Alexandria Flores Is Making Her Mark
By Laura Wagner
‘Just make a mark and see where it takes you’ — The Dot
When Social Work major Alexandria Flores was 10 years old, she packed a small suitcase, climbed into a car with her mother and brother, and headed to Houston to live with her aunt. She left California, her father, and her older brother in the rearview mirror. It was a tough time. “I knew then I would have to start thinking like an adult,” she said.
The transition to Houston proved difficult. She struggled in the overcrowded classrooms, battling a reading disorder and a speech impediment. “My mom was working, working, working all the time to try and afford an apartment for us. But I couldn’t do my schoolwork alone. I wasn’t able to process the material when I read it myself, so my mom would come home after a 10-hour day and read my schoolbooks aloud to me.”
Her mother also asked her questions about the content to help her synthesize what she heard. “That taught me not just to memorize the material but to understand it,” Flores said. “Because of her, I figured out in college how to study in a way that made sense for me.”
That kind of initiative would prove to be the hallmark of Flores’ educational journey.
Finding Her Place in Higher Education
“My parents were immigrants from Chile and Mexico, and they constantly emphasized the need to go to college,” Flores recalled. But her struggles in school had left her with grades that made her feel unready for the full university experience after high school. “I knew I was I smart, but I couldn’t move at the same pace as my peers,” she said. “So I decided to go to Lone Star College.”
She enrolled with a major in Business Administration and found the pace was just right. Deciding to dedicate that period of her life to getting her education, she committed to daily tutoring sessions, successfully earning a spot on the dean’s list every semester. She got a job on campus and joined student organizations. “I really had to step up my game,” she said. “I had to go way outside of my comfort zone and learn how to do public speaking and how to interact with the college president and other dignitaries. That was a new experience!”
Flores participated in multiple volunteering events, earning an international service award in the process, but it was in supporting community outreach that she found her true calling. “Through Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society events, I realized I wanted to be a community organizer, to set up events for first-generation students like me and immigrants in their communities. I explored how I could do that as a career, and that led me to take a couple of Social Work classes at Lone Star,” she said. “I fell in love with it.”
Choosing the Right University Home
When it came time to complete her four-year degree, Flores acknowledged a debt of gratitude to an advisor at UHD Northwest (UHDN). UHDN’s campus is “down the hall” from Lone Star, so Flores stopped by after class one day. The UHDNW advisor looked at her wish list and budget restrictions and told her they would find a way for her to go to UHD.
“I wasn’t even a student at UHD, and that advisor called the financial aid department, explained my situation, and asked them what they could do for me,” she marveled. “That he would go to such lengths for me made me know right then: I had to go to UHD.” And she has flourished here. Graduating in December, Flores has a 4.0 and is on the Dean’s List—again. She’s a member of multiple student organizations, including several honor societies, and is deep into volunteering.
Flores firmly believes public service students should begin their service from day one of their college career. “Our goal after graduation is to go out and serve the community. But how can you serve a community if you don’t understand it?” She was struck by this realization after attending a meeting at Advocacy Day in Austin, where laws and policies that affected her community were being discussed. “I could see the politicians didn’t know anything about us,” she said. “I want to advocate, to bring light to issues that are prevalent in Houston communities, so they get the support they actually need.”
Making a Difference
Flores has already made a significant impact on the community through her volunteer efforts with UHD’s Commerce Connects, Habitat for Humanity, Unbound Now Houston, and the American Heart Association, among other groups. She has a special affinity for K-12 students, given her own history. “You’re in this system, and you have so little control, especially kids of color and children of immigrants,” she said. “I really want to improve their experience.”
She’s making an impact in that arena with the help of a community grant from UHD’s Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning (CCESL). She used the grant to partner with Empower Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit that works with ALICE households, on a project called “Empower Through Literacy.” (ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, and refers to households that earn above the Federal Poverty Level, but not enough to afford all basic needs.) “The project provides supplies and resources to Empower CDC’s out-of-school tutoring program, which includes K-7th graders,” Flores explained.
With the CCESL grant funding, she provided backpacks filled with school supplies, activities, and books for the students at a Nov. 8 event with their families. The goal was to celebrate the improvements the students have seen as a result of sticking with the tutoring program. “I encouraged UHD volunteers to come, specifically minorities who are first generation, to help the kids see what they can aspire to even though their parents didn’t go to college,” Flores said. (Photo: Flores and her mother)
To make the largest impact after graduation, Flores plans to pursue a dual master’s degree in Public Policy and Social Work and eventually get involved in government affairs. “I’m a big-picture person,” she said. “I like going out and talking to people about issues at the macro level.” She credits the UHD Social Work program with fueling her natural inclination for service. “The faculty do an amazing job of taking students into local communities and explaining what the issues are in that specific community,” she said. “They even suggest ways to solve the issues, but they always tell us, ‘You have to do it. It’s up to you.’ I find that very inspiring.”
As for life lessons she would share, Flores doesn’t hesitate: “Take every opportunity that comes your way. I saw my mom do that, and I do it, too.” She hesitated a moment, then added, “And believe that you have the power to make change. There’s a book called The Dot I used to read to the kids when I worked at a preschool. It’s about taking a small idea and doing all kinds of things with it. That’s what I want to tell people: You can take one idea—even just a small one—and you can do amazing things.”
Photo credit: Alexandria Flores
Illustration: Peter H. Reynolds, author, The Dot. Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.
The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.
U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.