Before Cal Poly, graphic communications senior Juana Villa was crossing the Tijuana border twice a day to attend San Diego City College while living in Mexico. The U.S. Border Patrol recognized her face after a short amount of time, she said.
Last month, Villa was recognized by the California State University Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement for continuing to develop her English language skills while enrolled in her university classes.
“I came to the U.S. four years ago and started learning English,” she said. “I was really obsessed with learning English: I’d watch movies, watch ‘Friends.’ When I came to the U.S. I went to an adult school to learn English for free.”
It was also at San Ysidro Adult School in San Ysidro, Calif. where Villa obtained a high school diploma and then applied to Cal Poly.
“I wanted to go to Cal Poly because it’s hard to get in,” Villa said. “I wanted to prove to my adviser that it’s not hard.”
Since starting Cal Poly in Fall 2012, Villa has since become fluent in English, but is still adjusting to the culture, she said.
“I’m coming from a very traditional family,” Villa said. “As a woman, my goal should be (becoming) a house wife and coming to the U.S. It’s not that way. I can do more besides cleaning and taking care of children.”
Villa said her family is happy for her achievements and often asks if she is dating or engaged. But she’s too focused with doing well in school, she said.
Graphic communication associate professor Brian Lawler said Villa works hard for her accomplishments and honors the department in everything she does.
“She’s absolutely a delightful person to have in class and she’s got lots of promise,” Lawler said. “She’s certainly worthy of that award.”
Lawler said Villa speaks perfect English, and he suspects that most of her fellow students don’t know she also speaks Spanish.
Villa currently takes 18 units a quarter and is expecting to graduate in December 2014. What she’s learned from her experience is she could have never known if she was able to come to Cal Poly if she didn’t try, she said.
“Looking back I don’t know how I did it, honestly,” she said. “I don’t know if I would be able to do it again, and I don’t want to do it again. No way. When you are in a situation and you want something, you manage your way. I kept telling myself it will end soon.”