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Impacts of giving back highlight annual Guiding Star, Rising Star event at UTPA
By Gail Fagan, Public Affairs Representative
(956) 665-7995
Posted: 04/29/2011
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In 2002, David Cortez became a college dropout in his first year at The University of Texas-Pan American, choosing instead to travel across the United States as a member of a rock band.

"I needed to experience the real world without an education before I could truly appreciate and desire a college degree," said Cortez, who cited rollover car accidents, robbery at gunpoint and witnessing extreme poverty as part of his memories on the road before he became motivated to go back to college to be better equipped to improve the world.


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UTPA student David Cortez (left) is pictured at the University's 2011 Donor Scholarship Luncheon with donor Glynn Morgan, associate professor of political science. Cortez is one of two students who received a Glynn and Rene Morgan Endowed Scholarship in Political Science.
When he returned to UTPA in 2007 as a student on academic probation, Cortez found a guiding star in Glynn Morgan, a UTPA faculty member who became more than an encouraging teacher and mentor.

Cortez, who now has a GPA close to the perfect 4.0 in his majors of political science and history, was selected by a departmental faculty committee in fall 2010 and again in spring 2011 to be a recipient of the Glynn and Rene Morgan Endowed Scholarship in Political Science which helped finance his education. Cortez has excelled and will graduate in May 2011. He will enter a Ph.D. track program in political science in fall 2011 at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. with a full five years of funding.

"For me, this is more than dollars and cents. This scholarship is a gesture of encouragement and means by which to continue my fight," said Cortez, who turned down offers to enter doctoral programs at five other universities, including another Ivy League school - Harvard.

"I can think of no better honor than to be able to inspire a student the way I have been inspired by my professors," said Cortez, who plans to become a university professor and pursue a passion to help veterans.

Cortez and Morgan got to share their thoughts on the impact scholarships have on students at a luncheon hosted April 19 by the Division of University Advancement, where donors, dubbed “Guiding Stars” get to meet with the student scholars or "Rising Stars" who are the recipients of the scholarships donors have established.

"I enjoy seeing our students interacting with their donors and building bonds that will last well beyond their time at UTPA. As this tradition grows, we hope that so too will the number of our endowed scholarships," said Yvette Padilla, director of stewardship and annual giving.

The endowed scholarship that Morgan, with support from friends, associates and former students, established with the UTPA Foundation in 2008 provides merit-based scholarships for the University's top political science students and is in memory of his beloved wife, Rene. It is one of 232 endowed scholarships at UTPA.

Morgan, an associate professor of political science, said as a 48-year employee of UTPA he felt he wanted to do something for the University and also to help students.

"The endowment has done so well that we've been able to give two scholarships out each year," said Morgan, who obviously enjoyed being able to know his scholarship recipients and learn about their accomplishments.


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UTPA student Yichia Wu, who received a H-E-B Scholarship for students in the College of Business Administration, greeted donors Lucille and Eligio "Kika" de la Garza during a luncheon held April 19 to unite donors who have established endowed scholarships at UTPA with scholarship recipients. The E. Kika de la Garza Endowed Scholarship is for students pursuing government or public service careers.
Cortez said it is difficult for a student to perform at their peak while holding down a full-time job, which is often necessary to afford to attend school.

"To have this kind of financial assurance, to know my school is covered is an immense help. It has been something that has allowed me to just focus on this and this alone," said Cortez, who, since earning the scholarship, has been able to become more active in campus organizations and travel to present at a regional political science association conference with one of his professors.

During the luncheon, President Robert S. Nelsen talked about the important impact of the University on the Rio Grande Valley and efforts the University is making to try and meet extreme budget challenges while still maintaining the classes students need and a tuition low enough to make it possible for Valley students to attend college.

“We are making a big difference in the Valley in what we are trying to do and we are doing it in tough economic times. Each year we will graduate 3,000 students. The Valley needs more educated people. We need to break the grips of poverty,” he said.

Nelsen expressed his appreciation for the donors and Pan Am’s students, citing several examples of student success. However, he offered a challenge to both groups.

“Students you have the moral responsibility to reach back and help others. You were helped. When you graduate and you are out there, remember this day. Remember this gringo, with the bald head, who charged you to reach back and help Pan Am,” he said.

He also called out to long time UTPA donor Wanda Boush, who has established an endowed scholarship for nursing students, and asked her to stand. Nelsen said Boush recently told him that she wanted to challenge current donors to continue to give and even give 10 percent more.

“The people in the Valley step up. They know how important education is,” Nelsen said. “What you have done has made a huge difference. We aspire to having real leaders and to be the shining example to this entire state. That is why your scholarships are so important.”

Cortez said the inspiration he has received from professors, mentors and friends at the University who have taken an interest in his educational career has inspired him to want to give back.

“Like Dr. Nelsen said here today, I want to give back at some point especially having been raised in South Texas. I want to show young Latinos you can come out of Brownsville, Texas like me and become a Ph.D. There are too many kids here who go unnoticed and I would love to give back as Professor Morgan has,” he said.

If you would like to learn more about supporting the advancement at UTPA, contact the Office of Development, Division of University Advancement at (956) 665-5301 or via e-mail at development.utpa.edu. You can also visit the Division of University Advancement website.