Student finds new home with alumni and on campus 

September 12, 2022

In the family spirit

by Isaiah Alonzo

Victoria Van Winkle never saw herself as college material.    

“Never did I think that I would become a student and pursue my education to figure out who I am, what I like to do and what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” said the now-thriving St. Mary’s University sophomore majoring in Business Management.  

When Van Winkle was 12 years old, her birth mother, Rachel Herrera, was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Van Winkle spent much of her teenage years looking after her younger siblings and in hospitals with her mother. She didn’t have much time to study or think about her future — until she met Lloyd Van Winkle, M.D. (B.A. ’76).

Lloyd Van Winkle, a family physician, was initially one of Herrera’s doctors and developed a parental bond with Victoria Van Winkle over time.   

 When Herrera died in 2018, Victoria Van Winkle had a bleak outlook on her future.  

“It caused me to not believe in myself anymore,” she said. “I knew I had a name and a face, but I didn’t know who I was, what I liked to do or who I could become.”  

“This became my second home when I realized that I didn’t have to be scared to be myself.”

Victoria Van Winkle, a sophomore Business Management major

That’s when Lloyd Van Winkle and his wife, Mary Nguyen, M.D. (B.A. ’92), also a family physician, decided they had an opportunity to give her a second chance.  

“When you see a person with that kind of potential who has the rug of life pulled out from under them, you can either stand there and watch them fall down, or you can go there and put your arm around them and say, ‘You’re not gonna go nowhere,’” Lloyd Van Winkle said.  

Later that year, the couple adopted then-18-year-old Victoria Van Winkle and welcomed her into their family. Her siblings found a home of their own with another relative.   

When the time came for Victoria Van Winkle to attend college, she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her adoptive parents, both proud St. Mary’s alumni. But because she didn’t have much time in her teenage years to focus on school, Victoria Van Winkle didn’t think she could succeed at the University.  

Her adoptive parents brought her to campus to give her an idea of what to expect. She felt more at ease after visiting because she felt like she could connect with her professors personally.   

“She’s an extremely intelligent young lady, and she just needed somebody to show her that part of herself,” Nguyen said. “I never doubted for a second that she would shine here.”  

Victoria Van Winkle’s adoptive parents weren’t the only ones who saw her potential.  

Associate Professor of Philosophy J. Colin McQuillan, Ph.D., taught two of her first-year courses and noticed her strong work ethic.   

“Victoria is one of the most determined and persistent students I’ve ever taught at St. Mary’s or any other university,” McQuillan said. “It was very clear to me through the work that she did that she’s just exceptionally determined to succeed.”  

Now a confident sophomore, Victoria Van Winkle said she has not only learned academically, but also spiritually and emotionally — especially in experiencing the power of the Marianist spirit.

“The thing that stood out to me the most about the Marianist community is just that it’s a family,” Victoria Van Winkle said. “We’re here to better our communities and society and also to encourage other classmates. I really do enjoy that part of this University.”   

Thanks to Victoria Van Winkle’s adoptive parents and their St. Mary’s connection, she not only found one new home — she found two.  

“This became my second home when I realized that I didn’t have to be scared to be myself,” she said. “I didn’t have to be scared to ask questions. I didn’t have to think that someone would judge me because I didn’t know something. It’s home in the sense that it gives me a safe place.”

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