The child of Mexican immigrants, Yolanda Romero grew up in Lubbock, Texas, in the segregated South. As a child in the 1950s, she saw signs throughout the city that read, “No dogs and no Mexicans allowed.”
Romero’s parents stressed the importance of education, though they had little of their own. Romero was able to work her way through college, thanks in part to help from the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. She went on to become the first Mexican-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in history from a Texas institution (and the 13th in the United States).
For 24 years, as a teacher at North Lake College in Irving, Texas, Romero has spent her career, in her words, “trying to stay close to my roots and give back.” She has turned down teaching opportunities at four-year institutions to remain at North Lake, a community college with large populations of Hispanic, international and low-income students. She estimates that as an instructor and in her 18-year volunteer role as adviser to the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, she has helped 1,500 to 2,000 students receive scholarships to four-year colleges or associate degree programs.
Romero spends about 300 to 400 hours each year working with Phi Theta Kappa members, and since she took over as adviser, the North Lake chapter has become ranked in the top 20 by the international society, which has more than 2 million members at 1,250 institutions.
“It’s all about people,” Romero says of her career. “They’re our most important resource.”
When she learned that many North Lake students, after paying school expenses, were going hungry, Romero worked with volunteers to start a campus food bank and a community garden.
Over the years Romero has blended her commitment to community and love of history into a longstanding oral history project documenting Hispanic culture, and that of other international communities, in Irving and other parts of northern Texas. She has personally conducted close to 300 oral history interviews in the region around North Lake College. Romero has also taught her classroom students and Phi Theta Kappa members how to take oral histories and recruited many to assist her. Her students have now conducted more than 400.
“We need this resource,” says Romero. “We can’t afford to lose the history of these populations. Future scholars of urban studies in this area will want to use it, and we need to document it.”
For her rich variety of community and academic work, Romero was nominated in 2006 for the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame. For her student scholarship work, she was inducted in 2012 into the Hispanic Scholarship Alumni Hall of Fame under the category “inspirador” – the motivator.
“Teaching and Phi Theta Kappa have given me great opportunities, and I’ve never looked back,” Romero says. “I get up and love coming to work.”