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Dallas College Students Make Voices Heard in Washington, D.C.

Last updated on March 9, 2024

Arianna Villarreal never would have envisioned having her voice heard by some of the nation’s top politicians, but she had that platform as one of four students sent by Dallas College to the National Legislative Summit in Washington, D.C., last month. Villarreal delivered a strong message on the importance of community colleges.

“Education isn’t always accessible to everybody, but community colleges are. My goal was to show them why we need to keep funding schools and how it’s changed my life as an international student,” Villarreal said. “Community colleges are part of the American dream that many people come to this country for.”

Villarreal was born in Costa Rica and then moved with her family to Brazil, then Mexico, then Ecuador, then Dallas. This has become home, and Dallas College has provided the most affordable pathway for an education for Villarreal.

That’s true for many of the 122,000 students enrolled annually at Dallas College, and Villarreal and her classmates spoke on their behalf too. Along with Villarreal, students Caleb Wilburn, Tony Ramirez and Nomvuyo Makhathini – dubbed Dallas College’s “Fab Four” – took part in the trip.

“There may be misconceptions pertaining to the students that enroll at Dallas College or at any community college,” Wilburn said. “So, being there and being able to tell my story and showing them the great success that community colleges across the nation can bring, I think that it gave them more insight as to the potential impact that they can make by endorsing (bills supporting community colleges).”

As Wilburn alluded to, part of the trip included the students taking part in a three-hour advocacy session. They encouraged legislators to support initiatives such as workforce Pell Grants for students in short-term programs and bolstering job training and career and technical education.

Politicians the Dallas College contingent met with included Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. John Cornyn, Rep. Colin Allred, Rep. Marc Veasey, Rep. Beth Van Duyne, and Rep. Jake Ellzey.

Makhathini described how eager the politicians were to meet with students, and she appreciated the genuine interest they took in their stories. After all, Makhathini knows there can sometimes be a stigma attached to community colleges.

“I wanted to advocate for community colleges because it’s not only for your typical, traditional students, it’s for nontraditional students as well,” she said. “I just wanted to go there and represent Dallas College and say, ‘Dallas College takes students that are 17, 18, just out of high school, and people who have been out (in the workforce) and are trying to come back. It doesn’t discriminate. It represents and accommodates everyone.”

That message certainly resonates with the Dallas College community.

Ramirez, who is the student body president at the Richland Campus, might have put it best, saying community colleges are “your ticket to a better life.”

“It’s not a pipe dream to go to community college; it’s a reality. You can go there,” he said. “This is a place where you change your life. Everybody here is here because they want a better life. You can be anyone you want to be starting here. You want to be a doctor? You can start here. You want to be a lawyer? You can start here. I think it’s the wisest choice you can make.”

In Their Own Words

The students share their most memorable moment on their visit to our nation’s capital.

Villarreal: “We met (Rep. Beth Van Duyne) in an office right outside the House Chamber. So, we were like right there where all the magic happens. We saw all the Congress members running around. It was just a really cool moment where I was sitting there and reflecting, like, ‘Wow.’ I would never think that I’d be right outside the House Chamber. That was a really, really cool and special moment.”

Makhathini: “I took my first government class last semester, and my professor was talking about Colin Allred. … I met him and I was like, ‘Oh, man, he’s such a cool guy.’ I’m going to write my professor an email and say, ‘I met Colin Allred.’ That was a highlight.”

Wilburn: “I truly like (Rep. Jake Ellzey’s) story. He went to the Naval Academy, served as a Navy pilot and then eventually politics. I spoke with him about my dreams of ultimately going into the military. I also told him that before Dallas College I was interested in going to West Point. After sharing my story with him and how I wouldn’t be right here in that seat without Dallas College, he said that if I’m still interested in going to West Point that he’d write me a nomination letter.”

Ramirez: “I got to meet both Texas Senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. We got to speak very intimately. I even had a one-on-one with them. It’s a privilege to be able to speak to not just one of the senators, but both on the same day. I don’t think many people do that, unless you’re a real legislator or a staffer, but we got to do that. And that was a big moment because this is a U.S. Senator. … And I really liked meeting Marc Veasey because he’s someone that really listens and had very thoughtful insight.”

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