While growing up in the borderland region of the Rio Grande Valley, Reyna Flores watched her mother work long hours in the fields harvesting crops as a seasonal farmworker. Looking back at those days, she’s grateful for the lessons her mother taught her about hard work, hope and determination. With her mother’s unwavering support, she set her sights on college and is now on track to earning her Ph.D. in Educational Leadership & Policy this spring.
We caught up with Flores to learn more about her background, her career goals, and her recent experience moderating a conversation with Eduardo Chavez—grandson of Cesar Chavez—at a campus event hosted by the DDCE.
Could you share a bit about your journey from the Rio Grande Valley to UT?
My mother was a seasonal farm worker, so she worked in the valley picking mostly onion, spinach and carrots. Her work gave me and my siblings the opportunity to apply to universities with federal support programs for students who come from farmworker families. Most of us went to St. Edward’s University because of their College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) program, which provided financial assistance and the opportunity to meet other students who come from farmworker backgrounds. Many of them are still my friends today. It was comforting to have that piece of home while I was in college. And later, when I attended Texas State and UT, I was able to find my communities with faculty, staff and students of similar backgrounds who were able to connect with me on a deeper level.
How was your mother a driving force in your college education?
My mom was a strong advocate for education. She pushed for us all to do well academically in high school, and even though she wasn’t familiar with college admissions, she encouraged us to pursue anything we wanted to achieve. So, thanks to her, all six of us went to college. She always had that belief in the American dream. She taught us that, with a lot of hard work, we can go out and be whoever we want to be. Even though we grew up differently, I never felt like my family struggled because we always had love and support.
Early on, you connected with the Hispanic Faculty Staff Association (HFSA). How did this University Resource Group enrich your experience at UT?
The HFSA is such a great organization. They really supported me—first as a staff member and later as a student. My mentors have really helped me professionally and motivated me during my doctoral journey. It’s nice to have someone check in on me and keep me accountable, and it’s also so inspiring to see so many members are pursuing doctoral degrees or already have a Ph.D. It’s a great group of people, and I really enjoy participating in their events every year. My favorite event was a Cesar Chavez Day celebration at the Cesar Chavez statue on campus. It was great to see the community and so many campus partners—including the DDCE—come together to support us.
What was it like for you to moderate the discussion with Eduardo Chavez at the DDCE’s recent “Hailing Cesear” film screening event?
Being a part of that discussion meant so much to me. It felt like a full-circle moment to meet the grandson of an iconic activist who has impacted my family’s work and life. While watching his film, I kept thinking about my mom working long hours in the fields in the heat with her back hurting for days on end. This film really brings awareness to important issues that impact my family—and watching it on campus really made me feel seen and supported. The film was very powerful, and it was great to see so many people in the room who wanted to learn more about the farmworker experience.
During your conversation with Eduardo Chavez, what hit home the most?
One important aspect we talked about was community, and how farm workers help each other out and support one another. Just to give you an example, my mother traveled to Iowa with some of my extended family members for seasonal work. They all made an effort to lean on each other in various ways, like making sure everyone had warm clothes for the winter, checking in on each other and providing transportation. So, the community piece is a really important part of the story.
What else did you take away from the film screening event?
After watching the film and talking with Eduardo, I realized that we have similar experiences in trying to stay connected to our farmworker roots and wanting to dig deeper to document those stories. During the conversation, I was making mental notes of questions I want to ask my mom. I’d like to know what kinds of changes she’s seen over the years—positive or negative—in her experience as a woman working the fields. The conversation and the film brought up some things that maybe I don’t know too much about, which I will need to explore some more.
Could you share a bit about your work in supporting students on campus, and how you plan on continuing this work in your future career?
A lot of the roles I’ve had in higher education have been connected to serving low-income, first-generation students. Here at UT, I worked with recruitment and outreach for the Cockrell School of Engineering. I see myself in the students I work with, and it means so much to be able to give them the same type of support that I received. In the future, I see myself working toward educational equity for diverse populations of students who don’t have the same access to resources as others. I want my work to have a big impact on the lives of those students.