Student Spotlight: Beatriz Cabrera

The CHC junior has a dream of having an impact on the way elementary school students are educated.

Beatriz Cabrera

Year in school: Junior

Major/minor: Education Foundations/Spanish

Hometown: Los Angeles 

Song on repeat: “Best Friends” by 5 Seconds of Summer 

Coffee or tea: Orange Citrus tea 

Free time means: Painting, drawing, reading 

TV binging on: Criminal Minds and Dance Moms 

Cool fact about you: I met One Direction in the third grade. 

For as long as she can remember, Beatriz Cabrera has heard her parents’ consistent message: “You’re going to go college. You’re going to get a degree. You’re going to do something that we weren’t able to do before.”

As the first in her immediate family to go to college, Cabrera feels the pressure to graduate and succeed academically. And she plans to meet it head-on as she majors in education as a Clark Honors College junior. 

“It’s a privilege to learn,” Cabrera says. “Not that many people get the opportunity to get a higher education and I realize that I am extremely lucky to get this chance.” 

Recently, Cabrera was named one of three recipients of the HEDCO Institute’s inaugural Undergraduate Scholars Program, a year-long paid internship for UO undergraduates interested in conducting groundbreaking research that helps transform K-12 schools. 

“We were excited by Beatriz’s application given her clear commitment to advancing inclusive education practices to promote all students’ sense of belonging and connectedness,” says Emily Tanner-Smith, executive director of the HEDCO Institute. 

Recipients receive a $12,000 dollar stipend on acceptance, as well as access to the best education professors and research resources on campus. 

“Beatriz represents the very best of CHC students,” Acting Dean of the CHC Carol Stabile says. “She is dedicated, driven, and understands the importance of doing work that makes the community a better place. She earned the HEDCO scholars opportunity because of her passion to make a difference in the lives of students.” 

Cabrera and her younger sister were raised by her mother, father, step-mother, and paternal grandmother in Los Angeles. Her mother and father immigrated to the U.S. when they were teens; her mother from Mexico, her father from Guatemala, and her step-mother from Canada.

She was mostly raised by her non-English-speaking grandmother. It wasn’t until preschool that she started learning English, something that made it hard for her to keep up with the kids in her class. Her parents worked long hours to support the family. Cabrera filled her time with sports and the arts.

She recalls having to take speech therapy beginning in third grade. “I was having a lot of trouble learning stuff, and I wasn’t fully understanding the things that were being taught to me,” she says now. “I was being lost in the crowd, and I wasn’t big on asking for help.” 

Cabrera specifically remembers being annoyed with speech therapy. She didn’t like the experience and recalls feeling embarrassed. She told herself back then that she didn’t have a problem. “I don’t even have to go. I speak perfectly fine,” Cabrera remembers thinking. “It’s funny because my little sister and I will go through old videos and when I hear myself speak I can hear how I mispronounced words.” 

After a while, Cabrera started to appreciate the extra support. She says she felt less confused and had an easier time asking teachers for assistance. 

In middle school, her Latin teacher became an important figure in her education. The woman advised Cabrera, teaching her how to use a planner, create a schedule for homework, and even take tests during lunch if she hadn’t finished on time.

In high school, she remembers a history teacher who made an effort to teach more inclusively and go beyond popular textbook teaching. One lesson taught students about a massive deportation effort by the federal government after World War II that sent tens of thousands of Mexican immigrants—allowed into the U.S. to do agriculture work while Americans were away fighting in the war—back to Mexico. 

Cabrera says the lesson made her look at history and teaching in a more technical way. “It’s a good teaching technique,” she says, “taking into account the stuff that your students are interested in, or interested in doing, and then doing a lesson based off of that. It can make the student motivated to want to learn and participate.” 

She came to the University of Oregon in fall 2020 and joined the Honors College the following spring. The way her liberal arts classes operated reminded her of how much she was encouraged during middle school by her teachers.

Cabrera also worked as a camp counselor for first graders, many of whom had spent their kindergarten year learning remotely because of the pandemic. Because of the isolation caused by the virus, Cabrera noticed that a lot of the kids she was working with faced some difficulties with social and developmental skills. 

Cabrera remembers a little boy who was having trouble making friends. She learned about his interests and struck up conversations with him. She learned that he enjoyed Pokémon and recalls the time he brought in a rare card from the game to show her. 

It wasn’t long before he got attached to Cabrera, holding her hand when he was too scared to swim, sitting on her lap during group gatherings, and asking for piggyback rides. “The last day of camp came and he started to cry. He didn’t want to go home so he kept holding on to me,” she remembers. “He kept repeating over and over again about how he didn’t want me to forget him and I would tell him that I could never forget him.” 

The boy’s mom still sends Cabrera updates about her son, pictures from his first day of school, and Christmas cards. The next time he attended camp, he couldn’t wait to show her how he could jump into the deep end of the pool. 

When Cabrera was first applying to the HEDCO program, she was hesitant. She remembers thinking: “They’re not going to choose me because I do not have much experience in that field besides writing research papers in some of my classes and taking the HC 301 course where I worked on a term-long research project.” 

But she also remembered taking Catalina de Onís’ research-based course at the Honors College: Environmental, Climate, and Energy Justice in Latinx Communities. Cabrera’s term project for the course was making a ’zine on the effects the U.S.-Mexico border wall has on nature, wildlife and people in borderland communities.

The research she had to do for that course gave her the experience and confidence she needed in research to make apply to the program. The course also provided her with a mentor in Onís, who she recently asked to be a part of her CHC thesis committee. 

“What I appreciate so often with Beatriz is her ability to draw on lived experiences,” Onís says, who has enlisted Cabrera, among others, to speak to her class of first-year CHC students. “Beatriz communicates a vision of what the U.S. education system can and must become for the flourishing of all people.” 

Under the HEDCO program, Cabrera is looking forward to the institute's spring courses. Later, she hopes to conduct research on topics related to incorporating identity in curricula and the importance of culture and traditions in textbooks.

She plans to teach at the elementary school level after graduating from UO. “I’m really hoping that my students feel like they are listened to,” Cabrera says. “That their voices are being heard, and feel that they can bring their identities and cultures into the classroom and not be ashamed for it.” 

—Story by Julia Boboc, Clark Honors College Communications

—Photo by Alex Rodriguez Clark Honors College Communications