The pride that is felt when a family member graduates earning a Bachelor of Science degree is a shared experience for Daniela Hernandez-Perez and her mother, Maria Macias. Both women have completed their Criminal Justice-Generalist studies, at the end of the Fall 2018 semester, through Ferris State University Statewide’s location at Lansing Community College’s University Center.
This accomplishment is accentuated by the backgrounds of the women, in 2002, Maria came to Michigan bringing Daniela and her sister, Sofia, from Michoacán, Mexico – a state of about four million people, located near Mexico City.
“In 2012, I was able to achieve an important personal goal, which was to begin studying English at LCC,” Macias said. “It took two years to complete the learning and experience necessary to enter the Criminal Justice curriculum that Ferris offers through the college. My LCC advisor at that time, Felipe Lopez Sustaita, told me I should pursue a career as a police officer.”
Daniela was advancing on her unique path toward higher education during this time.
“I had started out in the Lansing public schools, but came to a point where my mother and I decided that my best way forward was to enter a homeschool program,” Daniela said. “I later transferred to and graduated from East Lansing High School, in 2014, and got started with college right after that. I have always wanted to pursue a career in Criminal Justice.”
Macias and Hernandez-Perez have been in the same class three times as they pursued their degrees. There was an agreement reached between the two, during a general education course in Sociology, where Maria recalled that Daniela’s feelings didn’t take her maternal instincts into account.
“Daniela was just getting started. This was her second college class,” Maria said. “I was slightly ahead of her, in terms of credits earned, and we were taking a four-credit course offered in a single session each week. I was packing up a bottle of water and some apples to bring along since I felt we would be in class a considerable length of time. When Daniela got wind of my plans, she looked at me and said ‘We don’t know each other, all right?’ I just wanted her to take the apple because I knew I wanted mine.”
The mother and daughter continued with full-time class loads for most of the semesters that followed, while holding jobs to make ends meet, along with making considerable efforts in career exploration.
“I researched human trafficking in Michigan, which showed me that at that time, Michigan had the second-highest level of incidence in the United States,” Maria said. “I felt that was a terrible situation and decided I would focus my career on working with victims of this crime.”
Macias currently works as a recruiter with the Michigan Department of Corrections, with plans to serve as a staffer with Holy Cross Services, which has operations in Lansing and other cities, statewide.
“The MDOC has presented opportunities where I could interact with those impacted by human trafficking,” Maria said. “I hope that I can build on these kinds of experiences through Holy Cross. Many substance abuse patients in their client base have been profiled and recruited by the traffickers.”
Macias is appreciative of her current duties with the state of Michigan and believes her options will only grow now that she has completed her Ferris degree.
“I feel that the Criminal Justice faculty have a great commitment to their students, they have certainly offered me encouragement throughout my time in the program,” Macias said. “My time with Ferris and in the University Center has been a great experience.”
Maria said while she looks for the right opportunity to advance her career, she is pleased to have been certified by the MDOC as having met the physical fitness standards necessary to serve as a corrections officer.
Daniela has long held a keen interest in counseling youthful sexual abuse victims. That prospect grew during her internship with the Ingham County court system, which helped her secure her current job with the Footprints Residential Program, in Lansing, which is administrated by Peckham, Inc.
“I started there in September of 2016, and currently serve as a family liaison for the group home,” Hernandez-Perez said. “Our referrals are generally girls 13 to 16 years old, who have been ordered into the program by the 30th Circuit Court. Most of the girls I have worked with are trauma victims and have been greatly affected by the abuse they have suffered. I will have earned my degree just ahead of a deadline related to my position, which means I can continue with Footprints in my current counseling role.”
Those from Ferris who knew and worked with Daniela and Maria, at LCC’s University Center, are proud of their part in the ladies’ accomplishments and saddened to see them go. That includes Mike Wiltse, the Criminal Justice advisor based there.
“Maria could have used the language barrier as a crutch, but she has great perseverance, not only overcoming that, while also being challenged to our high academic standards,” Wiltse said. “She added great perspective in our classes with her unique life experiences. I will miss that willingness to learn and share. Daniela is a great role model to her clients. She shares the same inherent desire with her mother, just in different ways. She was a joy to have in class because of her smile and passion.”
Justin Faris, the director of Ferris’ Extended and International Operations in the Capitol/Central Region, credited Wiltse for the guidance offered to Hernandez-Perez and Macias and voiced his operational pride.
“Each member of our amazing adjunct faculty helped these women build their experience and expertise in the field,” Faris said. “Both of these women will take all that they have learned and be valuable assets in the community.”
Physical fitness is also a prime consideration for Daniela. She has completed a year of competitions in National Physique Committee amateur bodybuilding events.
“It really keeps me sane, a way to deal with all that I face as a liaison and student,” Hernandez-Perez said. “Going from school, to work and then to the gym is enough to make my life complete, for now. There is a real adrenaline rush when you compete, but it also can be very draining. I have met a number of other competitors at NPC events, some in their 40s and older. It lets me be around many amazing people.”
Daniela participated in the Saturday, Dec. 15 afternoon commencement in Big Rapids, while Maria has received her diploma from the university. Both women are grateful to be successfully employed in their field but look ahead to the prospect of new challenges.
“We both have greater options as agencies hope to have bilingual staff available to work with their clients,” Daniela said. “I have interest in exploring opportunities in the Grand Rapids and Detroit areas, as their larger population base means more agencies and programs to support youthful sexual abuse victims.”
Maria also looks to the future and the opportunity to further her professional aims.
“I am willing to leave the Lansing area if it means a chance to have an impact as a supporter of those who have faced human trafficking,” Macias said. “We are both excited about the chance to pursue our goals.”
They also reflected on the significance of completing their degrees and becoming the first members of their family with this level of educational achievement.
“For many students I know, we had to decide if we would get into a world of work, with little chance for advancement, or to make sacrifices and pursue our education. Ferris Statewide was so supportive, making it easy for my mother and I to reach our potential.”
“As a single mother, I am proud of Daniela, and of myself, along with my daughter, Sofia, who has completed her first year in the Air Force,” Maria said. “We are grateful to have accomplished all these things, and look forward to our futures.”
“While I take part in commencement, I will be thinking of our extended family in Mexico,”
Daniela said. “It is a big deal to us, and to them that we are graduating, and that
we now have a chance to make a real difference in society, by what we are able to
do as professionals.”
PHOTO CAPTION: Daniela Hernandez-Perez (left) and her mother, Maria Macias (right) have graduated from Ferris State University after completing their Bachelor of Science degrees in Criminal Justice. They were students in the Ferris Statewide program based in the University Center of Lansing Community College.