UConn Neag School of Education alumna Fany DeJesús Hannon ’08 MA, who graduated from the Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA) program, first learned about the student affairs field as an undergraduate student. Originally from Honduras, Hannon earned her bachelor’s degree in Latin American studies with a minor in Brazilian studies from Smith College, where she also learned about student affairs from her mentors.
They and her husband encouraged her to pursue a master’s degree, but her husband specifically suggested UConn’s HESA program, as he was born in Connecticut. For the past ten years, she has served as director of UConn’s Puerto Rican/Latin American Cultural Center (PRLACC) and was recently appointed UConn’s interim dean of students.
From Honduras to Brooklyn to Miami
When Hannon arrived in Brooklyn, New York, at the age of 20, she says she couldn’t speak or write in English and barely understood it, but that didn’t hold her back.
“I’m a product of the idea that you can learn if you work hard enough,” Hannon says. “English was a second language for me.”
Hannon’s mother, father, and three sisters sacrificed a lot to move to the U.S., but it was the beginning of a new era for the DeJesús family. In order to move away from the economic and political situation in Honduras, they sold everything they had. The family arrived in Brooklyn in 1996 but then moved to Florida, where Hannon’s father found a much better job.
I’m a product of the idea that you can learn if you work hard enough.Fany DeJesús Hannon ’08 MA
Hannon started attending Miami Dade Community College, intending to study international relations and work one day at the United Nations. While in Miami, she served as a tutor in the English as a second language program, teaching Haitian and Cuban refugees. She also worked in various campus departments, including vocational studies and financial aid. When she completed her associate degree, she was hired part-time as an academic advisor for the new student center.
Those positions allowed her to work with students of all backgrounds, which she says was natural for her, since she’s a “people person who loves people.”
She wasn’t the only one in her family to pursue education: “My three sisters and I all graduated from college because that’s what my mom and dad wanted,” Hannon says. “So, our family sacrificed to get ahead in the U.S.”
This positive attitude and focus on education would serve her well in future positions working with students, and would lead her up north to Northampton, Massachusetts, to earn her bachelor’s degree.
Getting Ahead in Higher Education
Following the recommendations of her mentors at Smith College and her husband, Hannon applied and was admitted to the UConn HESA program and was selected for a graduate assistantship with PRLACC.
“One of the pieces that I loved about HESA was that it’s student-first but also practitioner-based,” she says. “HESA was bridging the gap between the faculty and the practitioners, and I was exposed to functional areas beyond student affairs.”
She learned how academic affairs works across UConn, took courses in assessment and research, and met her favorite professor, Sandy Bell.
“I loved Dr. Bell’s approach,” Hannon says. “I didn’t know anything about adult learning (Dr. Bell’s expertise), and I loved how she considered every single aspect of the classroom. She was so down-to-earth and helped me to think beyond what I was seeing. It was not only what we were learning in the classroom but also the experiences in our assistantships. What I learned in her class, I kept putting into practice. That knowledge stuck with me.”
A Place to Call Home
As a graduate assistant with PRLACC, Hannon supported the peer mentoring program for self-identified Latinx students and related projects, including meeting with different community members.
After completing her degree, Hannon worked for the UConn Foundation as the student and young alumni relations manager. She oversaw the connections between students and alumni, including the development of the “Students Today. Huskies Forever.” program with the Division of Student Affairs.
In 2012, Hannon was hired as the director of PRLACC, overseeing activities for undergraduate and graduate students from Puerto Rico, Peru, Columbia, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Ecuador, Brazil, Costa Rica, and Panama, among others who represent about 10% of UConn students.
During the past 10 years at PRLACC, Hannon says she has seen a lot of progress and has developed holistic programs focused on the University’s diverse Latinx community.
“The students needed a lot of care when I first started, and there were a lot of inconsistencies in the work we do in a cultural center,” she says.
Her goal has been to support the students academically and emotionally so they can proudly graduate from UConn and contribute to the workforce of the state and beyond.Michael Gilbert, UConn’s vice president for student affairs
Michael Gilbert, UConn’s vice president for student affairs, says the center has thrived under Hannon’s leadership, supporting self-identified Latinx/a/o students, staff, and faculty while also engaging community members at large in the state, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
“Her goal has been to support the students academically and emotionally so they can proudly graduate from UConn and contribute to the workforce of the state and beyond,” Gilbert said in the announcement about Hannon’s new role as UConn’s interim dean of students.
When thinking about her students, Hannon described them as her inspiration, energizing her to revamp programs such as peer mentoring. In the past, they had around 20 mentors and 20 mentees. Now they have more than 60 mentors and 105 mentees.
“It’s not just about the numbers, but the quality,” she says. “Something I love about the peer-mentoring program is seeing our mentors become mentors for three consecutive years. They want to come back and continue giving to our community.”
Hannon is proud of her work with Latinx students and loves working at PRLACC.
“I keep doing this work; it’s my calling,” she says. “It’s also a home away from home for the students and me. Everything we do is with love and dedication. The students are going to be loved and challenged and feel safe. If you feel safe, you’re going to be happy.”
Hannon is currently finishing up her doctorate in higher education administration at New England College and is researching the sense of belonging and support in peer mentoring programs for self-identified Latinx/a/o college students.
She recently reflected on what was next for her and her career and says she wants to continue working in higher education. In fact, her new role as interim dean of students will help take her to that next level.
“I love UConn, and I’m grateful I have a career in what I want to do next,” she says. “Over the past 10 years, so many great things have happened. I appreciate everything I have learned from the HESA program and its professors.”
To learn more about UConn’s Higher Education and Student Affairs program at the Neag School of Education, visit hesa.uconn.edu.