Commencement: A Family Affair

by | May 17, 2024 | Awards and Achievements, Featured

Fernanda Renteria-Gonzalez and David Salinas graduate with master’s degrees in counselor education only ten weeks after having their first child, Violeta. Photo by Monique Marquez Photography.

When Fernanda Renteria-Gonzalez and David Salinas accept their diplomas as graduates of the Connie L. Lurie College of Education’s master’s in counselor education program this month, they’ll be crossing the threshold with a new family member in tow: their ten-week-old daughter Violeta, born halfway through their final semester. 

“We were worried what our professors might say, or if there would be doubts as to whether we could finish our theses or complete the semester,” says Salinas, ’19 Sociology, ’24 MA Counselor Education, who has juggled work as a group supervisor for Santa Cruz County Probation Department Juvenile Hall with an internship as a counseling intern at Shoreline Middle School in Santa Cruz while completing his degree and welcoming their first child. “Thinking about all that Fernanda has gone through, as a mom and a partner — she’s overcome so much, it’s powerful. We could have easily called it quits, but we agreed that we’re finishing out strong, together.”

Renteria-Gonzalez, ’24 MA Counselor Education, agrees, adding that by harnessing the support of both their families, as well as their community, they have crossed the proverbial finish line as educators, students and new parents. Throughout their tenure in the graduate program, the couple took many of the same classes together, which allowed them to plan ahead when their baby was born this spring. Not only did they complete their theses — Renteria-Gonzalez’ studies low-income, college-bound students, while Salinas’ examines the relationships between law enforcement and juvenile hall education systems on youths — but between the two of them, they only missed one class following the birth of their daughter.

“Fernanda and David exemplify the perseverance, commitment, and compassion of EdCo students and graduates,” says Jason Laker, chair of the Counselor Education Department. “They are graduating together as a dual-master’s couple, both of whom additionally earned a credential to serve as K-12 school counselors and share a commitment to supporting the next generation of school and college students — so much so that they are also graduating with an ‘EdCo’ baby!”

Both Renteria-Gonzalez and Salinas say that welcoming their daughter mid-semester as well as  learning to adjust to new schedules and balancing internship hours and work has given them new insight into their careers as educators and counselors. Salinas adds that faculty members like Laker have been a huge source of support, checking in on them throughout the pregnancy, delivery and postpartum journey.

“Some people don’t know what it feels like to be in our position,” Salinas says. “Now that I’m stepping into this counseling world where we sometimes encounter high schoolers who have kids at a younger age, we have a new perspective.”

Next steps

Fernanda Renteria-Gonzalez and David Salinas graduate with master's degrees in counselor education only ten weeks after having their first child, Violeta. Photo by Monique Marquez Photography.

Violeta will be accompanying her parents to commencement next week. Photo by Monique Marquez Photography.

What’s next for the young family? Renteria-Gonzalez, who works as a wellness counselor for an elementary school in San José, hopes to apply her research to assist students who want to pursue higher education.

“I’ve always had a passion for working with low-income students who want to go to college, because that’s what I was growing up,” she says. “I want to work with low-income high school students trying to chase their post-secondary education dreams, whether that be training programs or community college or a four-year degree, and helping them make sure they have the tools and support to get there.”

Salinas hopes to establish or contribute to an organization that creates healthy, sustainable mentorships between at-risk youth and law enforcement. 

“I’ve always had a passion for working with youths who have been counted out, or perceived as ‘bad,’ when in reality they’re not,” he says. “I would love to work on a team where we can collaborate with youths and law enforcement to help youths feel like they are part of a community.”

But before they accomplish these goals, they have one more important item to check off their list: donning their caps and gowns and crossing the stage as a family.

Get information about spring 2024 commencement ceremonies.