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First-generation student, soon to be graduate

Gianluca Cuevas
Myra Villarreal is a first-generation student, graduating with a degree in kinesiology.

“Nervous, excited and ready” are some words Myra Villarreal used to describe her upcoming graduation from UTEP. After beginning her college journey in the fall of 2020, Villarreal did not always think of UTEP as a first choice. What followed was a cycle of uncertainty while pursuing her dreams. Today, she is now graduating not only as a woman in STEM, but a first-generation graduate.
Despite having struggled in school for most of her life, Villarreal started looking toward the future. It was there she started to think of the possibilities a college education could offer. Following her high school graduation, she decided to start a new journey where she could determine how far she could go.
“I struggled in school basically my whole life, starting from like third grade on. When I was in high school, I was in this program called AVID, so we had to take AP courses and I struggled so much,” Villarreal said. “After I graduated high school, I was like, ‘Why stop here?’ I worked so hard to get here, might as well just push myself and see how far I can go.”
Villarreal first began her college education at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). Wanting to leave El Paso after her high school graduation, she decided to “dive headfirst” into an out-of-town experience.
“I really didn’t know what I wanted to do first. I kind of wanted to do personal training because I liked working with people,” Villarreal said. “I started doing more research and (decided that) didn’t want to deal with the business aspect of it, so I tried looking for physical therapy (PT) or occupational therapy (OT).
So, I had to lean more towards PT, but I really wasn’t doing anything at UTSA to help me get my foot in the door. I guess the pandemic really kind of pushed me (back) because when (I was) in San Antonio, I didn’t feel like I was at home. I just kind of felt like an outsider. So I had to come back home. It just felt right, and I’m so happy, I’ve done so much in El Paso over the years.”
Upon returning back home, Villarreal decided to study kinesiology at UTEP, with a concentration in human fitness performance. Being interested in working with people for years, Villarreal decided to pursue a career that would require working with others. Apart from her status as a people person, she also enjoys learning about the human body, as it amazes her “how we can do certain things.”

After studying at UTEP, she was able to get an internship that would help her work up close with injured athletes in the rehabilitation process.
“It was there (that) I usually treat athletes and do rehab with them. If they came in with an injury like a post-operation, we could do rehab on them, and then we’d do treatments before practice,” Villarreal said.
Completing her education at UTEP and gaining experience through her internship, Villarreal feels ready to move on, especially as a first-gen graduate.
“It’s an honor. I just feel like it’s a really big deal because I feel like I’m not only doing this for myself, but I’m also doing it for my family because they work so hard to help me stay in school,” Villarreal said. “I’m doing something right, like I’m doing something with my life and I’m making them proud.”
Despite graduating this semester, Villarreal’s educational goals are not over yet, as she was accepted into the Masters of Athletic Training Program of Baylor University.
Moving out in June, she has begun to prepare for continuing her journey and following her dream of working for professional athletes. Along her undergraduate journey, Villarreal has been supported by her parents and sister, who is graduating alongside her as a first-gen undergraduate this semester.
While this time proves to pack a busy schedule for her, Villarreal stays hopeful for her future.
“I’m just so proud, proud and shocked. I was able not only able to prove to myself that this is my full potential, but I was able to do it on my own, I mean, with the help of my sister. I’ve been with my family for years, so I think (living away) is gonna take time, obviously, just because I’m so close to my family,” Villarreal said. “I feel like I’m mentally and emotionally ready to be on my own and to kind of take care of myself.”
Elisha Nuñez is a staff reporter and can be reached at [email protected]

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About the Contributors
Elisha Nuñez
Elisha Nuñez, Staff Reporter
Elisha Nuñez is a multimedia journalism student with a minor in marketing at the University of Texas at El Paso.  He works as a reporter for The Prospector, and loves to write about arts, culture, and people. This semester, he wishes to do more freelance work for publications in and outside of El Paso. After graduation, he would like to experience multiple positions at different places, and even has plans for continuing his current education outside of the U.S.
Gianluca Cuevas
Gianluca Cuevas, Photographer
Gianluca Cuevas is a staff photographer for The Prospector. He is a senior majoring in mechanical engineering with a minor in mathematics. He plans to work in the automotive industry designing cars/mechanic in the F1. He also has his small photography business 365elements which he plans to continue to grow.
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First-generation student, soon to be graduate