Transforming Lives at BBCC-Being the first from your family to attend college

For Immediate Release
March 18, 2014
Contact: Doug Sly, 509.793.2003

Transforming Lives at BBCC—Being the first from your family to attend college

Tony Villafaña is the first person from his family to attend college, and he is dealing with the pressure.

Students like Tony are challenging the norms of tight-knit families that have no experience with the concept of education after high school.

It is common for first-generation college students—there are many at Big Bend Community College—to hear relatives say they “should get a job.”

Villafaña admits the pressures “can have a profound effect on anyone. But I am not going to let it stop me from reaching my full potential.”

The BBCC Board of Trustees was impressed and moved by stories of students like Villafaña when they read nominations for the Transforming Lives Award last fall. Trustees decided to support all 11 nominees and hosted them for a dinner and recognition attended by 90 people on March 6.

Villafaña’s parents and other family members attended the Transforming Lives ceremony. They heard from the highest officials of the college that Villafaña has great potential, and many people at the college are proud of his accomplishments. The family appreciated the message.

“When I was growing up in Royal City my parents faced unstable seasonal employment. They insisted I stay in school instead of dropping out to work and help alleviate financial pressures at home,” said Villafaña. “My parents sacrificed everything to put our family where we are today.”

Villafaña says he is now focused on being persistent, strong-minded, and motivated.

There were times he wanted to quit college, but people like math instructor Mariah Whitney and advisor Custodio Valencia made sure he stayed.

“I can go to Mariah for anything,” he said. “She pushes me to do my best but reminds me college will not be stress-free.”

He said Valencia gave him “the support and reassurance I needed to push forward.  Without his support, I would have been lost.”

Valencia is the Director of Student Support Services, a TRIO-SSS program that helps first-generation and low-income students navigate college. He’s a Royal High School graduate like Villafaña.

“Tony has been put through the tests and persevered,” said Valencia. “He is achieving his short-term goals, which will lead to reaching his long-term goals.”

Villafaña has been active at BBCC. He was inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa honors society and is a MEChA Club member.  He was a member of the Graduation Project that requires service learning, and he still volunteers at Samaritan Hospital. “Nothing satisfies me more than volunteering at the hospital because it helps others,” he said.

“Being involved in organizations helped me build friendships, learn about leadership, and gain confidence. I have been surrounded by great people who can relate to me and care about me,” he said.

Villafaña is close to becoming the first in his family to earn an associate’s degree. He will to transfer to Eastern Washington University to become a dental hygienist.

“I would like to set a good example for my younger sister,” he said. “If I take it step-by-step, I can reach this milestone.

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