Editor’s note: The story here is part of a series of 40 stories commemorating USF Sarasota-Manatee’s 40th anniversary this academic year. For more about USFSM’s history, please visit usfsm.edu/anniversary.
Christi Womack Villalobos couldn’t say ‘no’ when the alumni association called. She couldn’t turn down the Brunch on the Bay committee when it wanted help. And when the association organized an all-alumni reunion, she was there working behind the scenes.
The USF Sarasota-Manatee Class of ’92 alumna can’t seem to turn her back on her alma mater, whether it means making phone calls to fellow alums, organizing social events, raising scholarship funds or interviewing scholarship candidates.
“You have to find something you’re passionate about. I’m passionate about USF and USFSM,” she said, adding that the work was made enjoyable by the other USFSM boosters she encountered, including people, who it turned out, became “lifetime friends.”
Womack Villalobos, a local newspaper editor and writer, spent 10 years as a USFSM Alumni Association board member before being asked to join the National Alumni Association’s board of directors in 2008, a position she held for five years.
She’s served on numerous other organizations as well, including the Rotary Club of East Manatee and the Literacy Council of Manatee County, but USF and USFSM hold a special place. Womack Villalobos says the explanation is simple: USFSM was there when she needed help with her educational goals and now she’s “giving back.”
After earning an associate’s degree at then-Manatee Junior College, Womack Villalobos landed a full-time newsroom job, but the desire to return to school for a bachelor’s degree never waned. So she turned to USF Sarasota-Manatee. Working full time and attending classes at night, she earned a bachelor’s of arts degree in English.
“It took five years, which is not optimal for university purposes, but for me it was perfect to come here because if I hadn’t had this campus I probably would not have returned to school because I probably would not have been able to drive to St. Pete or Tampa and work full time,” she said. “That’s what fuels my passion for this campus because I realize how important it is for people like me to be able to continue their education.”
Her efforts on behalf of USFSM’s alumni association earned her a Distinguished Alumni Award in 2004. They also led to a mentorship experience she still cherishes. Womack Villalobos mentored Eden Monier Barreto for two years before the young technical writing student graduated in 2011.
The two met for coffee weekly to chat about life, Barreto’s studies and her workload. She moved to Seattle about a year after graduation, but the two still keep in touch.
“There’s got to be more to someone than just their job and home life,” Womack Villalobos says. “You need to find something you’re passionate about to expand your knowledge about the world around you, and, in your own small way, you can be part of the solution.
“It doesn’t always have to be about donating money. Donating your time can be just as valuable,” she said.