At the other end of the phone, a muffled voice told him they knew where and when she would get off the school bus. Pedro Villegas feared for his daughter’s safety as he watched the violent protests escalate outside his home, each day plunging Venezuela deeper into political and economic chaos. The threatening call only confirmed what he already knew: it was time to get out of the country.

“It was terrifying,” said Arantxa Villegas, as she shared her story from the safety of the Emil Buehler Aviation Institute at Broward College, some four years removed from when she, her father and mother fled Venezuela to seek political asylum in Florida. “We were being targeted, and we weren’t safe. There wasn’t any choice except to move. We didn’t have a future.”

Although she is miles from the teargas, shootings, and crime experienced in her country, Arantxa is still a little nervous as she moves ahead. That nervous memory is now being replaced by excitement. Thanks to a scholarship from the Jerry Taylor & Nancy Bryant Foundation, the 18-year-old can pursue her dream of becoming an astronaut. The $10,000 annual scholarship is part of a larger $2.98 million gift in support of aviation and avionics education at the Emil Buehler Aviation Institute on South Campus.

Immigrating to the United States has been hard on Arantxa and her family. Her father was a prominent dentist and her mother an established accountant back in Valencia, the third-largest city in Venezuela.

“My parents threw away their careers because they want a future for me,” said Arantxa, who, because she knew basic English, bore the responsibility of helping her parents assimilate. “They didn’t want me to be in Venezuela and in danger all the time. They  just wanted me alive.”

Wants to Be an Astronaut

Arantxa VillegasArantxa struggled to put that misery aside and focus instead on her dream, which stemmed from a family vacation, back when times were better, to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

“I saw a man dressed up as an astronaut and I was like, ‘Oh, wow, I would look good in that,’” said Arantxa. “But, I was told girls don’t become astronauts, especially in Venezuela; that my dream will stay as a dream and never come true.”

Now, nothing will be further from the truth. Upon arriving in the United States, Arantxa and her parents, who do not speak English, first settled in Orlando, where they lived out of a small room, a far cry from the lifestyle they once enjoyed in their native land. A few months later, they moved to Miramar.

Starting Over

At Everglades High School, Arantxa was introduced to drones, further elevating her interest in STEM and a career in aviation. Following graduation, she took classes at Seahawk Summer Academy, where she learned what Broward College had to offer, which included enrollment in the Robert Elmore Honors College and the aerospace program and the Taylor-Bryant Avionics Scholarship.

“Now I have hope,” said Arantxa, who, in addition to her classes, works as an assistant manager at Little Caesar’s, her father as an Uber driver, and mother as an administrative assistant to help the family make ends meet.

South Florida’s aviation sector continues to generate high-value jobs. Learn how enrollment in Broward College aviation degree and certification programs can lead to high-wage, high-demand positions in this vital industry.