune of connecting with Olga Martinez Hickman, PhD and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Olga, can you tell us more about your background and the role it’s played in shaping who you are today?
I was born and raised in South Texas, a predominantly Hispanic community-where over 50% of our residents earn less than $50, 000. My family has lived there for generations, and will probably remain for generations to come. Growing up, there was an unspoken rule about the value of education. Both of my parents quit school at an early age, yet managed to raise four remarkable children. I am the youngest, and also the first to leave home for college. I received my PhD in 2014. While my other siblings didn’t graduate college, they hold leadership positions in their professional and military careers. Spanish was the first language I learned how to speak. Because of my background, as an English learner and a student living in poverty, I started attending Head Start at 3. The introduction to formalized learning changed my world. I quickly learned English, and fell in love with learning. I attended a neighborhood school, which I went back to teach at years later. Every one of my teachers looked like me. Looking back, because they looked like me—it didn’t matter that they were professionals and my parents were not, I aspired to do more and be more. I was blessed to have the support at home, from a family that did not know how to navigate the educational system, and educators that knew exactly what I needed to succeed. Today, I advocate for voice and representation. While education continues to have the reputation of being the great equalizer, the level of disparity that continues to exist for Latino students is appalling. I use my voice to bring awareness and opportunity to others. I remember my struggle, the struggles of my family, and I don’t ever want to forget those that helped me. I use my experiences to help me stay grounded and connected, while expanding opportunities to the people I serve.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My passion for learning started when I was a kid. I was always intrigued in learning. At an early age, my teachers really fostered that love and helped me to become a leader. In a leadership class that I’m currently a part of, I’ve had to define and refine my core values. The one that continues to drive me is achievement. I saw that from my parents, with their life lessons–always be on time, your word matters, be mindful of others, serve others. Those lessons equated into the student I was, always wanting to be the best. I was an honors student, so naturally I did “good” in school. I set my mind to a goal, and reached it. But I always saw my siblings do the same. There wasn’t a question of could we, but when would we? Regardless of the challenges before me, poverty, language, being first generation, I had a network of support. There was no way I could fail. Being a first generation college student is never easy. There is so much unchartered territory we have to figure out on our own. When I was six years old, my brother was killed by a drunk driver. That tore my family apart, as you can imagine. I was the youngest of four, so I knew him the least. My grief still exists today, but during that time, I had to learn how to do a lot on my own. I carried that resiliency with me throughout my higher education career. Watching my parents show up for us, for me, everyday taught me that. In the back of my mind, I knew I couldn’t give up either. What I want people to know about my story is that it’s not ok to give up on the poor little Mexican girl whose parents don’t know how to help her. Believe in her, show her you care, and she will show up for you.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I live in Fort Worth, Texas, so there’s so much to do in the City and in the surrounding area. Day 1: (Monday) Noon: Pick up from airport and drive to North Fort Worth to have lunch at Los Vaqueros 2 pm: Visit the Stock Yards in Fort Worth 5 pm: Happy hour at Joe T Garcia’s Day 2: (Tuesday) 8:00 am – walk the Trinity Trails 10:30 am- brunch at Brewed 1:00 pm -Fort Worth Water Gardens 3:00 pm-Sundance Square 5:30 pm-Drinks and Dinner at Taco Diner Day 3: (Wednesday) 8:30 am-coffee and breakfast at Brewed 10:00-Fort Worth Botanic Gardens 1:00-Picnic on the grounds of the Botanic Gardens (home-made pasta; fruits) ingredients from Farmer’s Market) 2:30- Museums (Kimbell, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth) 5:30- Waterside (Early Dinner) 7:00- Popsicles at Steel City Pops Day 4 (Thursday) 8:00 am-drive to Waco 9:30- breakfast at Magnolia Table 11:00- Magonlia Silos and shopping Grab lunch from food trucks 3:00-walk the Baylor University campus 5:00-Dinner @ Backyard Bar Stage and Grill 7:00 Drive back to Fort Worth Day 5: (Friday) Spa Day at the Omni Mokara Relax by the pool Dinner at Reata Day 6: (Saturday) 7:00 am Drive to Dallas 8:30 breakfast at San Martin Bakery 10:00 head to airport 1:00 depart
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My mom When I was writing my dissertation, I felt like I was going through therapy. My topic focused on parent involvement-and for so long I blamed my parents for not being involved. As I sat at my kitchen table, I saturated my papers with tears. The voice of my mom telling me that she couldn’t help me, because she didn’t know how to kept me going. I never wanted another parent of color, including my husband and I, to feel the same way. When I sit with parents today, I always remember how my mom felt alone or unwanted. I do everything I can do so that nobody else feels that way.