First-generation student Annalicia DaSilva is passionate about her university’s mission to make all Hokies feel truly at home.

Over the course of four years, she put her passion for creating welcoming communities into action through Student Affairs programs and as an inclusive excellence representative for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She helped peers transition smoothly to college and shed light on ways the university can meet its goal of better serving students from underrepresented and underserved populations.

Along the way, she gained valuable leadership experience, discovered her strengths, and switched career paths.

“As an inclusive excellence representative, I shared my experiences and what others have gone through,” DaSilva said. “And how diverse populations can be better supported in the college and at the university.”

She was able to contribute in this way thanks to a five-year grant the university received from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s (HHMI) Inclusive Excellence Program to build inclusive educational practices in the sciences.

DaSilva knew she was home when she came to campus as a prospective student. She immediately fell in love with the physical surroundings, possibilities, and strong sense of community. Still, her first year was not without challenges.

“I wanted a place that made me feel welcome,” said DaSilva, who identifies as Latinx and is fluent in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. “I knew this was that place. But as a Latina in STEM, I remember going to class, looking around, and feeling alone. I wanted to be that person someone could look up to and say if she did it, so can I.”

Fast-forward through her four years.

DaSilva was one of the first faces many students saw. She was an orientation leader for New Student and Family Programs, Hokie Camp leader, and Welcome Week leader. She stepped into prominent leadership roles through the Student Government Association. And she was recognized as an Aspirations Fellow for unique and inspiring service.

DaSilva drew on her strengths – relator, developer, harmony, responsibility, and empathy – to help create safe, welcoming environments that empowered students to be open and feel supported.

“I used to think there was nothing special about me,” she said. “That I could never be considered a leader. But throughout my time here, I have become confident in my strengths. I have learned there is no one specific definition of a ‘leader.’ Everyone has something to bring to the table.”

She also realized along the way that she wanted to change her career trajectory.

“I have always wanted to help people,” DaSilva said. “I used to believe that meant caring for people in the physical sense, so basically medical. Now I want to care for people in a more relational way that prepares them to be the best possible person they can be.”

DaSilva will graduate with a major in human nutrition, foods, and exercise from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and a minor in psychology from the College of Science.

Her advice for incoming students?

“Go ask for help when you need it,” she said. “You’re never alone if you’re willing to be open to help and support. And don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. It can be daunting to not have any idea what to expect from this whole experience — but that’s also the beauty of it.”

 

Written by Tammy Tripp. Photo by Christina Franusich.