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Tuesday, May 14, 2019

COE Grads 2019: A Doubly Powerful Example

Class of 2019 grads Froylán and Ernesto Villanueva
Froylan (left) and Ernesto Villanueva. 

Dr. Froylán Villanueva just became the first person in his family to earn an Ed.D. Of course, that may be something of a technicality — he defended his dissertation just one hour before his younger brother Dr. Ernesto Villanueva.

“For purposes of accuracy, he was before me," says Ernesto with a smile.

That the brothers would take on this challenge — the Ed.D. Program in Educational Leadership with a PK-12 concentration at San Diego State University — together shouldn’t be much of a surprise.

Growing up, they shared a paper route. They worked together as restaurant busboys and gas station attendants. Later, in their careers, they worked together at Chula Vista Elementary School District and Cajon Valley Union School District. Both are still in the education field a few miles apart — Ernesto as executive director of technology and instruction at Chula Vista Elementary School District and Froylán as Principal at Southwest High School in the Sweetwater Union School District.

During the program, they spent long nights writing together at each other’s houses or at coffee shops.

"I had a full-time study partner who happened to be my brother,” Froylán said. “That helps.”

For Froylán and Ernesto, completing the program represents the culmination of a long educational journey — a journey that began with unlikely beginnings just a few blocks up Fairmount Avenue from SDSU’s campus. They grew up in San Diego’s underserved City Heights neighborhood and attended Hoover High School. Their father worked multiple jobs in the restaurant industry as everything from a busboy to a 'maître d' while their mother cleaned hotel rooms and RVs to provide for the four boys. No one in their family had ever been to college.

It’s possible they wouldn’t have, either, without a fortuitous twist of fate.
My brother and I don't give up. We have this natural drive to achieve what sometimes might seem unachievable for a couple of kids who grew up in City Heights in Section 8 apartments.
During his senior year at Hoover in 1989, Froylán was called down to the principal’s office. He thought he was in trouble. Instead, he was met by a stranger — an SDSU student intern — who encouraged him to apply to the university and walked him through the application process. A few months later, Froylán stepped out of his dad’s Pontiac outside the old Aztec Center, feeling like he’d just landed on a strange new planet.

“My dad gave me his blessing and said, 'OK, mijo,' and I walked on campus,” Froylán recalls. “I remember thinking, 'Can I do this?'"

He soon learned that he could, earning his bachelor’s in 1995 and master’s in 2000. Ernesto used his brother’s example to forge his own college path, earning a bachelor’s from the University of San Diego and master’s from National University.

"My brother and I don't give up,” Froylán said. “We have this natural drive to achieve what sometimes might seem unachievable for a couple of kids who grew up in City Heights in Section 8 apartments."

Both expressed a sense of accomplishment in being able to take their education to the highest level through completion of their Ed.D.s. — and a sense that the program will give them a seat at the table in an academic community where they once felt like outsiders. They also hope to serve as a positive example for young people who grew up — like they did — without any role models in higher education.

“I think it's incumbent on us to influence and inspire others,” Ernesto said. “I think that's what makes me feel proud of what we've done. If someone sees themselves, even a little bit, in me or Froylán, that builds that momentum. What motivates me is motivating others, and I think that's a powerful component in our communities."