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Kenia ‘Marisol’ Chavez and Nancy Arzaga selected as All-Washington nominees

Yakima Valley College selected Kenia ‘Marisol’ Chavez and Nancy Arzaga as the nominees for the 2024 All-Washington Academic Team. Each year, YVC and other community and technical colleges in Washington state select up to two student nominees to represent their college in the All-USA Academic Team competition.

Chavez and Arzaga were honored in an All-Washington Academic Team ceremony in April at South Puget Sound Community College and received a commemorative medallion and $500 in scholarships from KeyBank and the YVC Foundation. They’ll also be placed in competition for the All-USA Academic Team and New Century Pathway Scholarship awards, and are eligible for additional scholarship funding through many four-year colleges and universities in Washington when they transfer from YVC.

Photos from All-Washington Ceremony.
Kenia Marisol Chavez and her parents at the All-Washington Academic Team ceremony.

Kenia ‘Marisol’ Chavez

After migrating to the United States, Chavez moved frequently with her migrant family. She spent time living in California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois and Oregon before settling in Washington. Like many undocumented students, after high school Chavez didn’t believe college would be possible.

“Coming out of high school without any sort of identification or papers I didn’t think higher education was an option for me. I held waitress jobs and eventually began working at a physical therapy office in Sunnyside.”

In 2012 when the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was implemented, Chavez began to envision a different future for herself.

“In 2016 I applied for DACA and got approved. I started thinking about going back to college, but was unsure what to major in, so I continued to stay in the workforce,” says Chavez. “Then, after about five years, my coworker who was going to college encouraged me. She was my motivation and inspiration.”

Encouraged by her experience with a high school project and her family’s passion for music, Chavez applied to Yakima Valley College and began working toward a degree in communication and media arts.

“For my high school project, I joined a radio station, and I found a live audio engineer here locally. I started working with them and helping out as at concerts,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in music, so after learning the technical skills in that field I wanted to know more about the business side — like how a band or singer came to be or how the public learned about them in general.”

“I came to realize that public relations was a key area involved in this process. I thought learning to be a communicator to help brands, bands or even an organization grow would be fun.”

Getting started in college felt daunting, but Chavez quickly found support.

“It was a challenge at first. I didn’t have anybody to ask where do I get financial aid or WASFA (Washington Application for State Financial Aid) or anything like that. I didn’t know which way to go and I had to ask my advisor a lot of stuff. I needed direction and had to find a lot of resources on my own. Until I found Communities for Our Colleges (C4C).”

Inspired by their mission to engage students and help improve the state’s community colleges, Chavez began volunteering with C4C in order to provide support to other students like her.

“I started helping them out with bills or anything that they wanted to present to the governor of Washington state,” Chavez said. “I enjoy helping other students, especially undocumented students, that don’t know if they should go back [to school] or not.

“I think about my struggle and my challenges as being [a first-generation college student]. Knowing that I can be there to help them, it’s a really nice feeling.”

After completing her associate degree at YVC, Chavez plans to transfer to Washington State University to finish her bachelor’s degree. Ultimately, she’d like to work for a well-known public relations agency in New York City or Chicago and explore creating a startup agency of her own.

Nancy Arzaga
Nancy Arzaga and her son at the All-Washington Academic Team ceremony.

Nancy Arzaga

Arzaga’s mother, an immigrant and single parent, worked hard to provide for her family and taught her daughter to never give up on her life goals. Yet Arzaga fell into drug and alcohol addiction at a young age.

“I chose the wrong path for most of my life, and I did not do well in high school like my peers,” says Arzaga. “I was in a very dark place for a long time. I’d get into trouble, stop using, then I’d go right back to it.”

In 2021, after giving birth to her second child, Arzaga decided it was time to make a change.

“[My son] was really what got me to stop [using]. After he was born Child Protective Services became involved, so I knew I really had to get my act together,” Arzaga said. “I chose to pursue my associate of applied science in substance use disorder (SUD) because I have been there, I know what it is like. Some might say that’s my resume or firsthand experience.” 

Finding success at YVC, Arzaga has matured and given herself a second opportunity at life — one where she can help others.

“I am better than I’ve ever been. I’m going on two years of sobriety, am a straight A student, and I’m pushing myself every day to pursue my goals and not let anything stop me or get in my way,” said Arzaga.

She’s thankful for the support she’s received from YVC faculty and staff, especially SUD Instructor Danielle Fleming.

“She’s helped me tremendously,” says Arzaga. “Not even just me in general, but she goes above and beyond for all her students.” 

One key area where Arzaga is impressed with Fleming is her access to and integration with local agencies in Yakima County that work with individuals dealing with substance use disorders. Those relationships led directly to Arzaga landing a job at Triumph Treatment Services’ center for pregnant women and parents.

“[Fleming] brings agencies to come and talk to us in class. That’s actually where Triumph Treatment Center came in. I told her that I wanted to work there. And she helped me tremendously, helped me connect with the organization and wrote me a letter of recommendation. And now I work there as a professional trainee counselor.”

She’s also happy that her choices have helped her become a positive role model for her children.

“My oldest son is 12. He’s seen me struggle over the years and he’s just so proud of me. He’s really doing good in school and is in honors class and he’s just amazing. He now knows that college is the path to go.”

Outside of the classroom she’s also making an impact both on campus and in the community by being part of the new Sober Scholars student club, serving as treasurer.

After completing her degree at YVC Arzaga plans to transfer to a 4-year college or university and pursue bachelor’s and master’s degrees in substance use disorder and mental health.

“My passion is helping others so I know I will be good at it and I will be doing something I truly love,” she said. “There are a lot of ups and downs to this line of work but with the education I am pursuing I hope to shine some light into the lives of the people that truly are living in a dark place.”

Story by Stefanie Menard, AA-DTA ’05, communications consultant. Photos by Tammy Berbells during the 2024 All Washington Celebration.