Danny Hernandez ’09, MSW ’12, EdD ’17, knows what it means to be a Trojan. He has been an undergraduate, a master’s student, a doctoral student, an alumnus, an enthusiastic supporter and an employee at institutions that hire USC alumni.
So he is uniquely positioned to bring his impressive qualifications and his Trojan spirit to a new role—senior director of student life at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.
In this role, Hernandez has assumed responsibility for managing and growing several programs that greatly impact the student experience. Among them are scholarship administration, learning support resources, career and professional development support and general student services. His goal is to create a centralized student life office that is strongly student-focused, and that functions as a one-stop destination where students from our University Park Campus and Virtual Academic Center studying in our Master of Social Work, Doctor of Social Work and Master of Science in Nursing programs can receive guidance, services and recommendations about resources available elsewhere at USC.
Planting seeds of engagement
“Our students should feel supported and that their expectations are being met,” Hernandez said. “One of the reasons people apply to USC is that we’re known for offering a student experience that’s special and that no other institution can match. Student support should be one of the first things our alumni say when asked the question, ‘why choose USC?’”
Hernandez believes the experience our students have in the short period of time they are students directly shapes their alumni experience after graduation. He views his office as facilitating the first phase on a lifelong continuum of a student’s enthusiasm and engagement with the school. He wants to help the school produce graduates who are thrilled with their time at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.
To achieve that, Hernandez has an ambitious plan to cast a wide net of collaborative relationship-building across faculty, students, alumni, staff and programs. He also intends to make ongoing collection and analysis of student satisfaction data a foundational element of his plan.
“I want to know what’s already working for students but may not be on our radar; the many ways faculty and staff are already supporting students; what processes can be improved; what new innovations would be transformative—everything,” he said. “All of our initiatives should be collaborative across departments and inclusive of multiple teams.”
With the growth in enrollment the school has had over the past several years across its programs and departments, that is no small task. Serving more people means more planning and new strategies will be required. Hernandez is up for the challenge.
Commitment to higher education
Higher education is where Hernandez feels most drawn to put his skills to work. In addition to earning an undergraduate degree, a master’s degree in social work and a doctorate in education all at USC, he arrives back at his alma mater after serving as assistant dean of students at Pitzer College and as an adjunct faculty member in the MSW program at California State University, San Bernardino. He has also worked in a clinical capacity for the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, the City of Orange and Children’s Hospital LA. He has always looked for opportunities that allow him to approach structures and processes comprehensively, and to utilize data analysis for the purpose of assessment.
With his experience in both institutional and clinical environments, in both traditional and non-traditional applications, he is ready to serve the diverse needs of our students. Being a devoted Trojan doesn’t hurt, either.
“I love this school and what it offers,” he said. “I already know what it’s like to be an alumnus and the reputation that goes along with that. I already know many of the strengths and opportunities. Coming back here to build on those was an easy decision for me.”