Berenice Onofre Vásquez
Santa Monica grandmother to earn Doctor of Education at Cal State LA
By LeAnn Zuniga
Cal State LA News Service
When Berenice Onofre Vásquez walks across the stage to receive her Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership, it will mark a proud moment in a lifelong journey for the 70-year-old Santa Monica grandmother.
As the oldest member of the California State University, Los Angeles Class of 2017, Onofre Vásquez has shown that it is never too late to pursue a passion.
She will conclude a long history of success at Cal State LA. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing, a Master of Science in Nursing and Master of 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. She will receive her degree during the Charter College of Education Ceremony on May 22.
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. began taking shape long ago when she arrived in the United States at the age of 21.
After moving to Santa Monica with the help of her aunt, Onofre Vásquez 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 Vásquez, 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.
Since then, Cal State LA has played an important role in her continued success, such as when she received 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 in 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 the work on her dissertation, which focuses on the experience of Spanish-speaking 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 Vázquez grew up raising chickens, cows and pigs on a small family farm, Caiqui, in the department of Huánuco, in central Peru. She attended the local school until third grade, the highest level the school offered. Her parents wanted her to continue her education, so they moved to the nearby city of Ambo to finish 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., Onofre Vásquez 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.”