by Nerée Aron-Sando
Gina Villaloz, 29, chose Montgomery County Community College because it was a perfect fit with her life, not necessarily with her budget. Since she is not a county resident, tuition was double the cost. She thought it was worth it.
“The quality of education I receive is extremely important to me even if that means I have to pay extra. I heard so many good things about the College. After taking the tour, I knew it was the perfect fit for me. A bonus was the beautiful scenery I get to see every time I walk on campus,” Villaloz said in an email interview.
Villaloz was selected to receive a $1,000 scholarship from the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society as a 2014 Coca-Cola Leader of Promise Scholar. The Coca-Cola Leaders of Promise Scholarship Program provides new Phi Theta Kappa members with financial resources to help defray educational expenses while they are enrolled in associate degree programs.
“Grants have helped greatly! The 2014 Coca Cola Leaders of Promise Scholar scholarship is the first one I have received so far, and it has truly been a blessing. This recognition means everything to my family and me,” Villaloz said. “I am still kind of in shock that I was selected. I know how competitive the scholarship process was. Words cannot express my gratitude. And the best part, my son was so excited to see my name posted on the Phi Theta Kappa website as a recipient. He was just as proud of me as I am of him. As a mother/parent, there is no better feeling than leading by example.”
One example of her leadership is her determination to succeed when she might have been pigeonholed as someone with little potential.
“What’s remarkable about me is that I overcame the stereotype of being a teen mom. I graduated from high school with the best grades of all my high school years, while statistics show more than 50 percent of teen moms drop out. I attended a technical school about a year after high school while working at a local Staples. I am now a mother and a college student working full-time and pursing a higher education.”
While full-time motherhood and full-time work make it difficult for Villaloz to do everything she needs and wants to do, the ability to take courses online has helped.
“A challenge for me has been finding the time to get everything done in the specified time frame,” she said. Balancing work, school, and everything my son’s schedule entails can be tough, but I’ve managed to make it work. Time management and sacrifice play key roles in helping me overcome those tough times.”
She works full time during the day and most College activities take place mostly during the day, she said. “However, I recently became a member of SPARK (Single Parents Achieving and Raising Kids). And it was truly an honor to be a member of Phi Theta Kappa, such an elite organization and community.”
On graduating with her associate’s degree from Montgomery County Community College, Villaloz hopes to transfer to Chestnut Hill to earn a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice.
“My ultimate passion is to help others and make a difference any way I can. I aspire to become a juvenile probation officer in Philadelphia and to bring my skills and education into the investigative field one day. I love the research and ‘problem-solving’ aspect of the Criminal Justice field.”
It can be no surprise, then, that one of the most important experiences Villaloz has had at the College was a field trip. “I had the opportunity to sit in on court proceedings for Behavioral Health Court and to take a tour of the Montgomery County Correctional Facility,” she said.
Ultimately, Villaloz would like to become a paralegal.
Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, headquartered in Jackson, Miss., is the largest honor society in higher education with 1,285 chapters on college campuses in all 50 of the United States, plus Canada, Germany, the Republic of Palau, Peru, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, the British Virgin Islands, the United Arab Emirates and U.S. territorial possessions. Nearly 3 million students have been inducted since its founding in 1918, with approximately 132,000 students inducted annually.