Ferjie Rose Hontanosas admits she wasn't the best student in high school because she didn't apply herself. When she saw fellow classmates at the South Texas School for Health Professions (Med High) in Mercedes prepare to attend college outside the Rio Grande Valley and state with scholarships, however, Hontanosas realized she wanted to take her education more seriously.
"I thought, 'If they can do it, why can't I,'" said Hontanosas, now 21.
Entering The University of Texas-Pan American with a 2.57 grade point average (GPA) from courses she took under the University's and South Texas Independent School District's concurrent enrollment program, Hontanosas quickly hit the books to pull up her GPA.
In the Fall 2008 semester she was inducted into The Rafael "Felo" A. and Carmen Guerra Honors Program at UTPA. She is slated to graduate this May with a 3.85 GPA. And on April 21, 2011, Hontanosas received the Dora E. Saavedra Ph.D. Director's Excellence Award for her honors thesis," Returning Home to the Borderlands: A Qualitative Study of the Reentry Experiences of Hispanic Students in South Texas."
She was among 10 graduating seniors who were honored during a ceremony at the University Ballroom. Each student received a medallion to commemorate their hard work and achievements.
The University's honors program began in 1963 and its mission is to serve the needs of academically talented and ambitious students who value intellectual growth and want to make the most of their undergraduate education, according to the program's website. In 2009, UTPA renamed its program after the Guerra family, a pioneering South Texas ranching family that has a long tradition of supporting education.
Students in the Guerra Honors Program have the opportunity to take rigorous classes in liberal arts, conduct research at the graduate level and study abroad.
At the awards ceremony, faculty and administrators praised all the honors students for their perseverance and dedication to their studies.
UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen urged the Guerra Honors students to use the knowledge and skills they acquired at the University to transform the world.
"You are our shining stars," Nelsen said.
Hontanosas said the honors program, especially the study abroad component, changed her life.
"I would have to say the Guerra Honors Program is probably the best thing in the University," she said. "It's probably the strongest program in the University ... it really monitors the students as they grow and as they complete the whole process."
As part of the Guerra Honors Program, Hontanosas traveled to Turkey, Greece and Italy, among other countries. She developed a love of traveling and desire to help people from that experience.
"It really opened my eyes to all the possibilities and all the things that are available in this world," Hontanosas said. "I got so addicted to traveling, and it really gave me the confidence to go out there and interact with people who are different, who might come from different backgrounds and really understand the way people are."
She was so inspired by her travels that she decided to base her thesis on the effects her fellow Broncs had when they returned home from studying abroad.
Hontanosas, who is majoring in communications studies with minors in political science and English, said she feels the Guerra Honors Program helped her become more well-rounded because of the interdisciplinary approach the University takes in offering courses to the honors students.
After graduation, Hontanosas said, she plans to attend law school-after some more traveling.
For more information on the Guerra Honors Program, visit the program's website.