This Thanksgiving, Cristina Vasquez, president of USF’s Phi Sigma Pi, is thankful for school.
“There are times when I realize how lucky I am to go to college,” said Vasquez, reminiscing about her worry over attending a university. “I don’t want other students to have to miss out on an education because something is holding them back.”
Growing up in a military home, Vasquez was constantly moving between foreign bases like Italy, Japan and Germany, filled with interesting cities and people. Her diverse insight has provided her with a worldly perspective on life and the importance of education.
“There are different education systems around the world, but most are more accessible than schools in the [United] States,” said Vasquez. She has seen firsthand the issues that plague students in the Tampa Bay community who cannot afford to get an education because of socioeconomic problems.
Vasquez believes that part of the reason why students drop out of high school or do not continue on to college, is because they don’t receive proper counseling and instruction on how to apply to school and receive funding. She also believes that some of them do not realize the importance of school, early on.
“My mother worked a full-time job, raised three kids and sacrificed her free time to go to college. Without her, I never would have realized the importance of education. I wouldn’t have had the opportunities I have now.” Vasquez said.
Annie Hudgins, Vasquez’s mother, agrees that she was always trying to instill the importance of education into her children.
“I always told my children, I can’t leave you much but the one thing I want for you all is to get an education, because once you have that many doors that will open up for you. You [will] start to understand the world and others better,” she said.
Currently, Vasquez is a senior psychology student at USF. She hopes to become a high school counselor in the future, so that she may aid students into choosing to pursue higher education, despite the obstacles they may face. In the meantime, she uses her fraternity influence to run school supply and book drives for local elementary and middle schools.
“We have a philanthropic goal to overcome in the fraternity, and mine is education inequality. Every child deserves a good education,” said Vasquez. While the fraternity also participates in other charitable goals, like cleaning up the USF campus, Vasquez enjoys being able to pursue her passions with her fraternity.
Kiana Coffey, Vasquez’s best friend and roommate is also a member of Phi Sigma Pi and supports Vasquez’s passions in the fraternity.
“I think this is a really important goal. More accessible education would offer students facing adversity more opportunities for success,” Coffey said. She also believes that Vasquez’s loving nature and strong leadership skills would make her successful in pursuing this passion.
Vasquez may be an education advocate in the Tampa community, but at USF she makes strides elsewhere. Vazquez runs the first all gender-inclusive, honor fraternity at USF. Phi Sigma Pi consists of 40 to 60 people each semester, all of which have at least a 3.2 GPA and three or more semesters left at the university. According to Vasquez, Phi Sigma Pi has a hand in everything including scholarship, social and charity events.
Despite having the final say in fraternity decisions, Vasquez always takes into consideration the opinions of all her fraternity members.
“As a leader, it’s important to take the backseat and do what’s best for the group,” said Vasquez.
Patrick Bagge, a Phi Sigma Pi initiary advisor believes that Vasquez is a great mentor.
“[She] always puts the needs of others before her own,” Bagge said. “and always does her utmost to fulfill her goals.”
Cellular and Molecular Biology student, Kaylie Male, also agrees that Vasquez is an influential leader.
“I don’t think that [Vasquez] realizes how much positivity she radiates. I feel that her future will greet her with many more opportunities than she may even think possible. Her positivity and determination will be at the root of her success,” said Male, who has been a member of Phi Sigma Pi for two years.
Vasquez will be graduating USF in the spring of 2015. She hopes to inspire others to pursue higher schooling and become leaders within their community.
“Cristina will do a lot of good in the world, in small ways and big ways. She is definitely someone to keep an eye on,” Coffey said.