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UTPA to host Dell scholarship conference
Posted: 07/14/2010
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The scholarship Luis Leal, a rising sophomore at The University of Texas-Pan American, received from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation did more than help pay his tuition bills.

Luis Leal, a student at The University of Texas-Pan American, is a 2009 Dell Scholar.

It made available counseling to him and other Dell Scholars if they needed, provided them with laptops so they can complete their assignments and assisted students with whatever needs they have.

"They help us with everything," said Leal, a 19-year-old student from San Juan.

On July 17, Leal and other past recipients will share their experiences with recent high school graduates who also received the Dell Scholars award during a daylong conference UTPA and the Dell Foundation are hosting to help students and their families prepare for college life.

Since the Dell Scholars 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.

The program provides support beyond financial assistance, working with scholars holistically to examine and help them plan for success around academics, learn financial management and balance personal and family responsibilities with school, he said.

The foundation selected UTPA as one of its conference locations because the Rio Grande Valley has the second highest concentration of Dell Scholars nationally, second only to Central Valley in California. The foundation also has had a close partnership with the University in various student support strategies, said Oscar Sweeten-Lopez of the foundation's Dell Scholars Program.

"This conference is an effort to share what we have learned over the years working with scholars individually in terms of what challenges they face and strategies for successful college persistence and graduation with a four year degree," Sweeten-Lopez said.

The conference is a pilot program for the foundation to determine whether addressing challenges students and their families could face before they start college will help them become more successful in school and graduate.

During the event, students and their families will attend a series of workshops that discuss how to manage the scholarship money and handle the stresses that they might face during college.

"Our goal for this conference is to bring together all of our Dell Scholars from the Valley to empower them to be successful in graduating with their baccalaureate degree and creating a stronger sense of community with each other," Sweeten-Lopez said.

After attending the conference students will be more knowledgeable about the challenges they might face in college and how to handle them, Sweeten-Lopez said.

Leal, a PSJA High School graduate who received the Dell scholarship in 2009, said staff from the University and the foundation were always available to him if he needed their help and offered counseling when he and his family were having trouble while he was in school.

Siblings Horacio Garza, left, and Yxarittzza Garza, right, both received scholarships through the Dell Scholars Program. The Garzas will speak at a panel during the Dell Scholars conference hosted at UTPA.

He said he is looking forward to sharing his experiences with fellow Dell Scholars and learning how he can navigate through college better at the July conference.

Siblings Yxarittzza and Horacio Garza are also Dell Scholars. Both said the scholarship and other offerings from the foundation allowed them to attend college in the Boston, Mass. area.

The Garzas, from Donna, said they wanted to experience living in another part of the country and meet new people. They applied for and received several other scholarships, but the Dell award will pay for remaining tuition, as well as books and other expenses.

"With the scholarship I got the security," said Yxarittzza, 18, who will attend Boston University in the fall.

Horacio, 19, said the Dell scholarship helped pay for his medical bills for an injury he sustained while attending Tufts University as a freshman last year.

The Garza siblings said they too are interested in learning more at the conference about how to manage their money and handle the stress related to being in college.

For more information about the Dell Scholars Program, visit www.dellscholars.org.