First-generation graduate has more goals

Hesbeyda Villafana

Before she left her home in Sunnyside, Washington, to attend the University of Washington Bothell, Hesbeyda Villafana remembers writing down everything she hoped to accomplish: research, volunteering, studying abroad and being involved in the Latinx community to name a few.

A little more than four years later, she proudly says she did it all. Villafana graduated in March 2020 with a degree in American & Ethnic Studies from the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences and a degree in Educational Studies from the School of Educational Studies.

Next, she’s aiming for a graduate degree that would further prepare her for a career where she could pursue equity and social justice in education back home in the Yakima Valley of eastern Washington.

“I hope to work with marginalized communities, underserved youth and low-income communities to enhance educational opportunities,” she said.

Achieving goals

Villafana was recognized this last academic year as one of the Husky 100, students honored from across all three UW campuses for making the most of their UW education. Villafana accomplished what she set out to achieve.

She conducted research with Associate Professor Janelle Silva on social issues affecting Latinas in high school. Villafana reflected on her own experience and how a culturally responsive curriculum can help students academically.

She made a study abroad trip to Rome in spring 2019 — the first time she traveled abroad.

Villafana was active in the Latinx Student Union, serving the last year as president and the previous year as secretary.

Part of her experience was working as an assistant in the Disability Resources for Students office, fostering a sense of community for students who have disabilities.

Through community-based education courses, she volunteered at schools in nearby Kenmore, serving as a mentor for young students who speak Spanish as she does or who speak different languages and needed help reading and writing English.

In turn, UW Bothell Assistant Professor Yolanda Padilla, and Gonzalo Guzman, now an instructor at the UW campus in Seattle, mentored Villafana and were influential in focusing her on ethnic studies and education.

Transformative experience

Ultimately, Villafana hopes to improve the quality of public education in the Yakima Valley, the rich agricultural area where about half the population is Latinx. She would like schools to be more responsive to the students’ cultural background and to engage their families.

“A lot of students are first-generation, just learning to navigate the educational system,” she said. “An important component in student success is having their families involved and aware of education and how to navigate the system.”

Coming from an immigrant background, Villafana said she was motivated to earn a college degree. She was also inspired by being from a single-parent family with a mother who hoped she would pursue higher education. “I also did it for her.”

Her family is one reason Villafana also said she plans to take part in an in-person Commencement ceremony after the coronavirus pandemic is under control.

“Especially as a first-generation student, being able to see my family at the ceremony was something I looked forward to,” she said. “I actually did accomplish all that I initially wanted to do. I feel proud of myself and the person I’ve become.”

Each year, the University of Washington selects 100 students who are making the most of their Husky experience. Thirteen UW Bothell students were recognized as part of the Husky 100 Class of 2020. What’s special about a Husky 100 recipient? They dare to do. They use what they learn inside and outside the classroom to grow personally and to create change in their communities.

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