Oscar and Katie Villegas’ first date was probably not the most romantic – they were working on a Sacramento City College professor’s campaign for the Yolo County Sheriff – but it certainly presaged their years as a couple since.
The Sacramento State alums have been active in politics and in the community virtually their entire post-graduation life, Oscar ’89 (Criminal Justice) as a longtime city councilmember in West Sacramento and now as a member of the Yolo County Board of Supervisors, Katie ’89 (Psychology), MSW ’92 as the executive director of the Yolo County Children’s Alliance and a former member of the Washington Unified School District Board of Education.
“My parents were always involved in social issues,” says Katie. “It was a natural thing for me to go into this. It was just kind of what we always did, like my kids have always been involved in social issues. It’s a cool thing to do that as a family and feel like you’re making a difference in your community.”
Katie spent plenty of time on the Sacramento State campus growing up, since she lived in East Sacramento just a mile from campus. But no matter where she lived, she would have been connected to the University: Her mother, brother, and sister are fellow alums. Oscar, who grew up in West Sacramento, was the first in his family to attend college. Both of their children now attend Sacramento State, making three generations of Hornets in the family.
Throughout both Oscar and Katie’s careers, public and community service is a common thread. After graduation, Katie went to work for the Sacramento Children’s Home before returning to Sacramento State for her master’s degree. From there, she trained HIV counselors at the state’s Office of AIDS before moving to the Yolo County Children’s Alliance, where she has been since 2006. She also served on the school board in West Sacramento from 2012 to 2016.
Following his graduation, Oscar landed one of several newly created positions in the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs’ (ADP) investigations unit. He stayed with the department for more than a decade, was appointed by Gov. Gray Davis to be the deputy director of the California Mentoring Partnership in 2003, and in 2008 began working as a field representative with the Board of State and Community Corrections. He was a member of the West Sacramento City Council from 2000 to 2014, when he was appointed to the Yolo County Board of Supervisors.
While at Sacramento State, both Oscar and Katie participated in internships that ultimately led to jobs following graduation: Katie worked at the Office of AIDS as a graduate student, while Oscar interned at ADP. Both say the ability to learn from professors with real-world experience was instrumental in preparing them for their careers.
“I actually got to sit in a class and listen to a former FBI agent, a Sacramento County district attorney, the current probation chief for Sacramento County, police chiefs,” Oscar says. “These were folks that had very real-world experience and could share their experiences in a way where they engaged you in a very real way.”
For the Villegas, West Sacramento is a town on the rise, where everyone knows each other and has bought into the city’s success, and where it’s easy to see the impact of your hard work.
“In West Sacramento, one of the things I hear often is, ‘Hey, I want to get involved,’” Oscar says. “And I say, ‘What are you actually interested in? Not what you think will get you where you want to be, but what are you interested in today? Where does your heart tell you that you want to be impactful, and in what arena is that? And I can guarantee there’s an opportunity for you to volunteer, to participate where you can make a difference.’”
And as for the advice they would offer to current Sacramento State students like their two children?
“Just soak it all up, really enjoy your college years, make friends and have fun” Katie says. “Appreciate it for what it is. You’re not going to love every class that you have to take, and that’s OK, because in the real world, you’re going to be working in environments that aren’t necessarily the best. It’s important to learn to know what you like and learn to know when you need to make a change.”