For Alexandro Sarabia and Linda Covarrubias, alumni of The University of Texas-Pan American, the Dell Scholars program helped make their dreams come true.
The $20,000 scholarship allowed Sarabia, 22, of Roma, to attend graduate school to pursue a career as a college or university-level educator and provided Covarrubias, 24, of Edinburg, a more stable life for herself.
Sarabia and Covarrubias are two of several former recipients of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation's Dell Scholars program scholarships who have been asked to share their experiences with recent high school graduates and pass on advice on how to make the most of their financial aid.
The foundation is hosting a daylong conference at UTPA in July for all of the Dell Scholars from South Texas. The event will include workshops for students and their parents on how to manage their time and finances, as well as handle stress associated with balancing work, school and family issues.
Since the program began in 2004, the foundation has awarded $31 million in scholarships to 1,550 students from all over the country, as well as laptops and other assistance to help them complete college.
Sarabia always knew he would continue his education because his goal is to teach psychology at the college or university level.
So when Sarabia - who graduated from UTPA in Spring 2009 with bachelor's degrees in psychology and sociology and currently is working on his master's at the University - received a $20,000 grant from the program, he decided to save that money for graduate school.
"I knew scholarships were very limited at the graduate level," said Sarabia, who was the Roma High School valedictorian of the Class of 2006.
Sarabia, who is the assistant supervisor of South Texas College's Starr County Campus Tutoring Center, said he credits his brother with giving him good advice on how to navigate through college and graduate school. He is able to pay it forward at his job, where he helps organize workshops for students on time and stress management and other issues they face while attending school.
"I like to make a positive impact on the students," he said. "Giving them advice, giving them tips is a very rewarding experience."
Sarabia said he is looking forward to speaking with current high school graduates this July when UTPA hosts the Dell Scholars Conference.
With the cost of tuition, textbooks and other necessities rising, it is important to be a good steward of one's money, he said.
His advice for managing the scholarship money: "I would recommend them to get out what they need. If they plan to go to grad school, save it."
The Dell scholarship allowed Linda Covarrubias to pay for college without having to take out loans.
Covarrubias, who graduated from UTPA in December 2008 with a bachelor's degree in psychology and a minor in criminal justice, said the foundation also helped pay for books and other necessities, which was a big help for her since she had to support herself while going to school by working full time at Convergys.
"For me, personally, it provided financial support. I didn't have my parents when I graduated from high school," said Covarrubias, who was the only student from Edinburg High School to receive the grant in 2004. "I felt I had everything I needed to fulfill my goal of graduating from college. I was really proud to be able to get that."
The foundation also had a blog available for students to connect with advisers and each other to receive tips on how to make the most of their college experience, she said.
Covarrubias, who had been a substitute teacher since she graduated and was recently hired by the Edcouch-Elsa Independent School District to teach at Ruben C. Rodriguez Elementary, said she wants to work for a while to gain more experience before returning to UTPA to work on her master's degree in psychology.
That's another goal Covarrubias said she would not be able to have if she had not received the Dell scholarship.
"It feels awesome to look back and say I did that on my own," Covarrubias said. "I have a house; I'm going to be a teacher. I was the lucky one."
Covarrubias encourages high school students to enroll in college preparatory programs, apply for scholarships including the Dell Scholars program and ask counselors and other educators about financial aid and other means to help them go to college.
"Every little bit helps," she said.