Savannah-Nicole Villalba is a spark plug. When she talks about her chosen field of study, her passion is immediately evident. But it took her a while to land on her dual major: Sociology and Urban and Community Studies.

Savannah-Nicole will enter her senior year at UConn this fall, and she is grateful for the scholarships she’s received from the Connecticut Community Foundation throughout her college journey.

“I’ve changed schools and majors,” said Savannah-Nicole. “The Connecticut Community Foundation continued to believe in me.”

Savannah-Nicole, a Watertown resident, has been supported through the Foundation’s Regional Scholarship Program, which pools resources from many donors who have established charitable funds to benefit students in the Foundation’s 21-town region. Being on the receiving end of such support solidified her belief that “if you give back to your community, it makes you stronger and your community stronger.”

The Foundation’s investment in Savannah-Nicole’s education is already paying off. This summer, she is researching the healthy food landscape in Waterbury. Her project received a UConn IDEA Grant, which awards funding to support student-designed and student-led projects.

Savannah-Nicole will spend her summer visiting all licensed supermarkets, bodegas and corner stores in Waterbury, collecting data on the quality, quantity and price of available healthy foods.

“With help from UConn’s GIS department, I’ll combine my inventory with GIS, zip code, and Census data to produce maps that will highlight nutrition gaps by neighborhood and other population demographics. We can then use this data to further research and develop programs and interventions that target hunger and poor nutrition and apply for funding.”

Savannah-Nicole has already accomplished big things as a young sociologist, but she doesn’t plan to stop there. She is applying to FoodCorps—an organization that focuses on strategies that ensure healthy food in schools—to gain experience and pay off her student loans. After that, she plans to pursue a master’s degree in Urban Planning and Public Health and a Ph.D in Sociology.

“I want to become an urban community researcher. I want to examine all the things that make a city vibrant and strong, and work to change patterns that disenfranchise and oppress at-risk populations.”

Savannah-Nicole credits her parents for her drive and strong connection to community. “I’ve never seen people go through so many obstacles and still maintain a positive outlook on life. My parents believe that if you support and help the people around you, you can make the world a better place.”

She also knows that her parents share this belief with all of the generous individuals who make the Foundation’s scholarship program possible.

“Scholarships give people like me opportunity and the freedom to make choices and to change our lives. And when the generation before me believes in what I’m doing, it gives me the space to be creative, to ask questions, explore options and pursue my dreams.”