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FACES OF HENA
HIGHER EDUCATION FOR A NEW AMERICA
Our Lady of the Lake University students come from the most unlikely of places and many are low-income, non-traditional, and the first in their families to attend college. What they discover here is an education infused with purpose, inspiring them to improve the world.
This has been our mission and our vision for more than 115 years and it is why we have launched HENA. The students who have been served by OLLU throughout its history, are the same type of students the rest of the country will be seeing in their classrooms over the next few decades.
These are the faces of HENA:
The first test flight of NASA’s new moon rocket in October 2009 generated international media coverage. Behind the scenes of the launch was a graduate of Our Lady of the Lake University, a woman who helped design and assemble the rocket motor.
Yvonne Villegas-Aguilera is a solid propulsion systems engineer who monitored the temperature and performance of the rocket motor from Mission Control. The launch carried the 327-foot Ares I-X rocket approximately 25 miles up before it separated by design. Waiting ships moved in to recover the booster and sensors that fell into the ocean.
"This is the new vehicle that’s going to take future astronauts to the space station and eventually to the moon," said Villegas-Aguilera, an OLLU chemistry graduate and former McNair scholar. "We were cheering, hugging, clapping. It was a really big adrenaline rush for us. We spent years working on this. It was surreal."
Villegas-Aguilera credits Warren Villaescusa, a retired OLLU chemistry professor, for much of her success. She says Villaescusa encouraged her to apply for an internship at NASA and wrote a letter of recommendation. The internship led to two summer jobs at NASA, a master’s degree in aerospace engineering at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and her current position as a rocket engineer.
Raised by her grandparents in El Paso, Villegas-Aguilera is a trailblazer. She was the first in her family to graduate from college. And she was the lone Latina at Mission Control. "It surprises me that I work at NASA," she said. "It’s not a job. It’s a dream."
Alma Rodriguez grew up on the U.S.-Mexico border, the daughter of migrant farm workers. She developed a love for science in high school and wanted to become a chemist. But no one in her family had ever gone to college, and she lived in one of the poorest counties in Texas. Higher education seemed like an impossible dream until a neighbor encouraged her to apply to Our Lady of the Lake University. Alma received a full tuition scholarship and received her degree from OLLU.
“Sisters Jane Slater and Isabel Ball were my mentors in the science majors program,” Alma says in the book, Legends and Legacies, “and they encouraged me to pursue a graduate education.” Alma attended medical school and became a doctor. Today she is the vice president of medical affairs for The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and a professor of lymphoma and myeloma. She recalls her days at OLLU fondly. In the book Legends and Legacies, she writes “My initial mentor was Dr. Antonio Rigual, a Spanish literature professor, who was passionate about Hispanics becoming more represented in all fields of academia. … I credit him for inspiring in me a sense of responsibility to lead and to open paths for future generations of students.”
Texas owes a lot to Joe Bernal. As a state Senator in 1969, Joe authored the first Texas bilingual education act – despite strong opposition. “In every step of the way, there were people who tried to stop it,” Joe once told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. “You have to remember that in those days, it was a much different environment in Texas. You could be spanked or taken out of the classroom for speaking in Spanish.”
Before bilingual education became law, teachers were subject to sanctions if they helped Hispanic students in their native Spanish. Some teachers were threatened with the loss of their teaching certificates. But Joe and other pioneers changed that. Today, bilingual education is required in public schools where at least 20 students in each grade are not proficient in English.
A former teacher, Joe received his master’s degree in education from Our Lady of the Lake University in 1954. He became a social worker, an assistant school superintendent and served on the State Board of Education. He credits OLLU with support in his fight for bilingual education. “Our Lady of the Lake was our friend and walked through those years with us,” he said. “And I appreciate it.”
Carlos Gonzalez excelled in computer labs and campus leadership at OLLU. As student body president, he helped peers relocate after a four-alarm fire tore through the University’s Main Building. As a Computer Information Systems and Security major, he carried a 3.961 GPA and helped maintain networks and computer labs as part of his work study. Carlos also impressed government leaders in information assurance. He received an Information Assurance Scholarship from the National Security Agency (NSA) to finish his education. And he was a job with the Department of Defense after graduation.
His scholarship – and leadership – drew local media attention, prompting this newspaper headline: “Getting dream job eases pain of OLLU fire for computer science student.” Growing up under the care of a single mother in El Paso, Carlos is one of 50 students across the nation to receive the NSA award. He calls himself “lucky.” But professors say he earned the scholarship and post-graduate job. Today he is working for the Department of Homeland Security and working on a master’s degree at Rochester Institute of Technology.
Tedi Butolph ran away from an abusive homelife in California and lived in a homeless shelter at 16. She drifted, completed her high school education at an alternative school and enrolled in a community college. With little financial support, Tedi learned to become self-sufficient and developed a heart for the homeless. In search of her roots, she visited Mexico and began serving the poor with a non-profit, the Auris Project. In time, she became the program director. On the advice of the executive director, Tedi came to San Antonio.
She enrolled at Our Lady of Lake University and became co-captain of the cheerleading squad. Tedi carried a 4.0 GPA, belonged to two honor societies and recruited, trained and raised money for the Auris Project. Tedi completed her undergraduate work in social work and is now earning a master’s degree with the goal of helping runaway youth. In her free time, she works in youth development, mentoring children from 5 to 14-years-old. “I’m trying to be a positive role model and create self esteem,” she says. Tedi also teaches youth how to think critically. “I want to do social work,” she says, “because I’ve been positively influenced by social workers.”
Eddie Rodriguez changes the world of education, one teacher at a time. He shows English-speaking teachers how to teach math and science to students who speak other languages. He’s traveled to New Hampshire, Vermont, Utah, Kansas and other states to conduct training. “I do consulting throughout Texas and the nation, thanks to the opportunity Our Lady of the Lake University has offered,” he says. Eddie completed the Center for Science and Mathematics Education program and received his master’s degree from OLLU in 2001.
Since then, Eddie has excelled as a secondary science specialist, helping teachers with curricula they may find difficult in the Edgewood Independent School District. Eddie works with such distinction that he was named a Fulbright Award winner for the 2007-08 school year. The award took him south of the border to learn about the educational system in Mexico. “Some of their schools have better technology and computer systems than some of our own schools,” he says. Eddie returned to share new found knowledge with teachers in Edgewood. Today, he continues to travel across the state and the nation. “The Lake,” he says, “helped me to become a trainer of trainers.”
Loren Torres finds her greatest joy in serving. She’s read to children at a local hospital, volunteered as an altar server at Holy Name Catholic Church and worked as a young adult minister at her parish. It’s no surprise she wants to devote her life to helping others. Loren is pursuing a dream she’s had since middle school. “In sixth grade, we had to draw a picture of what we wanted to be when we get older,” Loren recalls. “I drew a picture of myself as a doctor. I want to help people.”
Loren didn’t know how she would be able to afford college – until she received a Providence Scholarship from Our Lady of the Lake University. Loren is off to a quick start. She took sophomore-level classes in her second semester, made a 4.0 and served an internship with a local optometrist. Loren shadowed another optometrist and a registered nurse through an internship. She belongs to Health Occupations Students of America and plans to volunteer at a homeless ministry and shelter. “When I came for my interview at OLLU, it felt right,” she says. “I believe it was God’s way of telling me this is where I’m supposed to be.”
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