Susana Villagomez: Role Model and an Inspiration to Students
As a first-generation college graduate from the South Side of Chicago, Susana Villagomez knows the meaning of hard work. After graduating from Loyola in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, Villagomez stayed to complete her M.Ed/Ed.S in school psychology.
Now, in addition to her full-time job as a school psychologist at a community high school in West Chicago, Villagomez is among the first students in Loyola’s new doctoral program in school psychology. Here, she talks about what she enjoys most about her job and why Loyola was a perfect fit for her.
What is the most rewarding part of being a school psychologist for you?
For me, it’s very personal. I work in a school with a high population of Hispanics, and I like to share my story with students. I grew up in Little Village and saw a lot of gang violence and things like that. So it’s rewarding when kids are interested to know how I got where I am.
I’m realistic with my students. I know what’s out there—there’s peer pressure and drugs and things like that. They say, “My family can’t afford college,” and I say, “Mine, couldn’t either, but there’s money out there, and it’s your job to find it.” I feel proud of being able to be a role model for the Hispanic population there.
I’m also really passionate about kids with Down syndrome and intellectual disabilities. I have a sister with cerebral palsy. She’s nonverbal and in a wheelchair and lives at home with us. I grew up seeing my parents have to navigate the world of special education. It’s a lot of paperwork and a lot of information. It’s a benefit being on the other side of the table and relating to the parents of kids with disabilities.
How do you feel your experience at Loyola has been unique?
Going to Loyola was one of the best decisions I ever made. When I compared other programs, Loyola offered a really good variety of classes. It looked like a lot of work, but I knew coming in that there was a reason for that.
Just as in undergrad, I felt that my professors were always there to help me and were willing to work with me. They not only taught me what I needed to learn in terms of psychology, but I really benefitted from professors taking time to go over study strategies. I think it was really significant that they thought it was important that we learn those skills.
What do you hope to get out of the program?
I’m hoping the program opens more doors in the field of education—but also in the mental health profession—so that I can help students be successful. In the past three years, there’s been a big rise in mental illness in kids as young as eighth grade.
I’m hoping to be able to reach out to those families. I’m also fascinated when I get to go to conferences and hear other people talk about their work. That’s something I would like to do as well. And I would like to focus on the bilingual population.
Click here to learn more about the Ed.D in school psychology.