Javier Cervantes is reaping the payoff after taking a gamble with his future.
“I always wanted to be a nurse and help people at their lowest times, when they are in the hospital,” he said. “I noticed while in nursing school, there were patients who had multiple issues that could have been prevented with lifestyle changes.
“I did some research and saw statistics. I was shocked by how social determinants affect the quality of life of a person. People don’t talk about that enough. So, I risked it all, dropped out of nursing school and changed my major because I wanted to become an educator.”
Cervantes graduated from the online Bachelor of Science in Public Health program at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) with a 4.0 GPA in May 2021.
He has already landed a middle school math teaching position at Pearland Independent School District, in the Houston area, for the upcoming school year.
“The job gets me into the classroom with a bachelor’s degree,” he said. “After that, I want to go into health education and policy.”
Before enrolling at UTA, Cervantes worked as an advocator for Avid, a college readiness program that teaches high school students to succeed in college and life.
“I had some eye-opening conversations with two students who lost their dads to a heart attack and diabetes,” he said. “They were high school freshmen at the time. The quality of life of their parents took them early.
“That got me into creating this atmosphere for young people and teaching them the social, clinical and educational skills to go into the real world and be successful.”
North to Texas
Cervantes was born in Guanajuato, Mexico. He moved to Houston with his family when he was 10 years old and had to acclimate to a new world.
“I went through the whole experience of learning English, which gave me the foundation to become a teacher,” he said. “Another reason I chose teaching is, a lot of kids already have something against them when they get to this country.
“I had a bad experience with a teacher when I first moved here. I want to make sure every kid who goes through my class can break that barrier of racism because I was able to do so.”
After Cervantes became the first person in his immediate family to earn a high school diploma, he graduated with an associate degree in natural science from Houston Community College in 2019.
“I found UTA’s online public health program, which gave me more flexibility than other local schools,” he said. “The first two courses I took were pre-COVID-19, which allowed me to get more work experience for what I will be doing.
“I also got more clinical hours for teaching, which allowed me to get my education along with the experience I need for the field I am going into. It set me up for success and put me ahead of the competition.”
Cervantes enjoyed each of the courses in the online B.S. in Public Health curriculum. Two that stood out were HEED 3305: Women’s Health Issues and KINE 3350: Urbanization and Vulnerable Populations. Through KINE 4355: Communication for Health Professionals, he gained “the right skills to get into a job interview and nail it.”
“Those skills are not talked about enough — writing a resume, building a cover letter, doing an interview,” Cervantes said.
The path to graduation from the online B.S. in Public Health program for Cervantes had some bumps in the road.
“The first week of the break back in March, I got kidney stones, a urinary tract infection and a viral infection,” he said. “I was very sick for almost three months. I can only imagine what it would have been like if I had in-person classes — I probably wouldn’t have been able to graduate.
“It was very painful. I emailed my professor, Dr. Brandie Green, to let her know. She worked with me through the whole process. I almost didn’t go to graduation. Even today, I am not 100% well.”‘
But, Cervantes, 24, stayed the course in the program and made the trip to Arlington to walk the graduation stage.
“It was a good experience,” he said. “I was in a little bit of pain, but I was there. I’ll never forget my college graduation.
“My family was excited and supportive. My mom really helped me out when it came to getting my degree.”
Cervantes knows that the bachelor’s degree helped him land a job and start to work toward his goal of becoming a health educator.
“When you graduate from college, there is a barrier of experience you have to overcome,” he said. “It’s hard to do with just a bachelor’s degree.
“I knew people would want lots of experience. It almost sets up new graduates for failure. It was very cool that didn’t happen to me because I got my degree online. It lined me up for a job.”
Especially after dealing with medical issues, pacing was an important key to success in the online B.S. in Public Health program for Cervantes.
“Don’t take three classes at a time,” he said. “I did it for a whole semester and worked three part-time jobs. That stress might have given me kidney stones.
“Also, make sure to go into the program with an open mind. It will challenge a lot of the things you think. Make sure to be an advocate for yourself.”
Learn more about UTA’s online B.S. in Public Health program.