Senior Profile: Priscilla Villa

May 12, 2020

Priscilla VillaCombining business, sociology, social work, and political science through the Whittier Scholars Program (WSP), Priscilla Villa ’20 spent her senior year studying the homeless in Los Angeles and Whittier. 

Having always known that she wanted to work for a non-profit organization, Villa entered Whittier College as a business major—but sociology and social work classes quickly caught her interest. Villa realized that she loved studying social issues and examining the spaces where leadership and policy overlap in business and political science. Most importantly, Villa found in social work her true passion for helping others, hands-on.

Eventually, Villa realized that the avenue of the business major wasn’t quite wide enough for her. Because she was interested in a variety of fields, she knew it would be difficult to choose just one or two majors. The Whittier Scholars Program allowed her to create her own unique and multidisciplinary major by picking and choosing classes from different disciplines. 

Her in-depth work across a variety of fields through WSP is what ultimately led her to her senior project on homelessness in Whittier. Villa was touched when she started learning more about the issue of homelessness in her multi-department college classes. After receiving the Jeffrey Lindstrom ‘94 Fellowship in Political Science last summer, Villa participated in an internship at the St. Francis Center, a Los Angeles homeless and low-income support organization, where she connected homeless and low-income individuals and families to local support and resources. Seeing firsthand the disproportionate number of unhoused individuals in Whittier today, she was inspired to further research the problem and find out how the city could help. 

Villa’s WSP capstone project focused on how the issue of homelessness has changed since the 1980s, and what steps Whittier is taking to address the issue. “My main goal was to educate and spread awareness about [homelessness in Whittier],” she said. With guidance from her sponsor, Professor of Sociology Julie Collins-Dogrul, Villa conducted research on what actions the City of Whittier has taken to combat homelessness and how residents felt about the issue.

“Priscilla’s senior project research demonstrates why addressing homelessness is so challenging,” said Professor Collins-Dogrul. “Her internship and research experience has only increased her desire to serve our local communities.”

Aside from her work in WSP and the greater Whittier community, Villa also excelled in multiple on-campus organizations and leadership positions. During her first year, Villa joined the First Generation and Allies Club and the Womxn’s Leadership Association, where she served as vice president and president, respectively. For the past two years, Villa has been a member of the Palmer Society. This semester, she is serving as the society’s secretary, and as scholarship chair, she organized two clothing swaps where she and her society sisters donated clothes to Shelter’s Right Hand, a thrift shop in Whittier. Finally, she has been a Whittier Scholars Ambassador since June 2018 and has helped create digital abstracts for over 850 senior projects. 

“As a commuter student, I really pushed myself to join clubs and make connections to make the most out of my time in college,” Villa said.

Now, with her senior project complete, her leadership work almost done, and graduation just around the bend, Villa feels prepared by her Whittier College experience to continue pursuing social work. After spending a gap year with a non-profit organization, Villa will apply to master of social work programs.

“It feels unreal to think I will be done with my undergraduate experience in a month,” Villa said. “Although the last months are looking different than I thought they would, I am grateful for my time at Whittier College. As a first-generation college student, this is a huge accomplishment for my family and I look forward to celebrating with them.”