uAspire First One – Waleska Lugo-DeJesus

By: Chris Loney | Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Finances are the #1 barrier that keeps high-potential students across our country from continuing their education and earning a degree. As part of the uAspire First One Awards, uAspire will be featuring stories of individuals who are first-generation college graduates. Despite many challenges – often because of the high costs of college – they persevered and earned their college degree. Their stories show why it’s so important that education remains an affordable option to all, and how uAspire is committed to this effort.

The following story is about Waleska Lugo-DeJesus, Director of Multicultural Affairs and Executive Assistant to the President at Westfield State University

For Waleska, education has been the difference between taking control of her life and career, and remaining stagnant. But more importantly, her educational achievements and the career they eventually afforded her have broadened her ability to impact the lives of others. An education, however, must be earned and paid for – a lesson Waleska learned through persistence and grit.

Waleska was born and raised in Puerto Rico with three siblings and an extended family that included 12 aunts and uncles (on each of her parents’ sides) and over 35 cousins. Neither of Waleska’s parents completed high school, and college was simply not the norm for her family. Even so, Waleska’s mother taught her a lesson that has stuck with her throughout her life– to dream big. At the time, this meant pursuing a degree in accounting from a University in Puerto Rico.

But when Waleska’s grandmother, the matriarch of her family, relocated to Springfield, Waleska’s family followed. And when her grandmother decided to go to Springfield Technical Community College to take English language classes, Waleska was inspired to transfer her credits, finish what she began years prior, and continue her own college career.
Waleska realized how important an education would be for her – but she also found out how difficult it would be to finish. She struggled to balance financing her education while working and supporting her family. Waleska also had little knowledge of the financial aid that was available that might have helped her get through faster, and it took Waleska nearly 10 years to earn her 2-year Associate’s degree. Still, she was the first in her family to receive any kind of college degree. Waleska’s story exemplifies that ambition is only half the battle of obtaining a college education, and that affordability is a crucial piece of college success and completion.

But Waleska’s ambition kept her coming back to class. Eventually, she enrolled at Westfield State College and found resources to help shed light on her financial aid options. Her ability to afford college grew as she continued her schooling and learned about the financial support available to her. Waleska went on to complete her bachelor’s degree in business management in four years. And, while working at Westfield State, she earned her master’s degree in public administration in just one year.

Now, education has afforded Waleska a career where she can focus on three areas of interest that reflect her family’s commitment to giving back – civic engagement, education, and diversity. As the Director of Multicultural Affairs at Westfield State, Waleska advocates for and impacts the lives of her students on a daily basis. She also talks to younger children about the prospects of college and how it should and can be the key to pursuing their dreams. For Waleska, education has meant gaining – and using – a seat at the table, and helping others to do the same.

AS, Business Management – Springfield Technical Community College (2005)
BS, Business Management – Westfield State University (2010)
MPA, Management – Westfield State University (2012)

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