An Age of Empowerment: Dyla Hernandez

By Stacy Braukman | Photos by Allison Carter | Video by Adam Karcz July 31, 2019

This is the 11th installment of a yearlong series about women at Georgia Tech. See the full series.

Cuba native Diley Hernandez was in high school when she became fascinated by psychology and decided she wanted to pursue it as a field of study. Her father, who was a musician, and the rest of her family had not attended college and didn’t know how to help her get into the University of Havana. So, she remembers, “I had to figure that out myself.” And she did.

In 2003, before completing her degree, Hernandez and her husband left Cuba to pursue academic and economic opportunities in the U.S. They moved to New Mexico, and she graduated from New Mexico State University, followed by the University of Arizona for a master’s and Ph.D. in educational psychology.

She spent two years teaching in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University, and then it was on to Georgia Tech in 2011.

Today, Hernandez is a senior research scientist at the Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing (CEISMC), where she serves as the program director for GoSTEM, which aims to strengthen the pipeline of Latino students into postsecondary education. She is also the director for Culturally Authentic Practice to Advance Computational Thinking in Youth (CAPACiTY), an NSF grant-funded program to develop the new curriculum for the Introduction to Digital Technology course taught in Georgia high schools.

hernandez works with a student

Hernandez interacts with a participant in the Pursuing Urban Sustainability at Home program, a camp she helped facilitate in July.

“My work is a combination of research, curriculum development, and teacher professional development,” she explains. “I have the great luck to actually be able to implement programs and strategies to help students in K-12 deal with a lot of the social and psychological consequences of those factors that prevent them from pursuing careers in STEM.”

Hernandez talks about her work at Georgia Tech.

Hernandez says the work is most fulfilling “when we actually get to talk to the students who are in our programs, when we visit the schools and we see in action the work that we’ve been doing, or hear from the students about the impact of that work. You realize that what you’re doing matters to people, that it is actually making a difference in their lives, even if it is small.”

She describes one event that is especially important to her: the Annual Latino College and STEM Fair, which attracts between 500 and 1,000 Latino students and their families. Held at the Student Center, the event helps attendees envision a future at Georgia Tech — and feel like they belong.

“Sometimes, when they’re having conversations and they’re asking questions as part of this event, you really feel that the stories of other Latinos who are professionals, or STEM leaders, or faculty really resonate with the students,” says Hernandez. “And you can see on their faces, ‘That is possible for me,’ or ‘I could do this.’ It’s like a little light that turns on. You can see the magic of something wonderful happening. Just to be able to be part of that is very rewarding.”

dyla hernandez works with k12 students

Students in the Pursuing Urban Sustainability at Home camp participate in hands-on activities with Hernandez.

She sees a lot of potential at CEISMC and is committed to making an impact on the educational lives of Georgia’s students through innovative teaching methods, particularly in STEM fields. “It is an incredible opportunity to bring about real change, and to contribute to what is happening in terms of the educational pursuits of all students in Georgia.”

Throughout her career, and especially at CEISMC, Hernandez has been driven by curiosity, both as a researcher and as a student of culture. Asking questions about other people’s experiences is central to her professional life.

But the lines between professional and personal are, inevitably, blurry. She is deeply inspired by art and has devoted years to studying it and playing it. “Music was my family’s trade,” she explains. “Music has always been with me. It is everywhere. It informs, in powerful and small ways, practically everything I do.”

dyla hernandez at workshop

That includes being a singer-songwriter and member of the Decatur-based Porchlighters, a modern international folk band.

It also includes pedagogical approaches that incorporate music and connect young people to digital technology and computing in new ways. As part of her work in CAPACiTY, in one workshop with local high school teachers, Hernandez and her colleagues use tools that help them teach students about computational thinking in culturally authentic ways — tools like EarSketch, which helps the students learn coding by doing music mixing.

“I get a wonderful opportunity to have music and art as part of my work,” she says.

dyla hernandez

Diley (Dyla) Hernandez

Senior Research Scientist,

July 2019

What does being a woman at Georgia Tech mean to you?


To be a woman at Georgia Tech is a great honor. It’s a wonderful opportunity to be here and be part of this community. As a Latina woman, I also feel a great responsibility to tell my story about how I got here. When I look back to when I studied psychology in Cuba so long ago, I would never have imagined that I would end up having this job at Georgia Tech. But I know what that road is built upon, and I know that my wonderful family — who gave me so much support even though they didn’t know how to help me go to college — were there to provide me with any opportunities they thought would be helpful for me.

It also means being very stubborn, being very persistent, believing in yourself — getting over the obstacles that are put on your road and just keep on going. I know that a lot of people don’t think of themselves as being able to end up at a place like Georgia Tech, but I think it is important for them to understand that they can do it. If you have people who will support you, and you’re stubborn enough, and you believe in yourself and you work hard, there are many opportunities. You will find yourself in the most unlikely places. So I’m just happy to be here and able to do the work.”


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