Emma Violand-Sánchez ’66, M.A. ’68
Emma Violand-Sánchez ’66, M.A. ’68 has used her life experience – including her time at Radford University – to change the lives of children in Virginia.
In 2011, Violand-Sánchez founded the Dream Project, a non-profit organization that provides immigrant and refugee students in northern Virginia with mentorship, advocacy, scholarships and assistance enrolling into and graduating from Virginia universities and colleges.
Her previous work included serving as the first Latina elected to the Arlington School Board, where she served for eight years, including twice serving as the chair of the board. She also worked as a teacher, mentor and coordinator for refugee, immigrant and English as second language students for 32 years.
For Violand-Sánchez, the decision to give back was an easy one. She, along with her sister, emigrated from Bolivia to the United States when she was 16 years old, living with a host family and going to high school in Fairfax. At a college night during her senior year of high school, she met a representative from Radford University and, after receiving scholarships to help her afford her education, committed to being a Highlander. “I’ve kept the letter that Radford sent me offering me a foreign student scholarship and a work scholarship after all this time,” said Violand-Sánchez.
Her work as a student included not only academics, but leadership as well.
“I had opportunities for leadership at Radford. I remember being elected as freshman class secretary,” Violand-Sanchez explained. “Here’s someone from Bolivia with a heavy accent coming to the United States and getting a class officer position. I developed my leadership skills at Radford.”
Helping others was also important to her while she studied at Radford University. Violand-Sánchez assisted low-income African-American Radford University students at a time when the south was still segregated. “Those are lessons that are still a part of me,” she says. “Those experiences have helped me understand the experiences of those who have felt discriminated. Because of that, I’ve made it my life’s work to provide access to education to those people who have been discriminated against.”
She hopes current Radford University students will do the same. “Focus on social justice and open your eyes to opportunities to help other students,” Violand-Sánchez advises. “We all have to be advocates for social justice.”
Now, her most far-reaching work comes with the Dream Project. The organization matches immigrant and refugee students in northern Virginia with mentors, educates communities and awards scholarships. In 2015-16, the Dream Project awarded $76,000 in scholarships to 76 students. Some students who have been helped by the program attend Radford University today, and some have already graduated. “I truly identify with the immigrant students,” she says.
Violand-Sánchez retired from her position on the Arlington School Board this past December to focus full-time on her work with the Dream Project. Her current day-to-day responsibilities include working with other board members of the Dream Project, communities, mentors, students and their families to help fund scholarships and ensure everything is operating as it should.
In recognition of the work she has done with the Dream Project and students throughout the area, Violand-Sánchez was named one of The Washingtonian’s 2016 11 Washingtonians of the Year. She says her goal now is to expand the Dream Project to partner with even more Virginia colleges and universities and provide more scholarships to students outside of northern Virginia.
“I am forever thankful for the opportunity that Radford provided me,” says Violand-Sánchez. “I was able to foster friendships I still have and a sense of community that someone like myself who comes from another country doesn’t always get. Thanks to the education I got at Radford I have been able to succeed professionally as well as in the community.”
To learn more about the Dream Project and find out ways you can help, visit www.dreamproject-va.org.
Violand-Sánchez will be attending her Golden Reunion during Radford University’s Homecoming and Reunion Weekend, October 6-8, 2017. For more information on the weekend, please visit http://www.radford.edu/content/homecoming/home.html.