Spotlight on Students: Aileen Villa Changes Perceptions Through QuestBridge

By Emily Diamond ’20

A young woman with curly brown hair and glasses holding a banner saying 'Scripps Quest Scholars Network'.

The number of undergraduate students at U.S. colleges and universities has increased by three million over the past 20 years, with students of color and those from low-income families making up much of that growth, according to a report from the Pew Research Center. Of those enrolled in 2015-16, 20 percent were low-income students, an eight percent increase from 20 years earlier. The QuestBridge program, a national program that connects low-income high school students with institutions of higher education, is helping lead this change.

Aileen Villa ’22, a dual major in politics and anthropology, participated in the college-prep program offered by QuestBridge while in high school. “Through the QuestBridge program, I learned about the resources for applying to college and was able to visit the 5Cs, where I was connected to Scripps. Once I visited, I immediately knew I wanted to come here.”

Now, Villa is the president of the QuestBridge chapter at Scripps, which consists of 30 Scripps students. In collaboration with other QuestBridge members and the greater community, Villa helps low-income and first-generation students navigate college by hosting financial literacy workshops, professional workshops, and organizing outings that students might not otherwise be able to access.

At Scripps, the QuestBridge program is open to all students who identify as low-income or first-generation; it is not restricted to those who completed the program in high school. “It is important to foster an inclusive community that is a resource for many students,” says Villa.

As well as creating a community on campus, the QuestBridge program aims to empower students to see how their experiences are valuable and can be an asset later in their careers.

For example, several students in the Scripps QuestBridge program are on the pre-med track. Villa wants to help these students recognize how their experiences can help create empathy and connection when they interact with patients who identify as low-income.

“I have had experiences in class where people discuss low-income students as something that exists far away from the college classroom, ‘out there.’ But, in reality there are students who live with those identities at this institution,” says Villa. “Through QuestBridge, we try to show students that their experiences are valuable, and they are an important part of the Scripps community.”

And for Villa, it’s all about community. “I do have the title of ‘president,’ but I am merely a part of a larger resource for low-income students on campus,” she says. “It is so valuable to bond over shared and unique experiences as we navigate higher education.”