First-generation student wins Sanford Scholarship

Myrla Villa pursues her social work degree with these goals in mind: break mental health stigmas and make a positive impact on people’s lives.

Her ambition is one of the many reasons why she received the Sanford Health Equity in Education Scholarship for $5,000. As a home dialysis unit secretary for Sanford, Myrla’s heart for others shines in her interactions with patients and staff.

“Myrla is a positive, self-motivated, hardworking individual,” Home Dialysis Manager, Alisha Thiel says. “She is the definition of what any employer would look for in an employee.”

The Sanford Health Equity in Education scholarship is awarded to "underrepresented and traditionally underserved populations seeking higher education.” Myrla is a first-generation college student at MSU Moorhead. She's using her social work degree to advocate for mental health awareness, especially for those in Hispanic communities.

“We need to break those cultural stigmas when it comes to mental health struggles," she says.

Born in Mexico, Myrla and her family moved to the U.S. when she was a baby. Growing up bilingual, she wanted to become a Spanish teacher to connect with others. After earning her associate degree and pursuing education for two years at Utah Tech University, she moved home due to financial challenges.

Myrla Villa with large scholarship check

While taking time off school, Myrla worked at the front desk at a counseling center. Being around social workers, she realized this was the path she needed to pursue.

When she and her husband moved to Fargo, N.D., in 2020, it was time for Myrla to earn her degree. From the moment she stepped onto the Moorhead campus, Myrla knew MSUM was the right fit. “As soon as I toured, it felt like home,” she says.

Myrla loves the campus community and the camaraderie of the social work program. With impassioned professors and classmates that feel like a second family, she’s learning how to make a difference in the community.

“Social work allows you to support and advocate for people, walking alongside them in their struggles,” she says.

Myrla has also made an impact through her work at Sanford. She commonly serves as the voice for patients who speak Spanish as their first language. She steps up for others and makes their health journey more comfortable. “I know the struggle of growing up with that language barrier,” she says. “It’s hard enough to advocate for yourself, let alone do it in another language.”

Her goal is to become a mental health counselor. After graduation in December 2024, Myrla will continue her studies at MSUM for a master’s in social work with a focus on providing mental health services and promoting diversity in the social work field.

Overcoming obstacles has been no easy challenge for Myrla. Her advice to others: “¡Si se puede! Don't let cultural barriers stop you. Reach out for help if you need it. Life is better when you walk alongside others who encourage you.”

Social Work Degree

Develop the knowledge and skills required in all facets of licensed generalist social work practice.

Learn more about Social Work

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