First-Generation Grad Finds Passion for Helping Others Pursue College Dreams
Jose-Luis Vasquez is the first in his family to earn not only an undergraduate degree, but also a graduate degree. He has used lessons learned in Widener’s education master’s program to help others accomplish the same.
- College of Health & Human Services
Jose-Luis Vasquez knows a college degree can be life-changing, especially for first-generation students.
That is why he pursued a Master of Education (MEd) at Widener to gain the skills and connections needed in his field to help make college dreams a reality for high school students.
“What I’ve learned through the MEd program is the skills to succeed, whether it is organizational administration, coaching and developing leaders, or even the vernacular to know what is going on in the world of higher education,” Jose-Luis said. “The program has blended really well with my current job.”
Jose-Luis’ passion started with his own college path. He lives in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, where less than a quarter of high school students go on to college, and became the first in his Mexican-American family to earn a college degree in the U.S. when he graduated in 2018 from American University with bachelor’s degrees in business and public health.
After college, he briefly worked in federal government and for a Texas consulting company focused on business technology. However, he wanted more.
When I was at that job, I thought ‘there has to be more to life than growing the bottom line of a business. I didn’t feel like I had a sense of purpose. — Jose-Luis Vasquez
He found his purpose when he began working for IDEA Public Schools, the fastest-growing network of tuition-free, pre-K-12 public charter schools in the United States. He knew his own life experiences and mission aligned well with IDEA’s goal of seeing every student go to and through college.
As the director of financial literacy and alumni funding at IDEA Public Schools, Jose-Luis advances and manages the million-dollar direction of funds raised for seniors and alumni to go to college and uses his business background to spearhead college persistence, internal giving, alumni advancement, and specialized initiatives.
But, Jose-Luis was missing the classroom perspective that others in his field have. The solution: enroll in Widener’s education master’s program. He loved the flexibility of earning his master’s degree online and at his own pace from Texas.
Now, he has skills and connections that will serve not only himself, but the students at IDEA Public Schools.
From the beginning, Jose-Luis made connections with his professors, who were all either practitioners or former practitioners leading the education field. Faculty, such as Dr. Zora Wolfe, supported him when he took a leave of absence from the program and then again when severe weather in Texas left him without electricity.
Jose-Luis didn’t only learn from Widener’s expert faculty; he learned from his peers, who brought a range of perspectives from their positions in public, private, and charter schools. These differences led to robust discussions and gave Jose-Luis a national network of connections.
IDEA Public Schools wants to become the largest producer of low-income, first generation college graduates, and Jose-Luis knows his experiences at Widener will contribute to the schools’ success. He now has a foundation of business and education that combined can make his and his students’ dreams possible.