Help Me Obtain my Masters from Harvard #IamHGSE

On July 31st, 2020, I received an email that as a first-generation college student and formerly undocumented minor, I never dreamed of receiving. “Congratulations! You have been admitted to the Harvard Graduate School of Education for the 2020-2021 academic year.” I immediately started crying and hugged my mother reflecting on all her sacrifices as a single immigrant mother. She has been at the forefront of COVID as an essential agricultural worker during this pandemic. I graduate  in May 2022 with my Ed.M. #IamHGSE

Sharing with my family in Mexico my acceptance to Harvard 

In June 2020, the HGSE announced that due to COVID it would reopen its application cycle for 20/21. Because of Harvard's last-minute admissions decision,  I missed all the deadlines to apply for external scholarships. The cost of attendance for a year at Harvard is $85,000. I’m grateful to have been awarded a grant, but still need $35,000 to cover my tuition and have enrolled in a payment plan. 

I will be taking 4 graduate courses every semester and will not be able to work full time. I am currently employed part-time as a Research Assistant to continue helping my mother pay the mortgage of our townhome and support my grandparents. As a teenager, I began wiring them money every month to cover their medical expenses.

50751324_1598507007228974_r.jpegMy biggest motivation in one picture. 

Education is Liberation
My journey to obtain a higher education began in the depths of the Sierra Madre in El Mezquital, Durango, one of the poorest municipalities in Mexico. I recall my mother and Abuelita Paula sewing tablecloths when her kitchen still had a dirt floor so we could purchase my kindergarten school materials. When discussing higher education with my grandmother she always reminds me, “Mija, educated women are the devil because they know how to defend themselves. Your college degree will grant you financial independence.” My Abuelita Amparo was never encouraged to pursue more than an elementary education; instead, she gave birth to eleven children. For women in my rural village in Mexico, motherhood and being a homemaker were the only options. At an early age, I realized that obtaining a higher education would end the generational cycle of poverty, alcoholism, and domestic violence for the women in my family. This dire reality fueled my desire to obtain a college degree and became my definition of the American Dream.

Grinding the masa for the tortillas in my abuelita's kitchen. 
50751324_159850867442676_r.jpegI always smiled despite my teeth being stained with yellow decalcification spots caused by the chemicals in our drinking water. I've since had extensive dental work.

My parents immigrated to North Carolina in 2001 and left me at the care of my grandparents. I reunited with them months later and enrolled in school without knowing a word of English. My first year turned into a battle between my teacher and me. While my teacher called my name with English pronunciation, I screamed in Spanish that my name was pronounced, “Naataaaliiii”. Since then, I lived in three states and never encountered a Hispanic teacher or counselor.

50751324_159854306132150_r.jpegI eventually stopped smiling and accepted the pronunciation of my name. I assumed the responsibility of translating for my parents as we petitioned to adjust our immigration status.  We were scammed by a notary public. 

Growing up in a low-income household, I saw college as a farfetched dream. Despite the systemic challenges I faced adjusting to the education system in the U.S., I graduated high school with a 4.0 GPA and multiple scholarships. However, I only applied to 2 colleges due to a lack of mentors. 

In 2019, the daughter of a poultry employee (my mother) and migrant farmworker (my father) became the first of 40 cousins to graduate college.

50751324_1598543457581058_r.jpegOrgullosamente #Mexicana #Latina #Inmigrante #Duranguense

Latina Leader
Although 42% of the population in my hometown identifies as Hispanic, it took me until my first year of college to meet a Latinx mentor in a white-collar job. The lack of Latinx representation throughout my educational journey influenced me to serve in the following roles:

-McNair Scholar: I conducted research on Hispanic Serving Institutions & the exponential increase in Hispanic enrollment throughout the University System of Georgia. In February 2020, I presented my research to the administration at UNG & obtained support to apply for a scholarship grant from the Mexican Consulate.

-Latino Student Association- I served as an LSA Officer for 2 years & coordinated events to expose students to Latinx community leaders. 

-Goizueta Scholar: I fundraised $8,500 for 2 Latinx nonprofits including El Refugio at Stewart Detention Center. I also collaborated with Latinx nonprofits to host voter registration drives on campus. 

-Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Fall 2018 Intern: I interned for the Office of Representative Darren Soto (FL-09).

-Mentor: I served as a mentor for 2 grants from the Department of Education that assist first-generation college students- the College Assistance Migrant Program and the Upward Bound.

Hispanic Organization Promoting Education (HoPe): I've volunteered at multiple HoPe conferences to encourage Hispanic youth to pursue higher education.

-Cofounder:  I co-founded the series to inform the student body at UNG about the education inequities undocumented students face in Georgia.

-Student Advisor: I advised 3 multicultural student organizations on campus.

-Gilman Scholar: I studied abroad in Peru and Spain. I’ve made it a goal to encourage more minority students to apply to study abroad and apply for the Gilman Scholarship.

-WOC Latino Community Fund Fellow: I assisted LCF with Census outreach & voter registration initiatives. I translated the promotional material for the Women of Color Survey to address the needs of WOC in Georgia.

-GALEO Institute for Leadership/ Canvasser: I graduated from the GALEO Institute for Leadership in 2017. I've registered over 500 people to vote.

-HSF Scholar/ NSCS First-Gen Scholar/ Mar-Jac Scholar/ Ronald McDonald Hacer Scholar etc......Those that knew me as an undergraduate student know how much time I invested applying to scholarships to graduate debt-free.

-Hype Ambassador: I joined Hype seeking professional development opportunities & to network with other Latinx professionals.


In 2001, my mother risked her life crossing the U.S. Mexico Border to offer me a better future; in 2019, I crossed a stage with Magna Cum Laude distinction to honor her sacrifices. On May 2021, I will be the first person in my family to obtain a master’s degree. There is not a day that I do not envision my mother’s hands, which should have a soft touch but instead represent the hands of a woman who spends 10-hour shifts at a poultry plant. She is my inspiration to obtain a PHD and continue paving the way for the future generations of Latinx students. My aspirations are to become a professor and work at a Hispanic Serving Institution where I can conduct research and one day become a Dean or Vice President. My dream is to be President of a university and continue paving the way for future generations of Latinx students. 

To this day my Abuelita Amparo reminds me:
“Mija, las mujeres estudiadas son el diablo porque saben como defenderse. Educated women are the devil because they know how to defend themselves.”

50751324_1598550045922208_r.jpegIn 2015 my Abuelita Paula gave me the tightest hug she had ever given me knowing it would be the last time we would see each other. She passed away months later.

50751324_1598550852289243_r.jpegThe adobe home where my grandparents began raising 11 children. My abuelito crossed the U.S. Mexico border twice to provide for our family.

Blessed to become a citizen in 2017
Meeting Jorge Ramos, Dolores Huerta, Maria Elena Salinas & Ilia Calderon during my congressional internship.
Your support, donations, and shares mean the world to me. THANK YOU! #LatinaInHigherEd
I promise to pay it forward with my students one day.
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Nataly Morales Villa 
Gainesville, GA
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