Nanette Vega '96
Feature Stories 2021: Nanette Vega ’96: Dared to dream big
Nanette Vega ’96: Dared to dream big

First-generation graduate now advocates for students as a higher education professional

When Nanette Vega ’96 stepped onto campus for the first time, she felt empowered, liberated—she was a college student now!

For some first-generation students like Vega, getting this far was a milestone, but she knew there was more out there. She found her inspiration and supports at UMassD through a circle of faculty and the dedicated staff of College Now who set the course to her journey. “They dared me to dream big. They asked me: what do you want to be, who do you want to be, and how can we help you get there.”

Now, she saw a whole world open to her. “College Now changed the trajectory of my life.”

Vega understands the challenge for students who come from similar backgrounds who are motivated to pursue higher education, but need guidance. “I didn’t know about office hours for extra help, nor did my family know how to fill out a FAFSA for financial aid,” she said.

Her career has focused on helping students amass the capital to be successful in college and creating a culture of diversity and inclusion where students are empowered to dream big, as she did at UMassD. Vega is currently assistant professor for medical education and assistant dean for diversity, inclusion and community engagement at University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine. In addition to a bachelor’s degree in sociology from UMassD, she holds master’s and doctorate degrees in higher education leadership from the University of Miami.

Vega was introduced to so many people at UMassD who would play a role in her serendipitous journey to become a respected higher education professional; it’s almost as if this career chose her. After benefitting from the supports of College Now, today she works to establish programs to dismantle some of the structural systems that can create obstacles for students to realize their dreams. A work study job in the foreign language department with the late Professor Giulio Massano inspired her to study Spanish Literature. Vega became proficient in Spanish, which would become essential when she relocated to Miami.

If there is one concept that has been central to Vega’s life, it is giving back to the people and places that helped shape one’s life. “The foundation for my career was built at UMass Dartmouth,” she said. “So many people invested in me. It is my turn now to give back.”

Joining the Alumni Association Board is Vega’s chance to give back by leaving a sustaining legacy at UMassD. Her goal is to work to increase scholarships for underrepresented students and promote mentorship roles for alumni and students through the new Corsair Network. As a first-generation college student, Vega values building connections with students so they can see themselves in the mentors and community around them.

“There have been times where I did not see myself represented in certain spaces. Having a one-on-one mentorship relationship with an alum, especially for a first-generation student like me, has long-lasting benefits.”

Vega is invigorated by the growth and development of UMass Dartmouth. “It’s exciting to be part of an institution that continues to build students’ dreams and continues to serve the community. I’m proud to be a part of this legacy.”