Trinity Graduate Sandra Villegas ’13 Shares Her Journey of Persistence, Triumph and Earning Her College Degree
Trinity alumna Sandra Villegas ’13, a College Success Foundation-DC Leadership 1000 Scholar, and another women’s college graduate, Achievers Scholar Anita Foster, a Spelman alumna, inspired hundreds of supporters of CSF-DC with their individual stories of persistence and triumph. They spoke at the annual D.C. Costco fundraising breakfast on October 3, 2013, that raised more than $650,000 for scholarships and support services for D.C. students. They shared the stage with keynote speaker Ken Chenault, CEO of American Express, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, CSF-DC board member Donald Graham, and Trinity President Patricia McGuire. Here is Sandra Villegas’ journey, in her own words.
“Trinity was the best choice I ever made.” Sandra Villegas ’13
Both Anita and I have been asked to share our stories – our journeys really – and the impact that being a College Success Foundation scholar has had in our lives… how we got to this stage this morning. Here is my story.
I was born and raised in Washington, D.C. but, my mother is from El Salvador. My mother migrated to the United States from El Salvador in 1989. My mom never went to school nor does she know how to read or write. She is a single mother of four children and I am the oldest. My mother is a janitor. She works 8 hours a day cleaning bathrooms and office buildings. Don’t let my mother’s struggle fool you. My mother always made time for us and she always wanted what was best for us. She always told me to strive for the best, because she knew that our futures would be bright. I used her triumph to push me even harder, since I knew that I had a chance to achieve success in life one day.
I am a Latina, and I am bilingual. I speak Spanish and English. I was raised in Mount Pleasant. As a Latina, standards were set very low for me. Many stereotypes were used against me such as getting married or starting a family early, not graduating from high school, and never going to college. However, I did not let that stop me.
I attended Bell Multicultural High School, now known as Columbia Heights Educational Campus. In school, we had Small Learning Communities, and I was in the Math, Science and Business cluster. I excelled in both math and science. There was something about problem solving, critical thinking and investigating that really caught my attention. I wanted to study so many things, some of which included: nursing, criminal justice and chemistry. In high school, I was really active with nonprofit organizations such as the Latin American Youth Center and Mary’s Center for Child and Maternal Care, Inc.
When the time came to apply for colleges, my DC-CAP (D.C. College Access Program) advisor, Gina Osorio, helped me apply to numerous colleges. I came across a university called Trinity Washington University. At first, I was skeptical about applying to this college since I felt a little uncomfortable about it being a women’s college. But I thought about how empowering it would be for women coming together for the same purposes of higher education, giving back to the community, and social justice. Trinity was the best choice I ever made. People always say that those four years in college are fundamental. You start to discover who you truly are by the people you meet, your interests, and passions.
In 2009, I was the first in my family to graduate from high school. No one else in my family had made it past a high school education. That year, I was also awarded the Leadership 1000 scholarship. Don Graham was my donor. Receiving the Leadership 1000 Scholarship was more than just receiving much needed financial support. In addition to the scholarship dollars, I also benefitted from student support and networking opportunities. Miss Angela Bugayong was my CSF-DC advisor while I was in college. Miss B frequently called and emailed me to check to see how I was doing, check on my grades, or offer her assistance and support. This support was invaluable for a first generation college student because although my mother was very supportive, she was not familiar with navigating college. Having someone to help guide me through the process made a world of difference in my transition into and through college. In addition, I was able to participate in a number of networking events. In particular, I attended annual gatherings to celebrate the Leadership 1000 students as well as attended the Deloitte Impact Day, a day of intensive professional development support provided by young professionals from Deloitte, Inc. The insights provided at the event were invaluable for my early career preparation.
I came to college wanting to major in chemistry, but I found a new passion. When I enrolled in my first “Intro to Sociology” course, I knew that I found my purpose in learning. Sociology “opened my eyes” and I felt that I had a better understanding of the world and people around me. So, I majored in sociology. With my background in nonprofit organizations, I knew that this is where I would interact with different kinds of people. I gained all sorts of experience during my four years at Trinity. On campus, I joined the Women’s Student Action Coalition (W.S.A.C) whose mission is to “empower women to eliminate sexism and all solid forms of inequality such as race/ethnicity, sexuality and class.” I also interned with The Family Place, a nonprofit organization working to “empower low-income families and to foster the optimal development of their young children and through educational and support services.”
I was a strong advocate for social justice. In the summer of 2012, I earned a prestigious community service award called the Cunneen Fellowship, where I was able to intern with Martha’s Table. I was able to volunteer 400 hours of my time (and summer) within a 10-week period. I worked in the food preparation department to advise new and returning volunteers. I developed and analyzed food surveys to improve the quality of the food we were serving. Overall, this community service project was able to teach me that we have a moral responsibility when it comes to serving our people and our community. It takes the works of many people from the community, such as the financial and food donors, those who prepare the food, and most importantly, the volunteers with the motivation to want to work. This allows us to realize that there are still good people in this world willing to want to help others. When a lot of people unite to serve those in need, more people get served every time. Hopefully, I can encourage others to serve those in their community.
Another opportunity to do community service came this past spring, this time in Selma, Alabama. Campus Ministry gave me the opportunity to go on a one-week community service trip during our spring break that would impact my life in so many ways. I did manual labor work – painting and restoring houses for people in need. I was able to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the same bridge that Dr. Martin Luther King walked over during the Civil Rights Movement. I was able to connect spiritually with my Trinity Sisters, and with God. I did not understand how grateful I was to have the support of others wanting to help those in need. It was an amazing experience!
Most recently, I finished an internship with the American Sociological Association as a Research Intern. I worked to organize demographic data used in a previous study called the “The Impact of Cross Race Mentoring for ‘Ideal’ and ‘Alternative’ Careers in Sociology.” I developed skills in SPSS and enhanced my knowledge of Microsoft Excel. I developed skills that would help me conduct research on my own or for another nonprofit organization. I was exposed to professional research sociologists.
What was my greatest accomplishment you may ask? My greatest accomplishment was receiving my bachelor’s degree and having my family witness this incredible moment in my life. I graduated from Trinity Washington University in May 2013 with a bachelor’s in sociology and a minor in fine arts and, thanks to generous scholarship support, I graduated without any educational debt. All of my hard work, time management and struggle were all worth it. There was no other greater feeling than having the degree in your hands, being able to say “I did it!”
Today, I am a graduate student pursuing my master’s in sociology at the Catholic University of America. I plan to continue doing research, focused on topics such as Hispanic trends and education. I continue to do community service in my free time. I am helping my little sister, who is a senior in high school, apply to colleges of her own. She will be the second high school graduate in our family and eventually the second to graduate from college. I want to inspire others to better themselves academically and to do what is right for society, by contributing their time. I felt that it has made me a better person, because I got to think about someone else rather than myself. I also want more students to finish high school and to attend college. There are many more opportunities for students, they just have to look hard and find it. As a first-generation American, a first-generation high school graduate and a first-generation college graduate, I can assure you that your investment in my education – and therefore my success – will not end with me. I will continue to be engaged in supporting college access, particularly to low-income and first-generation students, I will continue to be an engaged citizen in our nation’s capital, and like you, I hope one day – when I am employed full-time- to provide financial support to other young people, who, like myself, are able to change the path of their family and their community by demonstrating the importance of education in their lives. Thank you for your support and for allowing me to be the first – but not the last – member of my family to pursue a college education.
Thank you very much.