A journey from Texas’ migrant labor camps to become an educational leader

For Frank Dávila—who was born in Marlin, Texas and grew up as a migrant worker—being a kid meant never staying in one place for very long. “My dad worked for the railroad,” Frank said. “Every year, his job took us back and forth between our home and a migrant camp 300 miles away.” The family would travel in a two-and-a-half-ton truck as part of a caravan that moved from location to location. When he was 10, his mother passed away, which put an incredible strain on Frank, his dad, and his six siblings.

Despite having a fractured education experience—he had just two complete years of school: first grade and 12th grade—Frank graduated from high school and college to become a classroom teacher. But then, a year later, as the U.S. escalated its efforts in the Vietnam War, he got his draft notice. “There were six Latino students in my high school graduating class, and all six of us were drafted into the military,” Frank said. “That gives you a picture of how minority populations were first to go to the front lines.”

After a three-year stint in the military, Frank went back to school to earn a master’s degree in secondary education and Spanish, with a minor in linguistics, to shift from being a classroom teacher to a school principal. Then, he enrolled in CU Denver’s School of Education & Human Development, where he earned his PhD. As a first-generation Latino student, Frank at first felt that he didn’t quite fit in. But soon, he began to appreciate what made him stand out. “I was neither here nor there,” Frank said. “I was in between. Those of us who speak Spanish or another language, who are bilingual, bicultural, we always have our foot and our thoughts in both places, and so we’re able to move back and forth. That’s beautiful to me.”

To him, CU Denver is an institution that values both cultural heritage and social mobility—and he’s committed to doing his part: He worked with the university to launch the Doctor of Education in Leadership for Educational Equity, Latin@ Learners and Communities program. Frank, who in addition to his professional achievements is a two-time cancer survivor, wants to inspire future students.

He also wants to challenge them to ask questions and reach out to other students to foster a greater sense of belonging. In his hopes for CU Denver’s future graduates, Frank sees shades of his father, who sacrificed so much so that Frank could receive an education. “I carry him and his dreams through me. I want to carry them on to create a multi-generational growth process. It’s still unfolding, and I hope it will be for years to come.”