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Mayra Hernandez Sanchez: Dietetics and DACA

From a young age, Mayra Hernandez Sanchez (NDFS ‘23) knew she wanted to work in healthcare. She had a plan: get married by age 22, have kids by age 25, and become a nurse. BYU was not a part of that plan. But she has come to realize that when God is in charge, it is best to go along for the ride.

A woman in a pink shirt sits at a metal table in a kitchen and smiles. Metal pots and spoons hang over her head.
Photo by Nicholas Rex

When Hernandez Sanchez got to BYU, the pre-nursing major didn’t work out, so she decided to switch to nutrition, dietetics, and food science (NDFS). As for marriage and kids: “I’m 26, and I’m still single as a Pringle,” she says.

Though her plans didn’t take her where she thought, she is still pleased with the outcome. “I’m happy where I am and very at peace with my life,” she says.

Hernandez Sanchez came to the US at the age of three when her family migrated from Mexico to Tennessee. The move left her undocumented, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t access the education she sought.

“Yeah, I’m a DACA student,” Hernandez Sanchez says. “I feel like a lot of people don’t realize that we have undocumented students here at the school.” She acknowledges that people often shy away from talking about DACA students out of fear that it will get politicized. “I'm not saying people need to agree with it or disagree with it,” she says. “It just is.”

DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It is a policy for children who either came undocumented into the US at a young age, or became undocumented by overstaying a visa. DACA essentially provides temporary protection from deportation and allows the individual to attend school.

Hernandez Sanchez has not let the challenges of being a DACA student hinder her. She is grateful for her education and how it allows her to do good.

She is now ready to graduate with a Master’s of Nutritional Science with an emphasis in dietetics. As part of her research, she led a team in a study on how to get elementary-aged kids to eat their vegetables. Schools provide nutritious lunch options, but most kids aren’t eating them. The solution? Hernadez Sanchez found that mixing veggies with potatoes shaped like smiles did the trick. With the added potatoes, kids ate more of their vegetables and created less food waste. She won first place after presenting her research at the university Three Minute Thesis Competition.

A woman in a pink shirt stands at a table in a metal kitchen. She looks down at a scale and measures a portion of spices.
Hernandez Sanchez measures spices on a scale in the kitchen of the Pendulum Court Cafe. Her research found that adding potatoes to school lunches causes kids to eat more of their vegetables.
Photo by Nicholas Rex

Hernandez Sanchez is especially excited to walk in this year’s graduation since her bachelor’s degree ceremonies were cancelled in 2020. This was heartbreaking: “I was so sad, because I felt like [walking] was a pinnacle of a lot of dreams, a lot of sacrifices, and a lot of effort.”

All those dreams and sacrifices will be recognized this year as Hernandez Sanchez crosses the stage in the Marriott Center. Although her journey may not look as she first envisioned, she has climbed even greater peaks and is the first in her family to go to college, graduate with a bachelor’s degree, and now graduate as a master’s student.