College students from all over the Rio Grande Valley learned the Dell Scholars Program is more than just a check.
Between 50 and 60 students attended the daylong Dell Scholars Empowering You For Success conference hosted by The University of Texas-Pan American July 17. During the event students received advice on how to manage their scholarships and other financial aid, balance their academic work with other activities and handle personal and family issues while at school.
This is the first year the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation - which administers the Dell Scholars Program - had a conference to help its scholarship recipients. UTPA was chosen as one of its pilot locations because the Rio Grande Valley has the second highest concentration of Dell Scholars in the country. There are about 85 Dell Scholars from the Valley, and many of them attend UTPA.
Dell Scholar students receive $20,000 and a laptop, as well as additional help with purchasing books and other necessities. They also have access to representatives of the scholarship program for counseling and advice.
Since it began in 2004, the Dell Scholars Program has awarded $31 million to 1,550 students from all over the country.
Students received information about the foundation, as well as words of encouragement from foundation representatives and UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen during the event.
"You are our future," Nelsen said. "The Valley is the lab for the future of America. If we don't get it right in the Valley, we won't get it right anywhere."
Nelsen shared with the group about how he was a first-generation college student and how he worked as a custodian and sold fish hooks to pay his way through college. He encouraged them to make the most of their educational experience by meeting with their professors regularly and getting involved in student activities on campus.
"You can make a difference in this world," he said. "Sí se puede, yes you can. Dell is about empowerment and in the end you're empowering yourselves."
Kevin Byrne, director of U.S education for the Dell Foundation, said the foundation decided to have conferences to get to know their scholarship recipients better and help them navigate through the college-going process.
"Our goal was to have 85 percent of our scholars graduate in six years. We got that from our first class," Byrne said.
Luis Leal, a 19-year-old sophomore at UTPA, said he thought the conference was a great help to him and fellow students, especially the tips on managing their financial aid. He said he was impressed that the Dell foundation came to the Valley to have the event.
"I think this is a great opportunity for us in the Valley," said Leal, a 2009 Dell Scholar. "This is the beginning of something big."
Adriana Elizondo, a 19-year-old Brownsville resident who transferred in to The University of Texas at Austin as a senior, said she likes how the foundation has people available to them via telephone and the Internet to answer questions and give advice.
"It's some place I can resort to," said Elizondo, a 2009 Dell Scholar. "They can help me out." For more information about the Dell Scholars Program, visit www.dellscholars.org.