2019 SPA Woman of the Year: Danielle Vinales '19

Her Campus at American is proud to honor Danielle Vinales as School of Public Affairs’ 2019 Woman of the Year winner. The annual Women of the Year award selects one women from each of AU’s five colleges who stands out and serves as an inspiration. Danielle fits the bill with her bubbly personality, kind heart and activism both on and off campus.

Her Campus American University: How does it feel to be the School of Public Affairs’ (SPA) Women of the Year?

Danielle Vinales: Really cool. I’m used to the whole "I’ll only be in front if I need to organize or do something." It’s been interesting because I’ve been nominated and I’ve won a few different things this semester. They’re doing a piece on me for AU excellence in Blackprint, I was nominated for the senior awards for Racial Diversity and Community Building and I’m nominated for a Latinx Graduation Award.

HCAU: Where are you originally from?

DV: Miami. Born and raised.

HCAU: What made you come to AU?

DV: I met someone at Stanford Pre-Law program and she was just on it. I talked to her and she was one of the program leaders and she was the SG President at AU. I had just started looking at colleges then and she explained to me and I started looking into it. I said, "If I can get the scholarship, I’m going to go there." It had been on my mind since junior year.

HCAU: What is your current major and minor?

DV: Political science and no minor this time. I’m getting the undergraduate certificate for Women in Politics, Power, and Leadership because I took all the WGSS classes as my elective.

HCAU: What are some of your goals for the future?

DV: I got a job, so that was the big one. I’ll be working at Georgetown as an operations coordinator. So, the goal is to get my Master's and I’m going to start in a year (hopefully). I want to get a Master's in Higher Education Administration and I want to start working with the universities in D.C. on building out-spaces of inclusion for women and people of color an anyone on the LGBTQ+ spectrum because not enough universities focus on that.

I kept finding myself doing that at AU. I would start doing things and was like, "we need a program for this. Why don’t we have one?"

HCAU: Have your goals changed since freshman year at AU?

DV: In implementation it’s changed. In principal, it hasn’t. I came in freshman year being like, "I’m going to work in politics. I’m going to be heard and I want to be a voice to communities that are underrepresented."

Growing up with a single mom, hispanic, mixed family, very low income, grew up in the hood for most of it, I always felt that people didn’t know how to maneuver their rights and how maneuver the systems that were giving them a hard time. Then I kinda realized, "I don’t want to do the politics part because I’m not mean enough to handle the politics part." I’m a little too nice and a little too caring with it. So, I was like, "Why not do it when people are in multiple stages and go to work in education?"

Helping people who want to organize and do programing and students who have that passion there. Use the channels that they have there to be able to get their voices out. I’ll be working at Georgetown’s School of Continuing Studies and I’m going to be coordinating, I’ll help with events, I’m going to be doing a few things when it comes to building management. But it’s a good first step and it comes with 100 percent tuition.

HCAU: What organizations are you involved in?

DV: My main one is my sorority, Lambda Pi Chi. That has been my homing beacon. I did Caribbean Circle for two years. I was their events coordinator and outreach coordinator for a period of time. General body member of the Latin X organization (LASOS) and LULAC DC Professional Women’s Club. And then I founded the Latinx Graduation and the second year, I was presidential liaison for it.

HCAU: What is your greatest accomplishment so far?

DV: I don’t think it’d have to be any of my positions. It’s all of the informal leadership that I’ve been able to provide and work in through all of the positions I’ve gotten. They gave me the platform to attend Board of Trustees meetings, and to speak with the people who make the decisions on where our money goes.

To have a close ear with the administration is really important because they need students of color to be heard more, so that was a really big one. My biggest accomplishment with that was to make sure that channel was very clear. Also teaching and transitioning other students so that they know how to do that.

HCAU: What’s the greatest challenge you’ve had to overcome?

DV: Burnout. Every time I go to a self care workshop that HPAC puts on, I’m like, "oh, all of those symptoms–been there." I’ve gone through so many different burnouts and the struggle is making sure to remind myself that I love everything that I do and burnout makes me not want to.

But burnout is trash. I hate it.

HCAU: What advice would you like to give to young, college girls?

DV: Don’t be a jack-of-all-trades. You’re a student first. Get your degree. Get good grades. If you want something tangible leaving here, you need to make sure your grades are intact. And, pick one or two things and really dive into them. When I started really zoning in on what I wanted to do, my burnout became significantly less.

HCAU: Who is your biggest  inspiration?  

DV: A combination between my mother and my grandmother. We’re a matriarchal family. My mom did so much for me. She had me at 19, struggled, she had my sister, full time job, took care of two kids, made sure we got our education and she busted my ass. She really taught me that no one’s going to give you anything you have to do it and if you don’t like something, you change it. She never handed me anything and she made my life hella difficult. But I now know how to deal with different personalities because of her. She taught me how to do it because she forced me to.

My grandmother is the other side of that. My grandmother is very calm and collected. She’s one that’s taught me no one brings you peace and security but yourself. And that’s something I didn’t know was a big deal until I started going to school here. I need to make sure that I’m okay before I start trying to be the mother to 15 different people. And it’s okay saying no.

HCAU: Why do you believe you were nominated for Women of the Year?

DV: I honestly think it’s because I’m always the one to throw myself into the fire. Everytime someone had an issue, I’d be 10:30-11:00 at night meeting with people who have taken over my position and they’re upset, crying, don’t know what they’re doing, very frustrated, and I’m like, "okay let’s sit down, let’s plan, let’s talk about it, how can I help you?" I’ll come to campus early and meet with people who need help. I’m really big on mentoring people because no one did that for me and I had to find my resources on my own. So, I guess the nomination probably came from the fact that I had my hand, figuratively, in a few things.

Danielle is looking forward to being able to share her story in person at the annual Women of the Year brunch on April 27.

Photo Credit: Halle Jaymes