“I truly believe it takes a village to educate one person – but educating one person can create generational change for years to come.”Melissa, WWIN Star Scholar
Melissa knew from an early age that a college education was her goal. As a high school student, she set her sights on becoming a Spanish teacher – a dream job that would combine her passion for teaching with her connection to her Mexican culture and heritage.
As the eldest of three siblings and a role model to her younger cousins, Melissa felt a sense of responsibility to show her family what was possible. “There’s a reason my family calls me ‘the glue,’” she says. “I wanted them to know any of us could succeed if we put in our best efforts.”
Melissa’s mother, Celia, was always by her side, encouraging her to pursue her dream. Despite working long hours, Celia would stay up late with her daughter to support her as she studied. “My mother missed out on a lot of opportunities as a young woman due to family responsibilities,” says Melissa. “When she came to the United States, she was determined that her kids would have an education and a better future.”
Melissa was delighted to be accepted to Pacific Lutheran University, but when rising tuition costs stretched the family’s limited resources, WWIN was a lifeline. “The Star Scholarship came at the perfect time, and it was so different from other scholarships I’d received,” explains Melissa. “WWIN wanted to meet me and my family in person. They did monthly check-ins to see how I was doing, and they wanted to hear updates on my life. This personal relationship meant a lot to me.”
The Star Scholarship also helped open doors to opportunities Melissa had never imagined, such as studying abroad in Oaxaca, Mexico and experiencing the region’s indigenous culture and history firsthand. She began to envision bringing her new, global perspective to her future students as a Spanish teacher.
While she was thrilled to be taking steps toward her dream, Melissa’s journey was also marked by significant hardship. In the span of only a year, she lost two uncles and her grandfather. As she continued to work and study through her grief and coped with the stress of rising tuition, she began to experience headaches. In her final year of study, she was diagnosed with two aneurysms in her brain – one of which required immediate surgery. She remembers asking herself, “What else, world?”
Melissa persevered in her education with support from her mother, family and friends, professors and mentors, and WWIN. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help of my community. I truly believe that WWIN saved me.”
Today, Melissa teaches Spanish language and literature in the same high school where she began her journey. She is not only the first in her family to achieve a college degree, but she is also a proud graduate with a master’s degree. Her achievement has inspired a passion for education throughout her family.
“You can already see generational change happening,” Melissa says. “My sister just won a full scholarship for all four years at a university. Across my family, something has shifted – now my aunts, uncles, and cousins are always talking about college. In just one generation, we went from my mother’s dream to her two daughters leading the way with college degrees.”
Melissa extends her gratitude to her WWIN Star Scholarship sponsors, Nickie and Nick Smith, and to all who play a part in helping women succeed. She says, “None of this would be possible without the people who crossed my path, believed in me, and supported me. You can help someone else achieve, dream, and pay it forward. Thank you for being part of my story.”