APIDA Heritage Month: Committed to the Legacy of His Homeland — Alumnus Michail Villagomez, '23

April 12, 2024
Man with dark hair and blue graduation gown stands in front of a building and palm trees

University of Arizona alumnus Michail Villagomez embarked on his post-university journey after graduating in December 2023.  As the College of Social and Behavioral Science celebrates Asian, Pacific Islander, and Desi American Heritage Month, we revisit the award-feature that revealed Michail's commitment to bridging history and homeland — shedding light on his meaningful contributions to the legacy of the Northern Mariana Islands. Dive into the story of his research and commitment, and discover the impact of his journey as we honor the richness of APIDA heritage this month.


Michail Villagomez — who is graduating with a 4.0 GPA and a major in history and a minor in government and public policy — is the recipient of the SBS Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award for fall 2023. This award recognizes a graduating senior in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences who has demonstrated academic achievement, originality, and creativity in an independent, undergraduate research project.

“[We are] impressed not just with Michail’s considerable academic achievements, but even more with the way he has directed his scholarship and historical skills in the service of his homeland … Michail’s ongoing commitment to apply his education in consistent and practical ways to the study and aid of his home community models what we want our students to do,” wrote Professor Steve Johnstone, on behalf of the Department of History Undergraduate Awards Committee.

Originally from the Northern Mariana Islands, Michail’s research explores the history of those islands — particularly the 1976 US decision to grant them Commonwealth Status. It analyzes factors driving the acquisition, emphasizing America's long-term strategic military interests, and draws from primary source documents from the White House, State Department, and Defense Department.

“Michail’s paper was an innovative study on a difficult and rarely studied topic, that was well analyzed, expertly researched, and highly readable,” wrote Professor David Gibbs, who directed Michail’s senior capstone research project and initially reached out to Michail to nominate him for this award.

“This research project was special for me not merely because it concerns a historical subject I am deeply passionate about, but because I have a direct familial connection to the establishment of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) in 1976,” Michail said. “My paternal grandfather, Jesus G. Villagomez, is considered one of the ‘founding fathers’ of the CNMI as he was one of the 39 local delegates who drafted and signed the official Constitution of the Northern Marianas.”

Mary Pierce, an adjunct in the Department of History, sees Michail as a unique student whose character and work ethic shine as brightly as his research prowess.

“I have had the great privilege to observe his outstanding intellectual curiosity, commendable
dedication, work ethic, intellectually stimulating participation in our group activities, and enthusiasm for the courses’ subject matter. During his time in my classes, Michail proved himself an exceptionally objective critical thinker and eloquent writer,” wrote Pierce. “As well as having a high level of intellect, Michail demonstrated a strong ability in building rapport with his peers, and superior student-to-student interaction skills in our online intellectual group discussions. It has been an absolute joy to have him in my classes. Michail Villagomez is an exemplary student scholar as well as an individual of trust, integrity, and stellar commitment.”

Michail’s versatility doesn’t stop there. In addition to French, he also understands Chamorro, the native language of the Northern Marianas; was the vice president of the Wildcat Fencing Club; and, in the summer of 2022, “he traveled back to the Marianas where he undertook an internship, working with archivist Ray Muna in Saipan, to organize and share documentary records of the region,” wrote Katherine Morrissey, head of the Department of History.

Following his academic successes, Michail is looking ahead and currently applying for a summer internship in Washington D.C. with The Heritage Foundation. He is also considering other career options, including joining the U.S. Navy and pursuing law school.

He credits his academic advisor with helping him chart the path that has made these opportunities potential options.

“I would like to acknowledge Kathryn Gallien, who consistently assisted me throughout my college career with optimal course selections,” Michail said.

Regardless of where his professional path leads, Michail’s deep sense of responsibility to his family’s legacy and his grandfather’s work will continue to serve as a compass.

“As a descendant of one of the founding fathers of the Northern Marianas, I am morally obliged to preserve the legacy of my grandfather and his generation to continue their endeavor of sustaining the Northern Marianas as a Commonwealth of the United States,” Michail said. “This political union was voluntarily ratified through their prudent deliberations as they believed that adopting the American Dream would best secure enduring self-governance for the Northern Marianas. The people of the Northern Marianas are eternally beholden to these great men as their work has enabled succeeding generations to be members of the great American family and partake in the greatest nation in the history of the world.”

Michail added, “I intend to dedicate my life and skills as a historian to the service of the Northern Marianas and the United States. Nevertheless, this aspiration will be underpinned by my admiration for my grandfather, to whom I am forever grateful.”


This content was originally featured on December 8, 2023.