Graciela Espinoza-Hernandez

November 27, 2018

As long as Graciela Espinosa-Hernández can remember, she has always loved school. Becoming an educator was one way she could stay in school forever.
“This job allows me the wonderful opportunity to be an eternal student. Anytime I start a new course, or update one, it is a great opportunity to learn something new about something I thought I was an expert on,” she said. “Then, I get to share it with students, and when they ask questions I do not know the answer to, I get to learn some more.”
Espinosa-Hernández, an associate professor of psychology, joined UNCW in August 2010. She held a postdoctoral position at Penn State University in the Human Development and Family Studies department prior to coming to the university.
“I fell in love with UNCW and Wilmington the minute I landed at ILM for my interview,” she said. “Staff, faculty and students are very warm and friendly. UNCW is a school that emphasizes high-quality undergraduate education, but also encourages professors to develop their own research and mentor graduate students. Few universities can do both.”
Understanding how people change as they grow older, especially during adolescence, fascinates Espinosa-Hernández. This summer, her research led her to Mexico, where she and other scientists visited middle and high schools to better understand how daily stressors adolescents experience in school and at home affect their sexual behaviors and relationships.
“We are very interested in the role of culture, which is why most of our studies are conducted in Mexico. Understanding adolescent sexuality from a perspective that views sex as a ‘normal’ part of development may help parents, teachers, health professionals and researchers to better understand how adolescents view their own sexuality,” said Espinosa-Hernández. “Moreover, parents may also learn what kind of support to provide adolescents, so they can not only make informed decisions about their sexual lives, but also feel good about themselves.”

Espinosa-Hernández hopes her students leave her classroom as critical thinkers and understand the important role college education and research have in their lives.
“Of course, I want my students to become future researchers, but beyond that, I want to help students find what they are passionate about and feel that they can achieve that career path,” she said. “It is important for students, especially first-generation and minority students, to have mentors who can encourage them to reach for their dreams and help them figure out how to do so.”
-- Venita Jenkins