All current or former military, this Georgia family challenges each other as they gain new knowledge and skills.
It is definitely an understatement when Tony Villacorta says his 16-year-old daughter is a “go-getter.”
A top-ranked lacrosse player and member of the Civil Air Patrol, Sara Isabelle “Izzy” Villacorta flew a helicopter before she had actually gotten her driver’s license.
Last year, when Izzy was a sophomore in high school, she decided she wanted to pursue a dual-enrollment program, continuing to take classes at her local public school in Cummings, Ga., while starting an associate degree in Technical Management at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Worldwide Campus.
“I was taking some AP (Advanced Placement) classes, but I wanted to get prepared for the real thing,” she said. “When I researched Embry-Riddle, I thought, ‘This would be perfect for me.’ ”
Not only did Izzy begin to study online through Embry-Riddle, she ended up sparking an idea for her father and two big brothers, all current or former military, to do the same.
Izzy’s father said the commitment for him and his sons to join his daughter came about last year at Thanksgiving.
“We’re Hispanic,” said Tony, referring to his wife’s Colombian roots and his Guatemalan background, “so we all sit around the dinner table and have conversation.”
During one of those discussions, Tony said he and his two sons – Antonio, 22 and Christian, 20 – started looking at the material Izzy was learning through Embry-Riddle.
Suddenly, it seemed like a good family challenge for all of them to enroll.
“I’m very competitive, and my parents and family are, too,” said Antonio, who has a full-time job, a part-time job and serves in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, in addition to taking classes through Embry-Riddle. “It’s kind of cool to have that, with all of us going to school at once.”
“We keep each other motivated,” said Izzy, adding that they sometimes try to beat each other’s grades on quizzes and tests. “My dad said that no matter how old you are, you can always get another degree and move forward.”
“This family has inspired so many of us at Embry-Riddle because of their enthusiasm for new knowledge and achievement,” said Embry-Riddle Worldwide Chancellor Dr. John R. Watret. “Our online programs allow Embry-Riddle to be fully accessible to everyone. Dual enrollment is also an excellent option. In this case, for example, Izzy will have 24 college credits when she finishes high school. We are honored to help the Villacorta family achieve their educational goals.”
Izzy’s dad, Tony, is a Marine who works in financial technology. Through Embry-Riddle, he is pursuing his third bachelor’s degree, this one in Supply-Chain Logistics, which he said provides skills that are valuable in a wide range of fields. His employer, Fiserv of Brookfield, Wisc., pays for his classes.
Tony said he studies an average of an hour and a half a day, generally between 4:30 and 6 a.m. He also sometimes joins Izzy in the evening, when she studies.
Antonio generally gets down to his Embry-Riddle schoolwork on weeknight evenings between 7 and 9 or 10 p.m.
Having attended another university before enrolling at Embry-Riddle, Antonio said he feels in better touch with his online classmates than he was in a classroom setting. He interacts at least weekly with his Embry-Riddle instructors, who give him “really constructive criticism,” he said, adding that he has always felt totally supported as an Embry-Riddle distance learner. The degree Antonio is working toward is in Project Management.
Christian, who is on active duty with the U.S. Army, is currently stationed in Iraq on the Syrian border. His father said Christian works in military intelligence from 6 a.m. until 4 p.m. and then spends about two hours every evening on his Embry-Riddle assignments. Christian’s academic program is focused on Homeland Security.
Izzy said that if she needs help on her Embry-Riddle assignments, she emails her instructor, refers to readings and videos related to the material, checks out Khan Academy (a website offering free tutorials on various topics), or asks one of her high-school teachers or an older friend. She emphasized, however, that she likes that her online coursework allows her to problem-solve on her own.
“I know it will be really helpful for my future, trying to solve things on my own,” she said.
Interested in pursuing a career in cybersecurity, Izzy may join the U.S. Army Reserve and earn a certification as a “white hat” hacker before starting college, even though she has already been offered a lacrosse scholarship at a university in Georgia.
Izzy’s father said she is “trying to gain some leverage because it's hard to be a woman in such a male world.”
Izzy, however, sounds unfazed. “Growing up with all brothers, I never felt out of place,” she said. “I never felt like I had to prove myself any differently than they did."
True to form, the youngest of three siblings already has her career fully wired.
“My dream is to do cybersecurity, and from my research, I see that I should get a job in government. I’ve seen that having a government job will help me really get out there and meet new people and learn new things.”
— By Michaela Jarvis
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Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is the world’s largest, oldest and most comprehensive institution specializing in aviation, aerospace, engineering and related degree programs. A fully accredited university, Embry-Riddle is also a major research center, seeking solutions to real-world problems in partnership with the aerospace industry, other universities and government agencies. A nonprofit, independent institution, Embry-Riddle offers more than 100 associate, baccalaureate, master’s and Ph.D. degree programs in its colleges of Arts & Sciences, Aviation, Business, Engineering and Security & Intelligence. The university educates students at residential campuses in Daytona Beach, Fla., and Prescott, Ariz., through its Worldwide Campus with more than 135 locations in the United States, Europe and Asia, and through online programs. For more information, visit erau.edu, follow us on Twitter (@EmbryRiddle) and facebook.com/EmbryRiddleUniversity, and find expert videos at YouTube.com/EmbryRiddleUniv.