By Grace Givan, Editor-in-Chief
A defining moment for Martha Villegas Miranda, a senior advisor at Brookhaven Community College in Dallas and a Prospect distinguished alumni, and her career was prompted by one question: “what’s next?” As a social worker, Villegas Miranda was conferencing with an older, undocumented mother with two children and her answer did not live up to Villegas Miranda’s perception of her potential.
Her goal was to get her associates degree and get a job, but Villegas Miranda saw resilience and leadership within this woman and encouraged her to apply for a scholarship that would allow her to complete a bachelor’s degree. She applied, and received a $29,000 scholarship.
“That to me, that has been the greatest moment in my career,” Villegas Miranda said. “The students that I’ve worked with have been brilliant: 4.0, hardworking. But just because they don’t have the immigration status to go to college doesn’t mean they can’t go.”
For moments like this, Villegas Miranda has dedicated her life to social work. She guides and pushes students in college to their full potential, something she has been doing since her time at Prospect 29 years ago. She started Prospect’s Latino Club during her senior year in 1993, which helped Latino students learn about the college application process and encourage them to go.
During her time at Prospect, being a first generation immigrant, Villegas Miranda did not know much about the college application process: her parents didn’t know what the FAFSA was, and she noticed that she wasn’t the only student struggling with this. According to Villegas Miranda, many other first generation students didn’t have family members go to college, so many were uninformed on how to approach the college process.
Due to this, she started Latino Club in order to raise awareness that college can still be an option for them. Through this club, members also learned about Latino culture and history, learned how to fill out the FAFSA and got the opportunity to take a college visit to Northern Illinois University.
“College visits are very important to high school students because … to be on a college campus can be very powerful,” Villegas Miranda said. “Just to see yourself and look around and say, ‘you know what, I think I can come here. I can see myself walking through those halls.’ But if you’ve never seen that, than it’s hard to imagine that you can be on a college campus. … All the people that went on the trip all went to college and graduated. … That was an important piece on their educational journey to go on a college visit if you’ve never had anyone in your family take you on a college visit.”
Due to taking on this leadership role, Former Guidance Counselor and volleyball coach Sandra Pifer said “it’s very hard to forget Martha.” Her work ethic empowered all students around her, not just in Latino Club.
“Martha was one of those kids that was a behind the scenes leader,” Pifer said. “On the volleyball court, she was always encouraging her teammates, always stepping up to make the big play, if she needed to. … Everybody liked her; she was very positive, very energetic and a motivator.”
These qualities made the creation of Latino Club possible, which ended up influencing the trajectory of the rest of her career.
“My whole experience [with Latino Club] has really paved the way for what I did with the rest of my life,” Villegas Miranda said. “I’ve spent the last 20 years working in higher education trying to help Latino families [and] Spanish-speaking families, but, in general, really anyone who is a first-time college student [in their family] and wants information on how to go to college.”
While getting her bachelor’s degree at Lewis University, she was the president of their Latino Club; at her graduate school, University of Wisconsin, she worked in the Chicano’s Studies department. She is now an advisor to Latino students and was voted Advisor of the Year at her previous job at Joliet Junior College.
“I’m extremely proud not only that Martha went on to college, but took that opportunity and really made something of herself,” Pifer said. “When you read her bio of all the wonderful things she has done in her career, it is just outstanding. It was easy, I think, at that time in history for minority students to just feel like they didn’t have a chance and back away from things. To Martha’s credit, she tackled it and still is — she’s still going strong and doing good things for lots of people. What a wonderful legacy she is leaving for her community as well as for her family.”
Being an advisor to college students, Villegas Miranda looks at the student as a whole when helping them decide their classes: some factors that she takes into account include food insecurity, having a job outside of school and scholarships that they need to attend schooll.
In some ways, she says she is “doing the same talk” that she was doing 25 years ago with Prospect’s Latino Club. She especially helps international students adjust and guide them to graduation, which she says is her favorite day of the year.
Besides graduation days, another highlight of her career has involved five students in particular that she has worked with. These five students received the Dream U.S. Scholarship, which provides students with over $100,000 for their bachelor’s degree. In her career, it is moments like these that she finds extremely rewarding.
“I really made it my life mission to really transform students in the whole going-to-college process because I really believe [in] empowering students in their educational journey,” Villegas Miranda said. “It doesn’t matter where you come from; I just want to be there to help you break down the steps and help you understand and take charge of your education.”
Biography of Martha Villegas Miranda here.
Martha Villegas Miranda’s Tips for College
Consider community college
Apply for FAFSA early
Negotiate with colleges in terms of aid if another school gives a better deal