Connecting the Dots

Lucas Hernandez ’13 is helping solve his hometown’s toughest challenges by supercharging local know-how with the technological might of one of the world’s largest companies.

Photo by Scott Cook Photo by Scott Cook

Combating sea-level rise in the country’s second-most vulnerable city to coastal flooding. Building more equitable public transportation in the sixth-most densely populated city in the U.S. Miami is staring down some of the nation’s most daunting civic challenges, and it’s Lucas Hernandez ’13’s job to empower community leaders to find answers.

As Microsoft’s director of civic engagement in Miami, Hernandez is the techy connective tissue in the network of government and civic organizations crafting solutions to the city’s trickiest issues.

“We focus on the priority areas in our community, identify the people who are doing the best work to solve those challenges, and determine how to build up their capacity to leverage technology in advancing their solution-building,” says Hernandez of his work on the Microsoft Cities Team. “Microsoft is a big multinational company, but through people like me, we’re able to become hyperlocal in focus and help drive true impact in partnership with city government, nonprofits, universities, startups, you name it.”

On an average day, you’ll find Hernandez crisscrossing the city, harnessing the collective power of his community. One minute he’s on a conference call with the mayor’s chief of staff or the city’s chief technology officer. The next he’s helping lead workshops at one of Microsoft’s two retail stores in Miami-Dade county or showing local art teachers how to incorporate computer science into their curricula.

“I’m one person so I’m very busy,” says Hernandez, “but it’s a privilege to be in this position because my work is always driving toward community impact—whether that’s diversity in STEM, enhancing public education, or improving mobility in the city.”

On any given day, you can find Lucas Hernandez ’13 crisscrossing the city of Miami, harnessing the collective power of his community as Microsoft’s director of civic engagement. Photos by Scott Cook. On any given day, you can find Lucas Hernandez ’13 crisscrossing the city of Miami, harnessing the collective power of his community as Microsoft’s director of civic engagement. Photos by Scott Cook.

It’s a demanding role for which Hernandez is uniquely qualified. He was born in Miami, and even though he spent the bulk of his childhood in Texas and upstate New York, he’s always considered South Florida home. His parents, who met in Miami after emigrating from Cuba, returned to the city while Hernandez was attending Rollins.

“The framework for how I live my life is shaped by my family and their story,” says Hernandez. “Coming to a new country and working to build something, my parents placed a lot of value on the opportunities that coming to the U.S. provides. I’ve always had an empathetic view toward helping people gain access to opportunity.”

At Rollins, Hernandez gravitated to experiential learning opportunities that allowed him to engage community challenges head-on. He recognized the changemaking potential of public policy during environmental studies professor Barry Allen’s first-year field study in Costa Rica. He experienced the power and potential pitfalls of grassroots community development on a trip to Nepal with the Rollins student organization Making Lives Better. And he realized the importance of government while researching the development of Chile’s parent-leave policy during a semester abroad in Santiago.

Hernandez’s trajectory was shaped most by Rollins’ Immersion program, which allows students to engage the world’s most pressing issues through short-term journeys of education, reflection, and action. After participating in his initial Immersion experience during his first year, Hernandez knew he’d found his future.

“It really opened my eyes,” he says. “You were talking to people about the systemic challenges they face and how you as a citizen could apply your knowledge to achieve social change. It was a gateway experience to understanding and formalizing what I wanted to do.”

Hernandez threw himself headfirst into Immersion, becoming one of the program’s first student leaders during his second year. Over the next three years, he was instrumental in transforming Immersion into a student-led initiative and helping grow participation. By his senior year, Rollins was ranked No. 1 in the nation for the highest percentage of students who participate in alternative breaks.

Photo by Scott Cook Photo by Scott Cook

“That was the first meaningful leadership experience of my life and probably still the most important,” says Hernandez. “You were empowered to do something about things that you care about on a personal level, and you’re helping build systems that have a much bigger impact than you ever could by yourself.”

After graduation, the international relations major landed a competitive national fellowship in New York City government. He parlayed that experience into a series of roles at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, a Miami-based philanthropic organization dedicated to fostering informed and engaged communities. After a brief stint as director of civic and philanthropic impact at Democracy Works, he landed at Microsoft.

The passion Hernandez uncovered at Rollins has fueled every step of his journey, and he’s confident it will continue to shape his life and work long into the future.

“For me as a student, the most important thing was always learning something new and pushing beyond my comfort zone,” says Hernandez. “I want to continue that trend that I started at Rollins and always push to find new ways to have an even bigger, deeper impact.”

Photo by Scott Cook Photo by Scott Cook

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