When it comes to paying for his education, every penny counts for Gerardo Castillo.
The 21-year-old Lasara native and junior at The University of Texas-Pan American relies on the earnings he makes every summer at S&S Farms in Lasara and financial aid to afford college.
But last fall, Castillo's dreams of becoming the first person in his family to graduate from college were threatened.
Needing more money to pay for school, Castillo took a job at a local convenience store. Balancing a job with classes became too difficult for him, so he considered reducing his course load, but doing so would reduce his financial aid.
"I didn't know what I was going to do," Castillo, who is majoring in manufacturing engineering, said.
Castillo was able to receive enough financial assistance to cover his educational and living costs that semester, thanks in part to a new scholarship made available by contributions from students, alumni and the community.
UT Pan American launched its Count Me In! drive last year to boost alumni participation. The alumni participation rate reflects the percentage of alumni who make financial contributions to the University throughout the year.
"It's about the number of graduates who give rather than the amount given," said Yvette Padilla, director of stewardship and annual giving for UTPA. "Our alumni participation rate is low compared to our peer institutions. That is especially significant since corporations and foundations look at how supportive our alumni are as they consider the University's requests for much-needed scholarship, research and program support. So, whether it's $5, $50, $500 or $5,000, every gift counts."
University staff have been reaching out to alumni, signing up graduates at commencement ceremonies. This year, UT Pan American started encouraging its currently enrolled students, even its newest Broncs, to give back to the institution.
"We are creating a philanthropic culture of giving back among our students. Our current students are our future alumni," Padilla said.
With money raised so far, UT Pan American was able to award scholarships to students with great financial need in the Fall 2011 semester.
Castillo, Edna Rotceh Garcia, Cesar A. Garza, Cristian E. Luevanos and Ricardo Garcia were the first recipients of scholarships made possible by the Count Me In! drive.
Castillo said receiving the scholarship has motivated him to keep up with his studies and complete his degree.
"Someone notices you're doing well and doing what you're supposed to do," he said. "It's stress relief because I really didn't know what I was going to do last semester."
The students said they were surprised and pleased to learn about receiving the financial aid, which they all said will help them tremendously in paying for school and books.
"It feels great; out of all the students they picked us," said Garza, a freshman who plans to become a middle school math teacher after he graduates from school.
Luevanos said receiving the scholarship relieves some stress for him and fellow recipients because they don't have to worry about coming up with more money for school.
"It helps me to concentrate on my education," said Luevanos, a junior majoring in manufacturing engineering.
By signing up for the Count Me In! drive, alumni that give back can ensure more students receive a high quality education and can return the favor by supporting future Broncs.
So, please join us by August 31 and be counted for FY 2012. A gift from you, no matter how large or small, will make a big difference for UTPA.
For more information on how to make a donation, contact the Office of Development at (956) 665-5301.