Rachel Cranmer Is Keeping Her Eye on the Long Term
By Laura Wagner
‘We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up … discovering we have the strength to stare it down.’
— Eleanor Roosevelt
Children raised in chronically unstable homes have been shown to experience grim outcomes as a result—in cognitive skills, academic achievement, social/behavioral competence, even social mobility.
Then there are individuals who suffer through the instability but somehow manage to get stronger with every hurdle placed in their path. Rachel Cranmer is one of those.
Shuttled among family members from the age of three weeks, forced to change elementary schools a dozen times, and faced with threats to her health and well-being throughout her childhood and young adulthood, Cranmer overcame her hard start. Her superpowers? Determination, resilience, and plain old hard work.
As an infant and toddler, Cranmer lived with a variety of relatives until she was adopted by her maternal uncle and his wife when she was six. They divorced less than two years later, leaving Cranmer in the care of her negligent and abusive aunt.
Though Cranmer was diagnosed with scoliosis at 10, her aunt failed to get her medical help until she was 12. By that time, the curvature in her spine was so severe, she could barely walk upright. It took 12 hours of surgery and more than one titanium rod inserted along her spine to repair the damage. Her surgeons told her it would be three weeks before she could even attempt to walk—but they didn’t know Cranmer. “I was walking in two days,” she said. “I was determined to get out of that bed. The doctors said it was the worst case they’d ever seen, and the best recovery.”
That determination proved to be a critical tool for Cranmer in the next phase of her life.
Cranmer fled her aunt’s custody at a very young age to get married and start her own family. During the early years of her marriage, she had the opportunity to travel extensively through Mexico and even lived there for a while. “I’m not of Hispanic origin, and I’m not a native speaker, but I picked it up quick,” she said. “It came very easily to me.” Cranmer became so interested in the language and culture, she ultimately chose Spanish as her major at San Jacinto College.
Though she faced domestic violence in her marriage, Cranmer managed to complete her associate degree with a 4.0 GPA (tied for valedictorian)—all while caring for her five-month-old son and two other young children. But she knew she had to make a better life for herself and her kids. After graduating in 2012, Cranmer divorced her husband, and with no financial help from him, embarked on a long and difficult path to self-sufficiency.
“My professors at San Jac wanted me to go to UHD right after I graduated, but because of my divorce, I just couldn’t do it and take care of my kids and work,” she said. “I wanted to be supportive for my kids, to give them whatever they needed, whether it was helping them with their school projects or taking care of their health.” Cranmer dedicated all her hours to her children and to working multiple jobs—sometimes seven days a week for months at a time—before finally having the resources and time to return to her studies. (Photo, left to right: Cranmer with sons Ezekiel and Aaron)
Back to School
Cranmer had always hoped to earn her bachelor’s at UHD, and once enrolled, she found in the Spanish Department a supportive group of professors. “Everyone is fantastic,” she said. “I really appreciate Dr. Reynaldo Romero’s classes—he has a strict outline for success, which I appreciate.” She also enjoys Dr. Albert DeJesús’ teaching, noting, “Classes are always fun and interesting while teaching us a great deal about the language and culture.”
Because Cranmer works full-time, she can only attend classes part-time. “I take as many classes as I can each semester, plus in the summers and all the Mini-mesters.” She plans to graduate in December 2024 with her Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and minors in Criminal Justice and Spanish Translation. Even with her busy schedule, she makes time to serve as President of the Psi Chi Chapter of Sigma Delta Pi, the national Hispanic Honor Society.
Last summer, she managed to arrange her work and childcare so that she could participate in study abroad. “Dr. Raquel Chiquillo went with us to Oaxaca, Mexico. It was awesome! She’s a very caring and supportive teacher.” (Photo: the UHD Study Abroad group in Oaxaca, Mexico; Cranmer left; photo courtesy of UHD Study Abroad.)
Cranmer’s goal is to one day work for a government agency, where she feels she can have the most impact. “I’d like to translate and interpret for law enforcement and the government (FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency, Department of Homeland Security, or Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to make our communities safer. They need bilingual individuals to help on both sides—to understand what criminals are saying and to communicate with victims who don’t speak English,” she said. “Given my command of both languages, I feel like I could greatly help in the effort to protect our communities, get dangerous criminals off the street, and keep drugs out of our kids’ hands.”
She’s already begun to make a difference through her fall internship at an immigration law firm, which she landed with the help of Romero. “I work two days a week on top of my regular job, interpreting legal documents like birth certificates, letters to clients, conversations the attorneys have with clients—oral consultations,” she explained. She’s taking a class in legal Spanish this semester, which has proved useful for her internship. Her “street” Spanish is also helpful in translating for law enforcement. “The people I translate for who are in custody rarely speak an academic level of Spanish,” she said. As part of her professional development, she also earned a Spanish analytic linguist certificate. Meanwhile, she keeps her GPA at a tight 4.0.
When asked the secret to her success, she’s thoughtful. “My rough upbringing and marriage pushed me—really everything in my life has pushed me to work harder, because I really want a better life. I want to show my kids that it’s possible to overcome obstacles.” She paused, then added, “It was hard, raising them and working such long hours, but my kids say I’ve taught them to be strong and resilient and to work hard. That was my goal, to set that example.” Her 21-year-old daughter is currently working for the park service at the Grand Canyon, while her 19-year-old son is attending San Jacinto College and working part-time. Her youngest son is now 11. (Photo: Cranmer at right with son Aaron left and daughter Jasmine center)
As to life lessons she would share, Cranmer said, “Don’t give up. Anything’s possible if you just persevere and keep working hard.” She acknowledged that sacrifices have to be made in the short term, but encourages a long-term perspective. “The rewards will come,” she said. “Look at me—I’m getting close to 40, but I’m finally going to get to do good for the community while setting an example for my kids and other people who might be in a situation similar to mine. You have to just keep your eye on the long term.”
Photo credit (except where noted): Rachel Cranmer
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.