Valeria Sandoval working outside on a laptop at the NAU–Yuma campus. Valeria Sandoval working outside on a laptop at the NAU–Yuma campus.
Education & Service 

Student gets her “A+ going”

internship NAU–Yuma social work Yuma
Valeria Sandoval working outside on a laptop at the NAU–Yuma campus.

After almost dropping out of high school, Valeria Sandoval took control of her life and will soon graduate with a Social Work degree and an eye toward grad school.

For most of her life, Valeria Sandoval didn’t think college was for her. She didn’t even care about graduating from high school until a boyfriend challenged her mindset.

“He was like, ‘What do you mean you’re not going to graduate high school?’ I got embarrassed, you know? I would always ditch; that’s kind of embarrassing.”

So she flipped the script. Or, in her words: “I got my A+ going. And I did it super-fast, for A+, and I graduated.”

After proving to herself that she could succeed in school, Sandoval took the next step and enrolled in Arizona Western College in Yuma. She chose the community college because of its proximity to her hometown of Somerton, about a half-hour drive away. At AWC, she worked on completing her general education courses while planning to pursue an eventual nursing degree or certificate. But after a while, trying to juggle work and increasingly difficult courses became too frustrating; she dropped out to consider other options. She knew she wanted a career helping people, but had realized that nursing wasn’t a good fit.

With guidance from an AWC counselor and an assessment test, she returned to community college thinking about a career in social work. But as a first-generation student, she was on her own figuring out how to apply and pay for college beyond AWC.

“I knew I wanted to do something in my life,” she says. “I didn’t think about leaving town. I’m really close to my family. I’d rather stay here, save money. So I finished my courses at AWC, and never in a million years would I have thought I would get my bachelor’s, but I had some friends in my stats class at AWC who were going to do it. So I was like, you know what? If I could get financial aid and everything, I’m all for it. And here we are.”

Here is close to the end of NAU–Yuma’s full-time, two-year social work program: Sandoval is on track to graduate in spring 2022. Her instructors have been supportive throughout, even when she contracted COVID. “The professors, they really…they push us. They really motivate you, and then they give you chances. If life is going wrong, they completely understand.”

Right now, she’s happily immersed in an internship.

“Everybody’s doing internships at different places depending on what they like,” she explains. “I’m at the Arizona Department of Child Safety in Yuma. I like to interact with people, go out.”

She’ll have many job possibilities when she graduates. But the girl who never thought she’d graduate from high school is also considering a master’s degree.

“A lot of my classmates are talking about grad school. That’s been on my mind, but I don’t know.”

What she does know is that she wants to stay in southwestern Arizona, near her family, for her education and career.

But first, she’s planning a trip to Flagstaff to celebrate her achievement at the commencement ceremony in May.