Historically, Latino students in the U.S. have lagged behind other ethnic groups in post-secondary academic achievement. Reasons for this disparity range from a lack of financial support to inadequate college preparation during high school years. But today, there are many scholarships and academic programs available to help these students achieve their full potential.
Tiffany Villanueva got her first career aspirations as a child watching detective shows on TV. “I was always fascinated by the forensic scientists who found hidden clues to solve crimes,” she said. “I was intrigued that you could use science to solve puzzles.”
Villanueva was born in Savannah but Spanish is her first language and her Puerto Rican family returned to Aguada, on the island's west coast, when she was a small child. In Puerto Rico, she excelled in academics, especially math and science and they moved back to Savannah when she entered the 9th grade.
“Learning English was a real challenge when I returned to Savannah,” she said. “I give lots of credit to my teachers at Windsor Forest for helping me that first year back in the states.”
When Villanueva graduated from Savannah's Jenkins High School in 2012, she enrolled in Savannah State University (SSU), one of the few four-year institutions in Georgia offering a degree in Forensic Science.
“I was blessed to receive some really great scholarships when I started college, including grants from the Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) which has given me funds to attend summer internships each summer,” she said.
Last year, Villanueva completed a 10-week laboratory immersion program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and this summer she completed a 9-week internship at Princeton
University where she conducted molecular biology research focused on fruit flies and the genes that play a role in cell migration.
“Last year's internship was especially interesting because it's “real-world” application is designed to help people suffering from ALS, a motor neuron disorder also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease,” she said.
Graduate school will be the next stop for this budding scientist.
“You can't get a Ph.D in forensic science, “ she said. “But I can get my Master's degree then decide if I want to continue in that field or switch to biochemistry for my doctorate.”
This past spring, Villanueva became the founding president of the SSU chapter of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. Savannah State University is the first Historically Black College or University to have a campus chapter for this program which donates close to $40 million in scholarships to Hispanic students each year.
“I'm grateful to Savannah State for the opportunities they've given me,” she said. “They are working very hard to make this campus welcoming to Latinos and students of all backgrounds.”
Savannah State University's Forensic Science program is a four-year, interdisciplinary degree program that prepares graduates for positions in toxicology, law enforcement, criminal justice, and forensic science labs.
For more information, please contact the department office at 912-358-4435.