(HARLINGEN) – It has been five years and counting since Melissa Villarreal started at Texas State Technical College in the Financial Aid Office. And to commemorate the financial aid technician’s hard work and dedication to students, she has been awarded the Employee Spotlight for May.
Many who work with Villarreal, staff and students alike, say she is “the lady who is always happy.” Villarreal humbly said she is happy because she is doing what she loves to do: helping students.
“I truly love my job,” said Villarreal. “I was a student once and had no idea about financial aid. I believe God put me in this office at this campus for a reason, and that is to make students aware of what is available for them.”
The 44-year-old is an alumna of TSTC. She graduated in 2003 with her certificate in Medical Records and Transcription with the help of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) through the Texas Workforce Commission, which provides workforce development activities to enhance employability.
“This was the only financial help I could find, and they paid for it all,” she said.
Going to college was not an easy process for the Harlingen native. To qualify for the WIA program and in turn to enroll, she had to qualify for food stamps. Had it not been for the $10 in food stamps she qualified for, school would not have been an option.
“There was no way I could have gone to school without this money,” said Villarreal. “Since then I knew I wanted to come back and help those going through the same thing.”
After graduating, her one-year stint at a local oral surgery clinic did not work out because TSTC was in her heart.
“This period was a challenge. I went back to school, left my job of 20 years at JCPenney, and fortunately I was hired at the college,” she said. “I took a chance and it worked out because of TSTC and those that believed in me.”
Villarreal’s Employee Spotlight award is the sentiment that says many still believe in what she does, and it is written directly on her certificate.
“It’s refreshing to hear many refer to Melissa as ‘the lady who is always smiling’ or ‘the lady who always helps me,’” one statement read.
Another said, “Ms. Villarreal always presents services in a highly motivated manner and explains services in a positive language.”
One last comment read, “Despite the long lines…she has been overheard providing students with motivating and inspiring wisdom when she is assisting them at the counter; this is beyond her scope of duty.”
Villarreal said her ultimate goal every day is to help students succeed.
“The most rewarding part of my job is working commencement and watching them (students) graduate and seeing the fulfillment and happiness in their eyes and in their family’s eyes, and knowing I had a little part in that.”
In the next couple of years, Villarreal expects to walk the TSTC commencement stage, instead of working, to receive her associate degree in Business Management Technology.
“I want to grow and retire from TSTC,” she said. “This is where I belong, as an employee and a student.”