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Pursuing Your Dreams and Discovering Your Passions

Zaphnath standing outside wearing a graduation cap and gown.
Photo by Kyle Kristian G. Acain

Zaphnath-Paaneah Villanueva, a senior double-majoring in marine biology and biology education from Quezon City, Philippines, shares his excitement and hopes for the future after graduation.

Having gone through Brigham Young University–Hawaii's marine biology program, Villanueva is excited to continue a career path in studying the world's coral reefs and hopes to become a marine researcher. However, Villanueva didn't always know his journey in education would lead to exploring oceans and marine life. While living in the Philippines, he studied mechanical engineering at a local college for two years. But it wasn't until after serving a full-time mission he realized he had only chosen this major based on the expectations his family, professors, and peers had for him. Villanueva decided to pray and fast for direction from the Lord. The answer he received led him to BYU–Hawaii.

Growing up in metro Manila, Villanueva was hours away from the nearest shoreline. As a result, it wasn't until he arrived in Hawaii that he discovered a love for the ocean and a passion for studying its inhabitants and ecosystems. He knew that if he worked hard in school and included the Lord in the process, he would succeed in his studies.

Looking back on the last four years, Villanueva confidently shares one major takeaway that's changed his life forever. He recognizes that being self-aware and overcoming cultural stigmas linked to mental health has positively impacted his personal and academic pursuits. He shares, "I've learned it's okay to feel a certain way or feel stressed. In the past, I would deny that reality and think those emotions were made-up in my mind, that I could switch it off if I wanted to."

Learning about his mental health and how to improve his attitude impacted his relationships with others, and his studies benefited from practicing a clear and healthy mindset. This self-awareness extended to his friendships and support groups, as Villanueva understood the significance of surrounding oneself with positive people who want to see you thrive.

Zaphnath Villanueva standing outside wearing a graduation cap and gown.
Photo by Kyle Kristian G. Acain

Throughout his journey at BYU–Hawaii, Villanueva also leaned on the teachings found in the Book of Mormon. His mantra comes from Alma chapter 37, verse 37, which says, "Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good." He explains, "Every time you lie down at night, pray unto the Lord and share your heart with him. Whether you feel lonely, lost, or confused, you can turn to the Lord for help and guidance." Villanueva adds that still, to this day, he wakes up and is reminded of how blessed he is to be here and can't help but feel immense joy and love from the Savior.

Mentors he'd like to recognize and thank include his professor and boss, Dr. Esprit Saucier. Dr. Saucier was an example to him in and outside of the classroom. He shared, "She helped me understand that I don't have to overthink things, sometimes it's the basic skills that we already possess that really matter. At times I would overthink and become incapable of acting or moving. But when I focus on the practical things I've already learned, the stress and worry disappear." Villanueva also attributes his success to his father. Adding, "He taught me to take the extra mile," which means taking another step forward, breaking your limits, and reaching your fullest potential.

In sharing parting advice to current students, Villanueva shares, "Find things that you love, if you rely on things that other people tell you, and not because it's what you love to do, that route is not going to take you far. But if you pursue things you love, when the future gets challenging, you'll persevere because you have the passion and drive to keep going."

Although his academic journey at BYU–Hawaii is coming to a close, Villanueva shares his excitement for the future as he gets married in the weeks following graduation. He'll still be around for a while longer as his fiancé finishes her degree before heading to graduate school. In closing, he dedicates his success and achievements to his family in the Philippines, friends who have helped him along this path, and his supportive fiancé.