City University of New York, Lehman College

Francisca Villar (2010)

My First Generation Story

I am the first person to go to college in my family because of poverty and hardship. My mother had my brother when she was 16, and she had me when she was 17. My father came to the United States to make a better life, and she sent me here with my father. My father is an excellent man. He always told me, “I don’t care what you do, as long as you go to school and get good grades.”

When I was a little girl, I always said I wanted to be a teacher because I wanted to help people. In high school, I got really good grades in science, and my teachers encouraged me to study science and go to college. But in my senior year of high school, I had my first child, a son, so I had to drop out. I started working in a clothing store. A year later, I had my daughter. When I first got pregnant, I didn’t think the world was going to end, but when I had my daughter, things got really difficult. My father was distraught. I was living in a one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx with two kids and no income, no education. I was getting evicted every three months because I didn’t have any money to pay the rent. I felt like I was in quicksand.

I realized that I really needed to go back to school. I had also always kept in touch with my high school art teacher. She encouraged me to go back to school and enrolled me in a GED course, and that’s how I got my GED. My grandmother moved in with me to help me with the kids. I graduated with an associate’s degree in biology from Bronx Community College, and then I transferred to Lehman in the fall of 2009.

I’m part of the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (LSAMP) program at Lehman. If it weren’t for the LSAMP program, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today. They take students who are even slightly interested in science and convert them into top research students. We get to work with national laboratories and present our research around the country and the world. I just recently travelled to Vienna with the program to present my research paper, “Phytotolerance to Toxic Heavy Metals by American and International Rice Oryza Sativa Cultivars L. In vitro: implications on remediation of contaminated sites.” My area of research is phytoremediation, which is the use of plants to clean toxic heavy metals from the environment. I want to continue doing research. The techniques that we are using in our research now can also be used to cure Alzheimer’s and that’s what I would like to focus on in the future.

I am very proud of myself for what I have accomplished so far. And my family is proud of me, too. If it weren’t for their support, I wouldn’t be here. I want to show my kids the example that they can literally reach the stars if they get a good education. My father tells all my siblings to follow my example and go to college. He’s proud that, even with two kids, I’m doing this. My mom is also proud of me. It’s funny, I’m a science major, and my mom is a Jehovah’s Witness. We have our moments when we don’t agree, but she understands that science is an important part of life.

To me, being a first-generation student means leaving a legacy to my children and my community and showing them we need to rise above our conditions that we live in and give something back to the community. Graduating from college means not only survival for me, but for my whole community.

About the Student

FGV: Francisco Villar 2

Born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Geneva, N.Y., and Washington Heights, Francisca, 26, has traveled a difficult road to obtain higher education. She attended Washington Heights High School, but left before graduating. In 2000, she earned her GED and enrolled at LaGuardia Community College. After taking time off for the birth of her two children, she returned to school in 2006. She’s now a junior at Lehman, majoring in an interdisciplinary program in anthropology, biology and chemistry. A member of the LSAMP (Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), she hopes to be accepted to the CUNY Plant Sciences Ph.D. Program, housed at Lehman, and one day become a scientific researcher.

Student Stats

Name: Francisca Villar (2010)
Age: 26
Year in School: Junior
Major: Interdisciplinary program in anthropology, biology and chemistry
Favorite Course:
Dream Job: Scientific Researcher

About the School

FGV: Lehman College

With more than 60,000 alumni and 12,000 students, Lehman College serves the Bronx and our surrounding region as an intellectual, economic, and cultural center. The College is named after Herbert H. Lehman, who was governor of New York State, a U.S. Senator, and an internationalist. His values of dedicated public service continue to guide the College today.

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