The Vision to Make a Difference
Thayer Raymond Memorial Scholarship winner Wilbert Piña is working to improve both his college and his community
Wilbert Piña always remembers his father’s advice. “He would say, ‘You want to make a difference? Then be part of the decision-making.’”
Piña continues to follow that advice. While studying business and community-based research through Evergreen’s Tacoma program, and planning for a career in healthcare administration, he also serves as the student member of Evergreen’s Board of Trustees. Appointed by Gov. Christine Gregoire, his term runs through June 30, 2012.
Born in Wenatchee, Wash., with a father from Mexico and a mother from the United States, Piña moved to Mexico at the age of nine, where he started school all over again and finished his studies at the University of Campeche. However, he says, his exposure to the country “opened his eyes to the world.” After living in Mexico for 12 years, he came back to Washington and started school at Pierce College. He made the deans’ list three times, and earned his associate’s degree in business management in 2010. He also has certificates in sales, supervision and management, and entrepreneurship.
At Evergreen, Piña has been active in student government, including as a Services and Activities Board member, Geoduck Student Union representative (both elective positions by the student body), and as a Washington Student Association committee member. He’s committed to making a difference in his community and in the state of Washington, and his commitment to student government as well as his work with local high school students were key to his receiving the Thayer Raymond Memorial Scholarship, awarded to students who have demonstrated financial need and involvement in the betterment of society.
“The only way I’m going to make a difference for those who most need it in our community is through education,” he explains.
That’s one reason he works with the English Language Learners program through GEAR UP, helping Latino students who are adapting to the American school system. In addition to being a full time student, a trustee, and a single parent to his 3-year-old son, Emmett, Piña volunteers at least twice per week at the schools, and more when he’s needed. “When I moved to Mexico in the fifth grade after going to school in the U.S. all my life, I had to relearn Spanish, so I can understand what they’re going through learning English,” he says. “Many of their parents are working two or three jobs, so they have no one to help them make that transition.”
The needs he sees in his community are what inspire him to pursue a career in healthcare management. “My brother was paralyzed by a drunk driver when he was in his 20s, and I’ve seen how hard it is for him to work with his doctors and the insurance companies to get the care he needs,” he says. “I want to get my MBA in healthcare and make a difference here in our state, because this state has given me so much.”
Piña is on track to graduate in 2012 and will be the first in his family to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. Last year, he was chosen from 8,000 applicants as one of only 340 students to attend a three-day master’s in business program preview for first-generation students of color at Harvard University, and plans to apply for a special Harvard MBA program where he will work for two years, then study to earn his MBA. “There is such a critical need for Latinos who can speak and write Spanish in the healthcare field, that they have been very encouraging,” Piña says. “I think that going to Harvard can really open some doors for me to do innovative business management in the healthcare field.”
Piña’s commitment to his community has also led him to be active in politics. He is currently president of the young adult Democrats in Tacoma’s 28th district. As a member of the Geoduck Student Union and a trustee, Piña can look in-depth at college policies and have a voice in creating them. “I don’t like complaining about things. I want to be part of the vision-making,” he says. “I bring a student’s perspective to the board, and can encourage board members to participate more with our students. But I can also help students understand how things work and how they can be more actively involved in the policies of our school.”
With the scholarship he received, Piña is able to focus his time and effort on his academics, his volunteer and leadership positions and his family, knowing that all will be key to his future success.
“It’s all about what you want in life and the effort you’re willing to put into it,” he says. “I want to be in a position where I can say ‘this needs to change, so let’s change it.’”