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Amazing Student: 'The power of courage means never giving up'

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After serving in the Army National Guard for six years, veteran Eder Villegas is pursuing his passion for teaching as a graduate student in the Mary Frances Early College of Education to help students connect the lessons they learn in the classroom with their daily lives and experiences.

Hometown: Athens, GA

Degree objective: M.Ed. in social studies education

Expected graduation: Spring 2023

Other degrees: B.S.Ed. in social studies education

Current employment: Social studies teacher, Summerour Middle School in Norcross, GA

Eder teaching

Why did you choose to come to UGA?

Growing up in Athens, you do not go without hearing about the University of Georgia. I had always wanted to attend UGA because of the positive interactions I have had with staff, students, and the great stories I have heard from friends who attend the university. Due to my amazing student teachers, teachers, and friends, UGA was an easy choice for undergraduate and graduate school. My experience at UGA has been nothing but great! I have met amazing friends and I met my wife here on campus. I cannot thank the University and the College of Education enough for the amazing opportunities that they have provided me.

You are currently pursuing a master's degree in social studies education. What drives your passion for teaching?

My passion for teaching comes from the connection I make with students. My students motivate me to expand my knowledge and skill in teaching. When students motivate me to be my best, they are motivated to provide me with their best. Social studies is a great subject to create connections with students. Social studies also allows me to connect content with their daily lives and experiences and to create authentic pedagogy for students to engage and create an understanding of what we are learning.

On a similar note, what drives your passion for social studies in particular?

The driving factor for my passion for social studies is to understand the diversity of the world. I want to learn and understand different cultural backgrounds. While learning about culture, I'm not just learning a language, food, or music, I'm also learning history, motives, traditions, ancestry and purpose in the world. I always keep an open mind when learning and teaching social studies. As a Latino teacher working in a majority Latinx school, I have learned more about my ethnicity/culture than I could ever imagine. Getting my master of education in social studies lets me continue my passion for social studies.

What part of the armed forces did you serve in? What lessons did you learn during your time in the military?

I served six years with the Army National Guard. The biggest lesson I learned from my time in the service is to have personal courage, meaning never give up on and push through obstacles to achieve your goal. This lesson has guided me through undergrad and currently my graduate courses. Also, the lesson guided me through my teaching and allowed me to challenge myself with new teaching strategies to help students achieve their ultimate goal even if the journey looks impossible. Eder teaching in classroom

What do you like to do in your free time?

During my free time, I love to travel by cruise ship. Before the pandemic, I was cruising every six months with my wife and family. When cruising resumes, I plan to continue this tradition. I also enjoy running while listening to my favorite bands. This is a perfect way to destress and start the day. I also enjoy spending time with friends and family by hosting dinners and video game nights. My friends and I are huge fans of Super Smash Bros., and we can spend hours on end playing the game. Finally, I love to cheer for my dawgs on Saturdays! GO DAWGS!

What accomplishment(s) are you most proud of?

My biggest accomplishment is graduating with a bachelor's degree from the University of Georgia. This meant a lot to me because it was just not my dream, but my parent's dream as well. My parents sacrificed everything when they moved my family from Peru to the United States. My parent's goal was to provide me and my sister with the best life and education possible. When I graduated from the University of Georgia, I knew I made my parents proud and that is all I can ask for.

What's your ideal career path after graduation?

My career plan after graduation is to continue teaching. I would like to continue to work in a diverse community that allows me to be who I am and help students understand the diversity of the world.
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