Southwestern Adventist University is focused on ensuring that students can attend regardless of their financial status. Each year, hundreds of donors make a gift that lasts, allowing 84% of students to receive financial aid toward their education.
Beginning this year, the university will be sending a token of appreciation to those who donate $250 or more. The Mizpah Gate, known as the historic entrance to campus and as a symbol of the SWAU Alumni Association, has been chosen as the first in the ongoing Christmas ornament series featuring campus structures.
Raquel Villa, sophomore psychology major aspiring to become a correctional psychologist at a high-risk prison, shares how the generosity of donors is making a lasting impact.
What led you to choose to attend SWAU?
I applied to SWAU by accident, actually, and after a lot of prayer, I felt that God was leading me here. I knew that there was no way I would be able to afford to attend SWAU on my own and that I was going to have to step out in faith and I knew that I would have to learn to truly trust God.
What was your previous perception of financial aid, and how do you view it now?
Before coming to SWAU, I believed that scholarships were only for top students and the lucky few. I thought that funds were very limited and that it would be very difficult to receive financial aid. Now I see scholarships as a blessing from God, as He provides for His children through generous individuals.
What are your goals for the future, and how has SWAU prepared you to pursue those dreams?
My main goal for the future is to be in the kingdom with my Savior, and I hope to live like Jesus until that time comes. I’ve seen Christ-like examples in so many staff members here, but three specific staff members have made a particular impact on me. They are Mira Lam, Cristina Thomsen and Jonathan Seitz. I work for all three of these individuals and it has been an honor and a blessing to experience God through them.
Mira’s faith has inspired me to always seek God before making decisions, no matter how small. Cristina has taught me that we should always treat others like we would treat Jesus. Jonathan’s desire and excitement to help each and every student reminds me of how willing God is to help us. These three individuals are a perfect example of Matthew 5:16, which says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” I have seen God work through these individuals and they have been a light for me.
What does it mean to your family to see you thriving through this journey? How do you anticipate that your degree from SWAU will impact your professional future?
This learning experience to trust God has been very impactful to my family and me. Although it is barely my second year here, I have seen how my family has grown closer to God. I have learned that God works in mysterious ways and that if we simply trust Him, He will move mountains for us. I believe that my experience here has helped me learn to ask God to be my guide and to trust that He is with me every day. I believe that if/when, I become a correctional psychologist, others will be able to see Jesus through me, and they will see that He is a mighty God who loves us and is willing to do anything for us.
What is one moment that occurred at SWAU that impacted your Christian walk?
Before coming to SWAU, I had the idea that if I wasn’t perfect, God wouldn’t want me. Last year at vespers, a theology major was preaching, and he was struggling to get his message across. I cannot remember his face, his name or what he was preaching about. I do remember that while he was struggling, I felt God’s presence as the whole student body stood up to pray with him. So many students, myself included, were crying because we realized that it was our imperfections that brought us and others closer to God. God doesn’t ask us to be perfect. He asks us to simply give Him our heart; it doesn’t matter how tainted and imperfect it is because He can clean and heal it for us.
Can you share a specific experience of your time at SWAU that you will remember forever? How does it affect your perspective on SWAU and life?
An experience I will never forget from my time here is when God provided over $3,000 in just one weekend. This experience taught me patience, trust and that for God, nothing is impossible. I have seen that when God has a plan, SWAU’s faculty and staff are very understanding and they too will trust in Him. They were with me in prayer and I can truly say that I have experienced a Christ-centered institution first-hand.
What is your message to someone who wants to come to SWAU but feels that finances are a hindrance?
I love SWAU because it has given me a gift that is priceless and goes beyond my career. This is where my path has merged with God’s path. After wandering for so long, I have finally met God and this is where my journey with Him as my guide has started. I know that finances are a great hindrance to many people, but I truly encourage those who share an interest in attending SWAU to take that leap of faith. I encourage you to join me in playing “Trust Fall” with God. I promise that although it will be very nerve wracking you will not regret it. We serve an Almighty God who owns the whole universe and is willing to show you what He can do for you if you simply trust Him.
What is your message to individuals who have donated to SWAU?
I consider scholarships to be answered prayers, and receiving financial aid from those funds has helped me grow closer to God. You have served to answer prayers even before I prayed. You are an instrument of God that has solidified my view that He indeed has everything under control.
What are your thoughts about the Ornament Series?
When I heard about the Ornament Series, I was very excited to see how God would use this opportunity to bring other students closer to Him. As a student worker for the Office of Advancement, I feel honored to be able to see how God has been taking care of all of His children on this campus. I love that SWAU has decided to start a small tradition that will bring alumni and students closer.
What is your message to young alumni who feel they don’t have much to give? Why should they be excited about the $10 a month ornament pledge?
To our young alumni, as Genesis 12:1 and 2 state, “…I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” God blesses us abundantly and He expects us to share our blessings with others. I know that it may be hard, especially now, but by sharing a small portion of those blessings, you will make a great impact on a student’s life. God does not have a limit on His blessings, so trust that He will continue to take care of you.
I know that as students we experience God’s love and mercy countless times. Through this $10 monthly ornament pledge, you can help students like me experience God’s blessing while you receive a small reminder of SWAU.
Raquel is just one student who has been greatly impacted by the generous donations of SWAU family and friends. If you would like to give a gift that lasts, go to swau.edu/give.