Where did you begin your college career? Where did you end up? I was born on a small ranch in Mexico. I had no running water, limited electricity and a heart full of dreams. When I was six years old my family immigrated to the U.S. We knew that the education afforded to me here would open countless doors. All my hard work and effort seemed to have paid off once I graduated high school. I was given a full ride scholarship to attend a private university and study human rights.
Unfortunately, half-way through my first semester, my family’s American dream seemed to turn into a nightmare. My dad was hospitalized after a heart attack. Since he had no health insurance, the bills quickly started adding up. I knew I needed to do something when my mom finally confessed, in tears, that we were behind on rent. I withdrew from school, gave up my scholarship and started waiting tables full-time to help support my family.
That was not the end of my story. Our country has a great way of giving you second chances if you know where to look. A year after I gave up my scholarship, I enrolled full-time at my local community college. Community college offered me the flexibility to enroll in classes that worked with my schedule. Although I was not pursuing an associate degree, I wanted to transfer out as many credits as possible to a four-year university.
What was the most difficult part of transferring? Balancing being a full-time worker and a student was not easy. Even though I graduated at the top of my class in high school, I needed new study habits and a better strategy to maintain high grades while at a community college. Most of my free time was dedicated to studying. I would write essays and read books while on the bus to class or work. I was in constant contact with my professors about schoolwork and any questions that I had. This allowed me to miss class if I needed to pick up a shift or help my parents.
I also slept very little and found myself always eating on the go. Being a full-time worker and a student is not something a person should do long term. It did not hit me how little free time I had until one day I woke up and realized, I had not seen my mom in over two weeks, even though we lived in the same house. But, I sacrificed those two years because I had a much larger goal. My goal was to become a Jack Kent Cooke Scholar.
For those who aren’t familiar it, tell us a little bit about the Jack Kent Cooke Scholars program. I knew that once I transferred out to a four-year university, I would have to find a way to pay for it. That is where the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Scholarship comes in. The scholarship provides $40,000 a year to any school of the recipient’s choosing. I was lucky enough to have a mentor that was a former Cooke Scholar that helped me through the process. At the beginning of my first semester at a community college, we sat down and planned what I would have to do to be competitive. This included earning high grades, joining honor societies, giving back to my community, and demonstrating grit. The last part is the hardest for many people. For a long time, I thought that giving up my earlier scholarship was my lowest point, but in fact, it demonstrated my most formidable trait: the willingness to not give up. That is the making of a true Cooke Scholar. I will never forget the day I received the news that I was selected. I took the quickest bus home, and my mom and I both cried in each other’s arms for what seemed like an eternity.
What drew you to the University of Texas at Austin? Once I knew that I was going to be able to transfer to a four-year university, I had to pick which one I wanted to attend. Fortunately, one university was calling my name. At my internship the summer before transferring, I spoke to an alumna of the University of Texas at Austin over the phone. Although she was calling to set up a meeting with the Mayor of Dallas, we spoke for several minutes about the opportunities at her alma mater. She encouraged me to go there and started connecting me with several other alumni to speak with. I was sold immediately.
The University of Texas at Austin has given me some of the greatest opportunities. It was here that I became an Archer Fellow, the program that allowed me to work at the White House. I quickly picked up new study strategies as I coped with coming to one of the most academically rigorous universities in the nation. I expanded out and started joining organizations around campus that helped me both professionally and personally. After two and a half years at my university, I have secured a job in technology when I graduate, received my university ring and made some of the best memories of my life.
What else do you want people to know about your transfer journey? My story does not have to be unique because truthfully there is very little that is unique about me. Right now, there are thousands of community college students that are as intelligent, talented and hard-working as I am, if not more so. The difference is that I was given an amazing opportunity and many are not. We can change that by increasing support for our community college students. How do I know this? Because a young boy from middle-of-no-where Mexico went on to work for the White House after transferring out of a community college because of all the support I found along the way. Community colleges are our next great investment as Americans. The rate of return in smart, brilliant and talented students has gone untapped for far too long. Community colleges need our support because they hold the future of our country needs our support.