Help from two local donors will make it easier for a University of Texas of the Permian Basin student to complete his degree.
Jefember Villela received the university’s $5,000 President’s Falcon Award at graduation last month in an announcement that was a surprise to him. Attorneys Gaven Norris and Israel Medina were the scholarship donors.
Villela plans to graduate from UTPB in December with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology.
The award is presented to students whose accomplishments during the course of their undergraduate years are exceptional and reflect the highest ideals of UTPB. Nominees demonstrate exceptional academic achievement, integrity, selflessness, leadership and service to the community.
“I’m very blessed to get the award (and) humbled by being selected for it,” Villela said in a phone interview.
Born in Northridge, Calif., Villela lived the first 10 years of his life in Canoga Park, Calif. He now lives in San Antonio.
When it came time to start middle school in his hometown, Villela remembers seeing a news report about a school shooting at the campus he was supposed to attend.
“There was actually a lot of gang violence,” he said.
He told his parents he was afraid of going to school. That’s when his parents started considering moving the family elsewhere.
“My dad worked at a warehouse. The way he found out about San Antonio was talking to truck drivers,” Villela said.
The 23-year-old first-generation college student has an older sister and a younger brother. His parents are Guatemalan immigrants.
Advisors told him about a college fair on campus, which is where he met Iris Fierro, who was working in admissions at UTPB at the time, but is now the Success Center director.
“They had been very honest with me. They didn’t think they were going to get a lot of students from San Antonio because it’s six hours away,” Villela said.
It was the helpfulness and caring, especially for someone who didn’t know what he was getting himself into, that he said drew him to UTPB.
“I heard about Falcon Day and was very, very interested in that. We ended up going. When I stepped foot onto that campus, I knew immediately this was very much like family to me. It’s not like I’m walking into a big, scary environment,” Villela said.
Falcon Day is UTPB’s orientation where prospective students and parents can take campus tours and talk to staff and faculty.
From the start, Villela said UTPB felt like the right fit for him. He added that everyone was honest and helpful and loving and caring toward his parents. The staff was also bilingual, which was a comfort, as well.
Villela said the $5,000 will definitely help him through his final semester and give him peace of mind.
“For me … the academics isn’t a struggle; it’s more of a struggle financially to actually go to college and further my education, so to know that this financial side of things will be taken care of and I can rest easy and really focus down on my last three classes is going to be very, very helpful and it will help me finish up strong,” Villela said.
Once he earns his degree, however, he may not be working in his degree field. He got an offer from the Green Bay Packers to try out for their film department. He’s going to try out for the Green Bay position in January.
Villela is the media coordinator for the UTPB football program, so he films all the games and practices and gets the film ready for the coaches.
“I’m very, very excited about that. I want to make sure that I’m ready for it, as well,” Villela said.
Norris said he and Medina were sent information on Villela and asked if he was the type of student they would want to support.
“After reading his biographical information, we both felt his story was similar to ours in many ways,” Norris said.
He added that as UTPB graduates, they have a duty, obligation and responsibility to make sure they give back to the university, whether financially or in-kind.
Norris said Medina graduated from UTPB in the summer of 2010 and Norris in summer 2011.
Medina went to Suffolk University Law School in Boston and Norris to Thurgood Marshall Law School at Texas Southern University in Houston.
“We both went through the classes together,” Norris said.
“I grew up very poor. I was given a chance at education. UTPB gave me that opportunity to expand and the opportunity to get involved,” Norris said.
Medina is the son of immigrant parents who wanted to experience the American dream, Norris said.
Like Norris and Medina, Villela said he’s always been fascinated with leaving a legacy and this award will help him toward that goal.
“That’s my biggest thing. … I always think of it not in terms of myself, but more of when I have kids and my kids have kids. What are they going to say about dad and what are they going to say about grandpa?” Villela said.