As a sophomore, Anastasia Matusiewicz of Woodbridge, Virginia, tagged along with some friends to check out a Students Helping Honduras meeting — though she admits that it was solely to avoid doing homework. 

The next night, she signed up to travel to Honduras with the organization — though she admits that was just to do something fun for winter break.

Following that trip, her life trajectory changed drastically.

She returned to Virginia Tech and changed her minor from German to Spanish so that she could better understand the Hondurans. She started dreaming about what she could do to make the impoverished country a better place. Then, she started making things happen.

Matusiewicz, now a senior majoring in International Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, is president of Students Helping Honduras. She was an October recipient of the Aspire! Award for Ut Prosim (That I May Serve). Five times a year, five students who embody the Division of Student Affairs' Aspirations for Student Learning are honored as recipients of Aspire! Awards.

“Like many other international studies majors, Ana learns every day about the problems that plague underdeveloped countries and theories about how to improve these regions. But Ana has gone beyond the classroom, turning theory into practice and demonstrating that you don’t need to be a member of a community to be an advocate for that community," said her nominator, a fellow student.

Honduras is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere and has the highest murder rate in the world. One thousand rural villages across the country lack adequate access to schools, exiling children to abandoned buildings for a makeshift education maybe once a week.

In 2013, parents in the village of Panchame approached Students Helping Honduras because they were concerned that their children, who were dropping out at an alarming rate after sixth grade, would join local gangs.

The group focused its efforts in Panchame on getting kids off the streets and into schools. The former school in Panchame was overcrowded, forcing students to complete their schooling outside in the unpredictable Honduran weather. Matusiewicz and her team from Virginia Tech planned to build a schoolhouse with three classrooms.

Matusiewicz said that the most incredible part of the project was when the Panchame parents raised money for extra supplies to build an additional classroom and small office.

 “When we started, it was nothing more than a pile of dirt, but now, it is a beautiful four classroom middle school — painted maroon and orange in honor of the Hokies!” Matusiewicz said.

In the past two years, Matusiewicz has visited Honduras seven times. Last winter, she was one of three students invited for the ribbon cutting of the new school.

“All the hard work we put into the past few years paid off in that moment. I kind of realized I was working for something beyond myself,” said Matusiewicz.

Not only does Matusiewicz work with Students Helping Honduras, but she also has become one of the strongest voices for Latinos at Virginia Tech. Last semester, she was part of a group that brought family members of Mexico’s 43 missing students to campus to bring national attention to the cause.

Matusiewicz travels to Roanoke weekly to help refugees refine their English language skills. This past summer, she spent six weeks in Honduras to teach English at a summer camp.

Following graduation this spring, Matusiewicz hopes to work for Teach For America and continue her work with the Latino community in the United States. At some point, she’d like to go to law school to study immigration law.

Her nominator said, “Though we all strive to live by the Aspirations for Student Learning, I have met few people that do this with as much devotion and outward expression as Ana.”

In October, November, February, March, and April of each school year, the Division of Student Affairs honors exceptional students with Aspire! Awards. Throughout the course of the academic year, 25 students will be honored for their commitment to living out the Aspirations for Student Learning.

Nomination information, along with important dates, can be found online.

Written by Holly Paulette.