“I am here because someone was generous enough to care about the struggles of people and wanted to help.”
-Erandi Villa, 2013 Felicity Brewer Opportunity Scholarship Recipient
Erandi Villa and her family moved to the Triangle when she was just three years old, relocating from her birthplace of Pátzcuaro, Michoacán in Mexico. ‘Easy’ is not a word that would describe her childhood, as her family relied on her heavily to take on various roles most children could not imagine: as her family’s translator, she translated bills, set up appointments, and even attended her younger siblings’ school conferences. When she was 11, Erandi’s mother was in a car accident, resulting in half of her body becoming paralyzed. Though this traumatic accident changed a lot for her and compounded her responsibilities as a child, it also contributed to her independence and self-sufficiency. “The experience really molded me,” she says.
Breaking Down Barriers
Erandi realized early on the significant challenges that existed for her as a result of being an undocumented immigrant in the United States. “Realizing the limitations, what I could and couldn’t do, and how I was different than others who were documented here was really difficult,” she said. Financial constraints also led her to assume she would never be able to attend and graduate college.
The idea of going to college was never a topic of discussion in her household, and in Erandi’s mind was off the table, but on the first day of her senior year, her English teacher shared with the class a list of colleges and scholarships with application deadlines, one of which was the Felicity Brewer Opportunity Scholarship, which at the time was a $50,000 award administered by Triangle Community Foundation. With encouragement from her teacher, Erandi did some research on scholarship opportunities, specifically for immigrants, and realized there were resources available that could help her reach the goal of college attainment after all.
Pushing Through to Find her Path
After countless hours of guidance from her English teacher and many applications submitted, Erandi was accepted to and attended Queen’s University of Charlotte, graduating with a dual degree in business administration (specializing in finance) and Spanish, and a minor in philosophy, her intended major when entering college. “I had wanted to be a lawyer since I was a child, and specifically an immigration lawyer after realizing what it meant to be an immigrant in the United States,” she says. Though she was (and still is) a passionate advocate for this cause, she ultimately realized becoming a lawyer would not be fulfilling in the way she had hoped. “Math was always something I was good at and enjoyed,” she says, which led her to a career in finance. “I chose a path I enjoyed, but also one that gave me confidence I would be able to get a good job after college, which was important to me.”
The priority of job security was heightened for her as a DACAmented student, as finding jobs can sometimes be more difficult with this status. While finishing her undergraduate degree as an intern at Siemens Energy, Erandi received a full-time job offer and transitioned to the role of Financial Analyst during her last semester of college. She currently works at Siemens Industry (now a separate company) as a Performance Controller.
Rewriting the Narrative and Giving Back
While several years have flown by since Erandi walked the campus of Queen’s University, not a day goes by without feeling immense gratitude for the opportunities college provided her. From representing Mexican women in the corporate world to breaking the cycle of generational poverty, she is fully in charge of her future. “Going to college was and is life changing.”
Being a recipient of the Felicity Brewer Opportunity award has inspired Erandi to give back to her community through volunteering and mentoring. In an earlier role at Siemens Energy, she served on a committee that mentored the organization’s interns, and she recently applied to be a ‘Big Sister’ at the local chapter of the nonprofit Big Brothers, Big Sisters.
When asked what advice she would give to students going through the scholarship application process, Erandi said:
- Keep your head up and do not get discouraged. Despite sending multiple applications, the first few responses were negative. Keep your head up and keep applying.
- Start early! College did not appear to be a possibility until her senior year of high school, resulting in some missed deadlines. Keep an organized list with application open dates, deadlines, and specific materials needed (such as an essay) to keep track.
- Find a mentor you trust. Erandi’s English teacher walked her through the application process, and she felt comfortable asking questions. Additionally, her teacher reviewed and edited her applications. Always reach out for help!
- Highlight what makes you unique. Identify the things that make you unique and plug those into a Google search. Are you a female? An immigrant? A first-generation college student? What’s your dream major? Scholarship criteria can be surprisingly specific. Additionally, many scholarships require essays, so try to incorporate pivotal moments and challenges in your life – dig deep and show your vulnerability. It makes an indelible impression.
Erandi is adamant that being a scholarship recipient opened doors that otherwise would have remained shut, and has allowed her to work, grow, and develop in a field she loves. “The scholarship from the Foundation completely changed my trajectory and allowed me to do so many things,” she says. “For that I am forever grateful.”
Are you looking for community-based scholarships to apply for, or do you know someone who is? The Foundation has a variety of scholarships for ALL students. To learn more, contact firstname.lastname@example.org and visit our Scholarships webpage here.