Miguel Alvarez, a 25-year-old sophomore at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, has come a long way from his days as a C-level student in high school in the small town of De Queen.
“All my teachers sent letters to my parents about how I was very intelligent, but also very lazy,” Alvarez acknowledged. Higher education was something he readily admits lacking the motivation to pursue.
One day in February 2012 changed his entire outlook.
Alvarez was driving a truck on his way to work, when he swerved to avoid hitting a dog in the middle of a curved road. The sudden motion unbalanced the vehicle, causing it to flip and roll over into a nearby ditch.
Although Alvarez walked away without a scratch, later, as he looked at pictures of the demolished vehicle, he realized how close his brush with death was. Soon afterward, he was listening to the radio when an old commencement speech given by Steve Jobs was replayed.
“I remember one part of his speech so clearly,” Alvarez said.
“Remembering you are going to die is the best way to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
With only a hundred dollars in his pocket, Alvarez followed his heart and moved to Little Rock. He enrolled in classes at UALR in July 2012 to pursue his dream of becoming a mechanical engineer.
However, the year was very challenging, not just academically, but economically as well. For Alvarez, his first year meant surviving by taking out loans, in addition to accepting the small grant he received and work at a part time job to offset his living expenses.
As a Hispanic student, Alvarez is among America’s largest ethnic minority and the fastest-growing demographic of the young work force, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But statistics also reveal discrepancies in Hispanic educational levels are compared with other groups.
One challenge is that Hispanic families often lack experience with financial-aid processes and scholarship availability, according to Cynda Alexander, non-traditional student program coordinator at UALR.
“Our office strives to demystify these processes and provide our diverse student population with the information they need to make college accessible,” she said.
Alexander said breaking the cycle of under-education among Hispanic and Latino populations is possible when they are given the facts about the numerous scholarship opportunities available.
“Studies have shown scholarship recipients go on to graduate. Finding funding plays a huge role in helping them persist,” said Alexander. “Students are able to focus more on academics instead of providing financial support for themselves or their families.”
Alvarez, now on the Dean’s list with a 3.7 GPA, said even though he is a dedicated student, he doesn’t like the idea of owing lots of money.
So he attended an on-campus scholarship workshop offered by the UALR Office of Campus Life specifically geared toward non-traditional students.
The workshop was presented by Alexander, as well as alumni membership coordinator Derek Boyce and private scholarship coordinator Stephanie Conrad.
Alvarez learned the variety of scholarships available, some of them exclusively for Hispanic students. He immediately applied for several and even won a couple, among them a $1,000 scholarship from LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens), which offers the possibility of a match from UALR.
And in February, Caterpillar Inc., a leading builder of machines and engines, accepted Alvarez for a Quality Engineer internship. Not only is Alvarez getting paid, he is learning in a real-world environment how to apply the theories he is studying in school.
“I am still amazed at how fast everything is happening,” said Alvarez. “That in just nine months of truly applying myself how much I have accomplished.”
Alvarez said his success so far has only fueled his hunger to try to attain more.
“I have always loved trying new things. Because of that, I have failed a lot,” he said. “But it has also made me lose the fear of failing and gain a healthy fear of not even trying.”
For more information on scholarship opportunities for non-traditional students, contact Cynda Alexander at 501.569.3308.