By Brian Reinhart
North Lake Now Writer
Update: Dr. Yolanda Romero passed away on Aug. 3, 2016, after 26 years serving North Lake College students. We’re reposting this feature from 2015 in memory of her teaching and her generosity helping improve the lives of NLC students.
When Yolanda Romero first attended college as a young sociology student, she wanted “to save the world.” Her plan was to work in a community center in a minority community. However, early in her studies, an influential Mexican-American history instructor inspired her to change her major to history and her career goal to teaching. She went on to become the first Mexican-American woman to earn a doctorate in history in Texas.
Today she is a nationally recognized expert in the field of Mexican-American history, an author, a 25-year veteran history professor, and an advisor to North Lake’s student honor society, Phi Theta Kappa (PTK).
Under Dr. Romero’s guidance, North Lake’s PTK chapter has been named a global Top 25 Distinguished Chapter for twelve years in a row, and individual students have won international awards. Dr. Romero says that, in her years as advisor, the honor society has helped land scholarships for almost 2,000 students.
As impressive as that is, Dr. Romero always looks for new ways to help. When she heard about poor students going hungry, she helped found the NLC food bank and community garden. Sited atop the gymnasium, the garden produces tomatoes, herbs, squash, cantaloupe, and other seasonal fruits and vegetables, and Phi Theta Kappa students help maintain it.
Dr. Romero’s service has been celebrated over the years by many awards, including an honor from President George H.W. Bush’s Points of Light Foundation, and her induction into the Hispanic Scholarship Fund Alumni Hall of Fame. She is most proud of being selected as a national Voices Outstanding Teacher because she was nominated by a group of her own students.
Over the years, Dr. Romero has blended her love of teaching and her desire to give back. Serving as a positive role model for her students is a priority. “I am a minority, Mexican-American, first-generation college graduate. I think those of us who make it through the system owe it to ourselves, and our community, to go back and encourage young people to try and keep trying.”
For Dr. Romero, teaching is about encouraging students in continuing their education, despite the challenges. “I had my own barriers,” she says. “When students say they just can’t stay in school for whatever reason, I say, ‘Sit down and let me tell you my story.’ It feels good to have really made a difference. It’s worth it — the students are worth it.”