Martha Villegas Miranda '98

Born in Chicago to immigrant parents, Martha and her family faced several hardships in the United States. Those hardships are what have inspired Martha to go to such great lengths to help undocumented and underrepresented students gain access to education. In fact, Martha wanted to support the students similar to her, so she began a scholarship which provides financial support for Latina students who exemplify academic rigor and servant leadership.

With more than 16 years of experience in higher education, Martha Villegas Miranda ’98 has dedicated her life to being a fearless advocate for undocumented, first generation, immigrant students.  

Martha currently works as the Latino Outreach & Retention Specialist in the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs at Joliet Junior College. In this position, she strives to promote the importance of a college education and works hard to provide students with unique opportunities and consistent guidance. Previously, Martha served as the Director of Operations with the national non-profit organization – the U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute (USHLI). In this role, she had the opportunity to speak to high school students and educators across the nation. She also worked at Lewis University as the Coordinator of University Ministry Outreach and Assistant to Director of Multicultural Student Affairs over a long period of time. Additionally, Martha has been employed as an adjunct professor in the Social Work Department at Lewis for the past 14 years.

While working at Lewis, Martha helped to organize the first Latino Leadership Conference called, “Si Se Puede,” which translates to “Yes You Can.” This event, which continues today, helps provide information and inspiration to Latin American high school students as they pursue a post-secondary education.

“I noticed that the Visit Days did not cater to this specific group of students, so we created this conference to help motivate these first generation students as they think about going to college,” says Martha.

As a first generation college student, Martha was lucky enough to receive the Extra Effort Award Scholarship offered by Lewis and WGN Channel 9 News. She is grateful for this scholarship that opened the door to her college education and provided her with unique opportunities.

As a student on campus, Martha was the President of the Latin American Student Organization (LASO) and volunteered in University Ministry at a local, national, and international level. She was also able to travel around the world on service mission trips, visiting places such as Louisiana, the Appalachian Mountains, Mexico, and Bolivia.

“Lewis University was instrumental in molding me into the leader I am today,” says Martha. “My experiences allowed me to expand my understanding of the world, strengthen my faith, work with people at the margins of society, and fight for social and economic justice.”

After three and a half years, Martha not only graduated from Lewis with honors and a bachelor’s degree in Social Work, but also delivered the first bilingual Commencement address in English and Spanish. Soon after, she received a full ride fellowship to the University of Wisconsin where she earned her Masters of Science in Social Work.

Martha enjoys spending time with her eight year-old daughter and bringing her to community events. “My hope is that my daughter learns about the importance of helping the community from a very young age,” Martha says proudly. 


March 2017

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