Sarah Thomas, Guest Writer

A typical Sunday afternoon for University of Missouri–St. Louis student Nina Villano is spent in a broadcasting booth hosting her radio show “Nina V Doin’ Me.” Villano hosts her show on KCFV 89.5 The Wave, the St. Louis Community College radio station. 

You would never guess that Villano shed tears prior to her first time recording for the radio show which she was required to do for a class. “They took us in the broadcasting booth and told us we were going on the radio station and I said ‘I can’t do this I’m too old’ and I cried real tears, I’m serious I was crying like a baby in there,” Villano explained. 

Now, Villano is FCC licensed and produces and records her very own show. Listening to Villano’s radio show, you’d hear no indication of some of the challenges she has overcome to discover her real passion. Villano was diagnosed with an eye disease called pseudotumor cerebri. The disease took away her complete peripheral vision. In 2005 she was declared legally blind and was left feeling uncertain for her future. 

Shortly after being declared legally blind, Villano expressed her concerns to her dear friend from high school, Reggie Hudlin, an accomplished director and writer. “I was telling him I’m legally blind now and I don’t know what I can do anymore, I’m pretty much going to be doing nothing,” Villano explained. Hudlin immediately offered her a position to run his fan club. Her position running the fan club is exactly what sparked her interest in taking a mass communication class at St. Louis Community College–Florissant Valley. 

When Villano decided to go back to school in 2013, she was in her early fifties and had no intentions of pursuing a degree. She was simply taking a class in order to better understand her current position running Hudlin’s fan club. What she didn’t know was that the Black Film course that she decided to take would forever change her life. 

“I walked in the classroom on the first day and I saw a lady who looked like me. She was black and this lady was smart. And not only did she teach this class, she wrote it. I was immediately inspired by her to be the best me I could be,” Villano shared. The following semester, Villano decided to enroll full time as a mass communications major at Florissant Valley.

Now Villano is on track to earn a bachelor’s degree and preparing to pursue a master’s degree. Villano will graduate this December with her bachelor’s in media studies and plans to immediately pursue a master’s in international studies, her new-found passion.

It wasn’t until an UMSL Global representative visited her information systems class to discuss study abroad opportunities that Villano realized she could study abroad. Villano always had interest in studying abroad but was not sure if she would be able to since she came back to school in her late age. 

It turns out it wouldn’t be her age that prevented her from the trip she was interested in but her disability. Villano was turned down for a trip to Germany due to being legally blind. Germany has different laws regarding discrimination, so they were able to turn down her admission. 

Despite her anger and frustration, Villano decided to continue to pursue studying abroad and found a month-long summer program in London. Villano was able to receive scholarships and fulfill her dream of travelling abroad. “I studied abroad and I have not been the same since. It’s all I think about,” Villano shared. 

Now Villano is an intern at UMSL Global and helps international students adjust to life in the states. She has new goals of becoming a Global Ambassador so she can share her passion with others. 

“I want to show people that it doesn’t matter how old you are. It doesn’t matter what color you are. It doesn’t matter if you’re disabled. You can still do whatever you want,” Villano shared. “I think nothing in the world is better than first-hand experience. I can tell you about it by word of mouth and tell you about every place that I went, and I just couldn’t do it justice,” Villano explains. 

Nina credits education for transforming her life. “UMSL and Flo Valley have the same motto of transforming lives and it’s so true that it makes me almost cry and I know this because they transformed mine,” Villano shared.  

“Now I open my show with Jill Scott’s song ‘Golden.’ I am living my life like it’s golden and I’m living my best life ever,” Nina exclaimed.