Pine View senior earns spot in college program
When Juan Villegas sat down for a final interview for the Utah Jazz Scholarship, he prepared as best he could.
He dressed professionally, ready to answer any questions the interviewer would ask him. It was his last chance to leave an impression on why he deserved one of the 30 places available.
When his phone rang, Villegas answered. It was Jazz forward Joe Ingles on the other end.
“He FaceTimed me,” Villegas said. “He wanted to congratulate me and tell me personally that I got the scholarship.”
At first it didn’t register. Not that it was a prank, but that he was on the wrong call.
“I was like, ‘uh, is this the right number?'” Villegas said. “I was like, maybe it wasn’t for me.”
But, it was meant for him, and Villegas, the recent graduate of Pine View High, was one of the few to earn a spot in the Utah Jazz Scholar program, which places him in the present and the future.
The Utah Jazz Scholarship Program was created specifically for underrepresented student groups like Villegas.
There were 30 purses this year, one for every preseason win and every win before the All-Star break this season.
In the scholarship application, applicants had to show that they were a Utah high school graduate, a person of color, and had a demonstrated financial need.
Among the beneficiaries, 90% are first generation students, 53% are women and 47% are men. The money will cover tuition, books, fees, as well as room and board.
Recipients of each scholarship must attend six universities in Utah: Brigham Young University, Southern Utah University, University of Utah, Utah State University, Utah Valley University, Weber State University
Villegas was one of those 30 students, graduating from Pine View in May. He will enroll at Southern Utah University this fall.
At Pine View, he had the opportunity when Teresa Peterson, his guidance counselor at PVHS, told him about the scholarship.
“Honestly, if it wasn’t for her, I never would have heard of it,” Villegas said. “I would have missed this opportunity.”
Villegas is also one of the 90% of beneficiaries who are first-generation college students. The scholarship gave preference to first-generation students, and Villegas said he got his work ethic from his parents who didn’t have the same opportunity.
“They obviously immigrated to this country for the sake of their families,” he said. “Since we were little, my father, my mother, they sometimes had two or three jobs. And their main objective was to make sure that their children did not have difficulties.”
Seeing his parents working tirelessly for the sake of their children made it personal for Villegas. When he realized he wasn’t good at sports, Villegas put his energy into jobs to save money to go to college.
Villegas, along with his sister, who attends Dixie State, are doing exactly what their parents wanted.
“They always told us, please go to school,” Villegas said.
He is following his parents’ wishes to the letter and Villegas is already thinking of ways to give back.
At SUU, Villegas isn’t entirely set on what he wants to specialize in. He first thought of aviation, but throughout this process he kept thinking of the teachers and mentors who helped him get there.
“I want to be that for some students too,” Villegas said. “I think I could go into education.”
He won’t just receive fully paid tuition, either. The Jazz make sure their academics are prepared to succeed even after they graduate from college.
The scholarship program will also provide mentorships, job shadowing, internships and job placement support for each of its recipients. However, these mentorship programs are a bit more advanced for Villegas.
Now he has to prepare to be a student.
“I kind of want to work during school, but mostly I want to focus on school itself,” Villegas said. “I want to make sure I don’t disappoint anyone. I want to do good.”
He wants to do good in order to thank his parents for putting him in a position to win an opportunity like this.
It’s also why he chose SUU over two of the other six schools: Utah Valley and the University of Utah. He wants to be close to his family and make them proud with a degree.
Villegas also wants others to see her success and always looking for opportunities where they can earn a chance to do what matters most to them.
“Never give up, never say, ‘Oh, maybe I’m not good enough,'” Villegas said. “When I saw it, I was like there would be no way to have it. I’m still shaken to have it.”