Online student takes care of family while continuing toward her degree

Elena Villagomez GA Volleyball and Online M.S. Coaching studentCalifornian Elena Villagomez took many roads before starting an online Master’s program at Southern Arkansas University, but she did not let an unexpected turn of events detour her studies.

Villagomez, 28, of Cutler, Calif., is set to complete the Online Master of Science in Kinesiology-Coaching program in August. She is also a graduate assistant for the SAU volleyball team. But when she found out around Thanksgiving last fall that her mother was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, she boarded the first plane following the volleyball team’s last game of the season.

“I was gone the next day,” said Villagomez. “Big thanks to Coach [Steven] Gream for letting me leave. I was able to spend the rest of the semester at home, taking my mom to treatments and keeping her company.”Elena with her mother, Aurora, and sister, Emilia

Villagomez continued her studies from her parent’s home in California. She had become well-versed in juggling her graduate school work and her busy schedule with the volleyball team.

“I really enjoy this online coaching program. I love Dr. [George] White! Having professors that are in the sports and athletic fields, I feel like they are really preparing me for this line of work,” said Villagomez.

Before helping Gream with coaching responsibilities, Villagomez was an All-Conference player under him in 2005-06 when Gream headed up the volleyball team at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. Gream said she totaled 723 kills, 1,047 digs, 137 aces and 145 blocks in her playing career on his team.

When she graduated from Union, Gream advised her to consider going into coaching. She went into restaurant management instead, but later learned that was not the right direction for her.

“I realized I did not want to be in the restaurant business. Hungry old men are the worst,” said Villagomez. “I wanted to come back to sports where my heart was.”

Villagomez speaking at elementary school in Calif.And Villagomez has a big heart. She was asked to speak to elementary students at her hometown while she was there last fall tending to her mother. She said that poverty in her small hometown keeps the children there from imagining they could do as she has done and go to college across the county. But she left the students feeling like she inspired them to go to college and consider the impossible.

She said she was inspired by her parents, Raul and Aurora Villagomez.

“My parents are great; super positive. I am so thankful and so blessed,” said Villagomez.Raul and Aurora Villagomez

Her mother just finished her last round of chemotherapy, so Villagomez is back on the SAU campus this semester working toward her Master’s diploma and performing her graduate assistantship duties.

There are currently 67 graduate assistant positions filed at SAU. G.A.’s earn a $4,000 stipend for the fall and spring and $1,320 each summer session, for a total of $10,640 per year. Out-of-state tuition fee is also waived for G.A.’s.

“Graduate assistantships provide opportunities for graduate students to work closely with faculty members, coaches and student affairs professionals in a variety of environments. SAU graduate assistants benefit by gaining valuable work experience and expanding career opportunities, while SAU benefits from the assistance they provide,” said Dr. Kim Bloss, dean of the SAU School of Graduate Studies.

SAU’s Master of Science in Kinesiology-Coaching is a non-licensure program designed to promote individual change within the professional practice of the individuals enrolled in the program. The goal is to extend the candidate’s prior knowledge and experiences including an understanding of philosophy and ethics, safety and injury prevention, physical conditioning, growth and development, teaching and communication, sport skills and tactics, organization and administration and evaluation. The program is delivered entirely via the Internet, and is designed to allow students to complete the degree program in as little as fourteen months. Students complete the program by submitting an acceptable Capstone Portfolio (Coaching Handbook).

To find out more about the online M.S. in Kinesiology-Coaching at SAU, visit

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