Je’Niya Braziel’s first few months as a college freshman weren’t exactly smooth sailing. Regardless of a tough start, the senior interdisciplinary studies major has been riding waves of success since enrolling at the University of Houston-Downtown (UHD).
Originally a student at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), Braziel had trouble adjusting to a new school in a new city. She also was going through a major change in her personal life as she was pregnant during her first semester in college.
Braziel moved from San Antonio and returned to her adopted hometown of Houston. She didn’t let her pending motherhood interfere with her academic and professional goals. After learning about UHD from her best friend and classmate at Westside High School, she enrolled at UHD and has maintained a solid grade point average.
She admits that it’s a challenge balancing motherhood and school work, but there was never a doubt that she would complete her education.
One of her main cheerleaders and mentors was someone who knows the ins and outs of parenting—her own mother, Erica Washington.
“It was always important to my mother that I finish school,” Braziel said. “My mother finished high school early and gave birth to me immediately after graduating. She made many sacrifices to make sure I went to college.”
Braziel’s mother also inspired her to become a teacher.
“My mom works with pre-kindergarten students,” she said. “I became acquainted with her students and saw how much she loved working in education. I realized that I wanted to do that too.”
Braziel also credits UHD’s unique learning environment for her academic success. Faculty, particularly Urban Education professors Dr. Jaqueline Sack and Dr. Christal Burnett, gave creative learning opportunities to Braziel. Likewise, the flexibility of class schedules and diverse student body have been essential in facilitating her growth as a future educator.
“As a 22-year old mother with two kids, it’s nice to have a school like UHD that is tailored toward both traditional and non-traditional students,” she said. “I’m in classes with students like me. I feel very much at home here.”
Her experience at UHD might not have been possible without an internship she had in high school.
While interning for Genesys Works, a program coordinator suggested that she apply for a Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Scholarship. That coordinator even took the time to help her complete the application process. For Braziel, the rest is history.
“The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has helped me immensely,” she said. “I grew up in a low-income household. Both of my parents worked, and I had to raise my younger siblings. Having additional funds for my tuition allows me to focus and do well in school. This scholarship takes a lot of weight off my shoulders.”
At UHD, Braziel is active in a variety of organizations, including the Animal Rescue Club, Kappa Delta Chi Sorority, Urban Educators’ Literary Society, and Be a Teacher Club. Outside of UHD, Braziel volunteers with Houston Pets Alive and the Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council.
She’s no doubt a busy student and parent to 5-year old daughter Julia and 2-year old son Matthew. Through a strong family support system (including both her mother and boyfriend) and assistance from Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, she will graduate from UHD this year. After completing her bachelor’s degree, she hopes to apply her talents as an educator in a pre-kindergarten classroom. Ultimately, she plans to earn a master’s degree and become a principal.
“I’m confident that I will achieve these goals,” she said. “I have a wonderful, supportive family and at a great institution. I also am grateful to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo for helping on my academic and professional journeys.”
Braziel is a prime example of Gator Grit and reflect the UHD’s commitment to its transfer students. Through partnerships with community colleges, such as HCC and LSC, students have opportunities to seamlessly transition from associate’s programs into undergraduate majors at UHD. Those seeking to continue their studies at UHD benefit from resources and events, like Transfer Thursday, which offers admission counseling, information on scholarship opportunities, and advising.