An open door
Her passion for equity, access has meant creating opportunity for those closed out or crossed off the list
Posted 11:03 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022
Vickie Sanchez was visiting a high school in suburban Milwaukee back in 2006. A recruiter for UW-La Crosse at the time, she remembers being handed a list of about 20 student names at the counseling office. Sanchez was pumped to meet with such a big group, but then she noticed about half the names were crossed out.
Sanchez, ’07, has devoted about 15 years of her career to working in the UW System and keeping the doors of higher education open — even to students who are living in remote areas, struggling with academics, are the first in their family to attend college, or lack the self-confidence to imagine themselves as college students.
She didn’t like that the names were crossed out.
“We thought we’d save you some time,” the high school staff person told her. “They didn’t meet the profile of UWL students.”
Very direct, but still professional, Sanchez let the counselor know that she would stay an extra hour and meet with all of the students who had interest in UWL. “You cannot close a door on a student and not know their story and not know what else they have to bring,” she says.
Sanchez talked to the students for a long time that day. She told them if they applied to UWL, the university would look at the whole student – not just the ACT score or class rank. She told them about the support programs they could lean on to get more academically prepared for college. She told them that even if they didn’t get in on their first try, they could start somewhere else and transfer in.
“There will be times when people think you are not good enough and you are going to have to prove them wrong," she told the students. “I don’t know you, but I was you.”
Sanchez’ college experience
Sanchez grew up in the northside of Milwaukee. When it came to academics, she compared herself to her older sister. Her sister had perfect grades while her report cards were always average. Her sister planned for college and applied to several big-name schools while Sanchez’ college preparation was largely by accident. She took harder courses and went beyond the graduation requirements only because her friends did.
But hearing her sister’s talk about college and her rigorous preparation for it turned out to be an advantage, and Sanchez was admitted to Winona State University.
There she encountered new challenges like learning how to navigate as a student of color at a predominantly white institution and hearing overtly racist comments for the first time like “Go back to where you came from.”
But Sanchez also found pockets of support through her campus involvement. She got involved creating a new Latin American student organization, served as an ambassador for the Admissions office, conducted undergraduate research and joined other organizations to enhance her skills and find her niche. She began to see that anyone who had a problem with her – really had a problem with themself.
Returning to UWL
After graduating from Winona State University, Sanchez entered the corporate world and then returned to the region in 2005 to earn a graduate degree in Student Affairs Administration from UWL and started her higher education career at the university. She was at UW-Stout before joining UWL’s Office of Multicultural Student Services, and as of September, she is the interim director. She is excited to be back at what she calls her “happy place."
“UWL had always been a special place for me,” she says.
At UWL, she had faculty in the SAA program cheering her on at the sidelines throughout graduate education and while applying for jobs. She became close with the long-time leaders of OMSS including Barbara Stewart, Thomas Harris and Antoiwana Williams. All of these UWL people helped her feel a sense of belonging on campus and could see her potential before she could see it herself.
Now her work is coming full circle and she is able to be that mentor to UWL students. She shows them the support structures in place for them on campus, shares the advantage of having a growth mindset, and reminds them what they can achieve.
“I love what I do,” she says. “It is my life’s mission— working with students and being that source of support, however it may look.”
Sanchez believes in the UW System and the Wisconsin idea, the idea that the walls of the university extend beyond the institutions and out into the community.
“I want to be part of that System because it makes sense to me. It is about equity and access,” says Sanchez. “We have colleges in all corners of the state. It is about giving access to individuals who may not have had opportunities — who may have had that door closed on them.”