Dr. Keivan Stassun, a professor of Astronomy at Vanderbilt University in Nashville Tennessee, has developed a program in conjunction with Fisk University to increase the number of black and Latino PhD’s in the U.S. Dr. Stassun talked to NBC Latino about how his mother’s influence encouraged him to pursue the American dream and help others achieve it as well:

Dr. Keivan Stassun, a Mexican-American professor of astronomy at Vanderbilt University, used his background and understanding of the Latino experience in the U.S. to create the Vanderbilt-Fisk Bridge Program, an initiative which has helped 51 minority students work toward their PhDs since 2004. He recalls how his mother, who grew up in a small village in southern Mexico, immigrated to the country at the age of 19 and informed his outlook on life.

“My mother gained her citizenship when I was a little boy – it was the proudest day of her life,” Dr. Stassun says. “She raised me to believe there is something special about being an American. She imbued in me very strongly the idea of the American dream, that it was my responsibility to aim for it, to achieve it and to help others achieve it.”

Dr. Stassun eventually gained his PhD and realized that Hispanics and African Americans could use help in working towards doctoral degrees.

Read the full story on NBC Latino.