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Supporting Student Achievement

Supporting Student Achievement

Raul Villar first considered the University of San Diego his dream school while he was a first-year high school student in Kerman, Calif., a rural Central Valley farming town.

"My sister went to a college fair and I looked at the brochures she collected. When I saw the University of San Diego and I found out it was a Roman Catholic institution, that got my attention," Villar said. "I knew I wanted to go to a Catholic environment where I could discuss my beliefs and share my faith with others. Besides, it was in San Diego and you can't go wrong with that!"

Ready to Make, Be the Change

Attending college in sun-kissed and beach accessible San Diego and being awed by USD's 16th century Spanish Renaissance-inspired architecture, appeals to many. A Catholic-based liberal arts education develops the whole person, offers academic excellence, compassionate service opportunities and creates ethical leaders and globally minded citizens. Small class size and meaningful faculty relationships ensure a highly impactful learning environment. Designation as one of only 33 Ashoka U Changemaker campuses worldwide inspires students to innovatively create change.

"What made my decision to come to USD was the Changemaker mentality," Villar said. "During my last two years in high school, I wanted to make a change in my community. I saw a lot of injustice, inequality and tension. I told myself I wanted to be part of a community where I'm able to learn from individuals who want to make change, those who have that passion and love, and pick their brains a little bit and incorporate it by utilizing all the tools and resources USD has for its Changemakers."

Supportive Resource

Villar's destination was set, but as a first generation college student from a low-income background, Villar still needed a foundation from which to launch. Enter Student Support Services (SSS) and its weeklong Summer Bridge program that, for 80 students, serves as a lead-in for USD’s Olé Weekend orientation.

"Our students are very attached to their families and this is the first time they've been away from them and living on their own," SSS Director Ryan Jumamil said. "The first night is usually when a lot of students cry and don't want to participate. But, by the end of the week, you'll see them with friends they've made here. These are friends they'll be with the rest of their time at USD."

Seeing students grow out of their comfort zone is important, he added, but the truest testament of a first generation student is that they don’t really leave family. SSS, which offers academic, social and skill-building services throughout the school year for more than 360 students, is “a family of value,” Jumamil said. The majority of USD’s SSS staff consists of Torero alumni who are former SSS and Summer Bridge participants.

“We understand what it's like to go through an experience,” Jumamil said. “Other units on campus do the same thing, but because we acknowledge and notice that their struggle is real and we've done it ourselves, students feel more comfortable coming to us.”

Villar, a sophomore, clearly remembers his Summer Bridge experience. "My parents dropped me off my first day and my mom cried first and that made me cry. I remember that feeling and that's what made it so real. I had finally accomplished my dream to be at this university."

He realized that his dream wasn't the end — it was a beginning. "I was the shy kid, I wouldn't talk to anybody. I was definitely going through an emotional transition. I was separated from my parents. I originally thought I'd be happy with my independence, but once it was given to me, it was, 'I want to take it back.'"

Summer Bridge

Summer Bridge, though, brought out Villar’s personality and confidence: "I introduced myself, 'Hi, I'm Raul from Fresno,' to see where that would go. After meeting everyone, I found I was the only one from Fresno. But because I'm someone who wants to meet everybody, by the end of the week everyone knew me. During Olé Weekend, SSS people would see me and say ‘Hello, Raul!" Everyone else I'd barely met, including my roommates, asked how people already knew me. I told them it was because of Summer Bridge."

"Everyone had different stories, their own background and all of us were comprehending and expressing our culture, our ideas, our dreams and talents,” he continued. “It made me feel really comfortable to establish my community within USD through SSS. We met professors, did workshops, learned about resources and had opportunities to explore San Diego. That week of transition prepared me for the university experience. I'm grateful because I see the impact it made on me. It's why I wanted to be a mentor for this year's Summer Bridge."

Growing Success

Villar continues to grow. He wants to major in political science. He’s mentoring six new SSS students. He’s active in University Ministry, United Front Multicultural Center and works for McNair Scholars. He's involved in Army ROTC. He even shared his personal story at a recent "My Story" Student Changemaker event. During the latter, Villar talked about growing up in a family that worked the agriculture fields, about Kerman, his faith and his determination to give back.

"My community didn't have a lot of resources that many other schools were privileged to have," he said. "Being at USD is a great honor because I get to represent my community. I'm very passionate about my community. It's something I hold dearly to my heart. I want to take everything I learn, everything I know and bring it back. Essentially, I want to go back to the valley and make it better."

— Ryan T. Blystone

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5998 Alcalá Park
San Diego, CA 92110

Phone: (619) 260-4724
Fax: (619) 260-4790
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