Jose “Junior” Valtierra-Rangel’s parents immigrated from Mexico to St. Charles, Minnesota in hopes of one day giving their children the opportunity to live a better life. 

They succeeded. 

Valtierra-Rangel, who was born and raised in St. Charles, had a childhood of being surrounded by hard-working family members who did not have the chance of receiving a college education.

Valtierra-Rangel didn’t see himself going to college either. 

However, during his junior year, Valtierra-Rangel’s interest was sparked when a friend invited him on a college tour. And right there began his journey to Winona State University and to becoming the first member of his family to graduate from college — an honor he’ll embrace next week. 

“I saw how excited (my friend) was for it and that right there sparked my interest,” Valtierra-Rangel said. “This is what I want to do…I just want to go to school.” 

It wasn’t easy though. 

Valtierra-Rangel had to teach himself everything from how to apply and submit applications, to figuring out financial aid and signing up for room and board. 

After attending a semester at a college in South Dakota, Valtierra-Rangel soon transferred to be closer to home at WSU in a community where he felt comfortable. Growing up, Valtierra-Rangel took field trips through his school to WSU. He saw diversity and the acceptance of different cultures, which made him feel safe and welcomed. 

 “I want to leave a legacy behind. I want to be that person my kids’ kids talk about that put the foot forward and changed the way my family was going.”

Jose Valtierra-Rangel

2021 Spring Graduate

When deciding what major to pursue, Valtierra-Rangel let his personal experience lead the way. 

He decided on Social Work as a way to work with teenage youth who are faced with similar challenges and trauma as him. Valtierra-Rangel himself has experienced numerous traumatic events in his life, including losing his father and sister at a young age and his journey with mental health, to name a few. 

He knows what it is like to not have someone who understands his experience. He wants to be the person that can relate to youth by becoming a school counselor or school social worker.

So far he’s gotten a good start on his dream. Through his practicum in Rochester, Valtierra-Rangel has gotten to work at a group home for teenage youth who have experienced trauma. 

Valtierra-Rangel has accomplished all that he has, while also working on a dairy farm with his family from 3 a.m. until the afternoon every weekend. Balancing classes and work has definitely cut into his social life and at times affected his studies from being mentally drained. Through it all his family has inspired him to keep going by watching his mother’s determination to provide for the family and by knowing that he’s a role model for his two sisters and cousins.

With graduation right around the corner, Valtierra-Rangel knows in his heart he is taking steps in the right direction. He has been accepted into WSU’s Master of Social Work program and is excited for what his future holds.  

 “I want to leave a legacy behind,” Valiterra-Rangel said. “I want to be that person my kids’ kids talk about that put the foot forward and changed the way my family was going.”