Five Minutes with Alejandro

College: University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley
Major: Political Science
Year: 2012 Dell Scholar (graduated Spring 2016)

Thank you so much for serving as our first Alumni spotlight in our very first Dell Scholars Alumni Network Newsletter! Could you start by telling us about your journey to college?
I grew up in the Rio Grande Valley, an area in South Texas where most families fall below the poverty line. For most, graduating high school was considered the end of one’s academic journey. My mom worked in the public school system and because she was so attuned to educational opportunities in the Valley, I was able to attend IDEA Public Schools. I feel that if I hadn’t gone down that route, I would not have made it through college. I graduated high school having learned how to write research papers, perform mathematical analysis, and I also earned college credit for a majority of my core Spanish classes.

What was it like once you transitioned to college at The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley?
I had a poor transition to college, not because of any academic barriers, but personal obstacles. I had originally planned to attend the University of Houston until a grant was taken away the week before school started and I instead enrolled at UT-RGV. I did poorly my first year because I wasn’t happy to be there. I eventually had a mindset change and moved forward. I didn’t have your typical college experience, as I was commuting and working at the same time on top of my academic obligations. In the Valley it’s always expected that children help their families financially, so it was always tough to balance both school and work.

How did you end up becoming a teacher, having studied political science at UT-RGV?
Yes I know! I am very proud to teach at IDEA Mission College Preparatory (in Mission, TX), but if you would have told me that I would have ended up as a high school teacher, I would have laughed in your face! Teaching was never in my plans. In college my goal was to end up in public policy or politics. I was always interested in education policy and I felt that I would never be able to adequately argue or advocate for teachers if I did not also have that experience. So, I applied for Teach for America and that began the trajectory to where I am today.

I’m currently in the process of applying to grad school to get my degree in Legal Studies to determine if law school might be the right path for me or if I should continue in education.

What have been your greatest takeaways as a teacher?
I have the utmost respect and gratitude for those that make teaching a lifelong career. The most enjoyable aspect would have to be the relationships I am able to build with my students. In my few years in the classroom, I have been a shoulder to cry on, a mediator, an advocate, and most importantly, a cheerleader. The first class I taught graduated last spring – talking with them and hearing about where they are attending college, what they want to study, and so on has made me so content, knowing that I helped them get there.

We heard that last year you served as a recommender for one of your students who in turn became a Dell Scholar, what was that like? (see photo for Alejandro with his Dell Scholar)
I have the medallion I received from Dell Scholars for graduating from college and I proudly hang that framed up in my classroom – along with my diploma. So I advocate for the scholarship at every chance I get! This past year was the first time I could really push it because as I mentioned, last year was the first time that students I taught would be graduating.

What impact did Dell Scholars have on you?
Dell Scholars was a huge help throughout. Yes, the scholarship funds helped myself and my family, but it was so much more than that. I appreciated the constant check-ins with the team and the resources we had access to. Dell Scholars was invested in our education and future, and ensured that they were always there to provide more than just financial assistance.

Thank you so much for that, those kind words mean the world to us! What about a piece of advice for current Scholars?
Utilize your resources! Whether they come from Dell Scholars, your professors, your peers, literally anyone. For me, I was always in a better position when I would attend my professor’s office hours. Make the most of what you have in your arsenal, because not many people do so.

One more thing I’d add that I have learned is that nothing in life goes as planned – and that’s okay! I entered college pre-med with a concentration in neurobiology, but I took a class on biomedical ethics and that led to me changing my major to political science. I entered the classroom as a teacher to only fulfill my two-year commitment with Teach for America, but last year I signed a contract for my fourth year. This all goes to say that nothing I had planned in high school, college, or event post-graduation has gone as I expected, but I’m content with that.