Meet Rommel Aguilar Cardenas: Looking Back; Going Forward

October 15, 2021

Imagine being five years old and watching your mother leave. She hugs you tight and whispers that she is doing this for you. She is going to ensure you have a better life.


Rommel Aguilar Cardenas was born in a very remote, very poor town in southern Honduras. Like many Latinx people in the United States, Rommel grew up separated from his parents. His mother became a single mom in her early 20s and had to leave home to make a living to support him and his two brothers. She left her three beloved boys in the care of her parents.

“I am forever indebted to my grandparents for making sure I understood and embraced my roots,” he said. “My grandmother often reminded us, “El que no sabe de donde viene, no sabe donde va,”—“Those who don’t know where they came from will never know where they are going.” I remember those words, and I am proud of my heritage, my journey and, most importantly, my family and upbringing.

“Growing up, I always understood the sacrifices my family had made in the hopes of a better future. A future where pursuing a college education was always the dream.”

Rommel lived with his grandparents in Honduras until he was almost 16, when he reunited with his mom in the United States after 11 years apart.

“At a very early age, my grandparents instilled in us the value of education. Even though neither of them knew how to read or write, they always put education at the forefront of our upbringing.”

“When I emigrated to the United States and started my studies in America, I faced many challenges and barriers that truly opened my eyes to the hard reality perpetuating in our communities to this day; communities that are disadvantaged and continue to be oppressed, underserved and overlooked. Especially as it relates to providing educational and advancement opportunities.”

It wasn’t an easy road. As a student at NOVA, he had to overcome many barriers that most of his peers did not. But he pushed himself. He graduated with an associate of science in business administration from NOVA; a bachelor’s in international business from James Madison University and a master’s in higher education with a concentration in leadership for student success from Walden University—making him the first in his family to hold a graduate degree.

Following undergrad, he worked in e-commerce and banking. But his extracurricular and leadership engagement activities focused on promoting access to higher education so underserved communities could prosper. He always kept in mind the underrepresentation and mistreatment of Latinx people, especially immigrants, in the United States and looked for ways to help.

“The plight that immigrants face as they seek to better themselves while leaving everything behind is an issue that hits home for me. I attempt to educate and advocate to provide inclusive and equitable opportunities in higher education and other fields to better serve historically under-represented communities that are often left behind.”

Because he remembers his roots, he chose to return to NOVA to plant his career here.

“I took a leap of faith to follow a career that I found fascinating, rewarding and in dire need of people that looked like me. Through every interaction, I try to remind myself to be the person that I wish I could have encountered as I struggled to find a place in the college communities that I was a part of.”

He began work at NOVA's Woodbridge Campus in 2014, going from admissions and enrollment to student life and now, he is a retention advisor.

“I cannot help but to see myself in the eyes of the many Latinx students that are still struggling to find themselves and struggling with identity, insecurities and self-doubt as they manage to overcome barriers in pursuit of their American dream, a college education.”

“I appreciate my humble roots. When I visit my hometown, I reflect on the simplest, most basic, most important things in life — to help one another, to be kind and to care about others as we navigate through life. Though my childhood was not the easiest, I am grateful for every single experience as it has ignited a passion to promote advancement and equitable opportunities for marginalized and minoritized communities.”

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