Mother and 3 children pursuing degrees
As a little girl growing up in Matamoros, Mexico, Maira Mendez remembers fondly the words of wisdom her father would share with her and her eight siblings.
“He always told us that our best inheritance is our education,” Mendez said.
Mendez took his words to heart and began her college career, majoring in chemical engineering when she and her husband Carlos, married. She became pregnant with her first child, followed by two more.
Like many mothers, life changed and school was set aside.
Mendez and her family moved to Brownsville in 2003 and applied for citizenship. Once her children got older, she decided it was time to pick up where she left off and return to school.
She enrolled in UTB/TSC’s Language Institute and learned English, and then began her undergraduate studies. It was then she learned about ASPIRE.
ASPIRE is a grant program that is funded by the U.S. Department of Education. Currently, the program serves 275 students at the university. To qualify for its services, students must be pursuing a bachelor’s degree, be a first-generation college student, be considered low income or registered with disability services.
Student Development Specialist II Jennifer Verduzco explained ASPIRE offers tutoring, a lab and scholarships. Staff members monitor students’ academic progress.
“We provide mentoring, assistance with registration and any questions or concerns our students might have,” Verduzco said. “We prepare them for their career and serve them until they graduate.”
A few years after Mendez began at UTB, her oldest son, Damian, entered college. Her second son, Emmanuel, soon followed, and lastly, her daughter Karla enrolled, making higher education a family affair.
Her children admire their mother’s strong work ethic and are glad that she can relate to what they are going through.
“She works full time as an assistant manager at the movie theater, is in school, and always finds a way to help us,” Karla said.
Emmanuel, who is a sophomore criminal justice major, said having his mom as a fellow college student has its advantages.
“My mom knows what assignments are like, and can relate when she sees that sometimes we are stressed with schoolwork,” he said.
Damian, who is double majoring in psychology and sociology, works part time as a STING mentor and often uses his mother as an example to students.
“My goal as a mentor is to help students get on the right track and succeed in school,” he said. “I say to the students, if my mother can do it, so can you.”
Mendez said growing up her parents always emphasized that education is the “most important treasure that we have,” something that her children echo.
“Our parents always encouraged my brothers and I to strive for more, and to be better than them,” Karla said.
Verduzco said the Mendez family supports and encourages one another.
“You will always find Maira and her children in the lab,” she said.
Learning Instructional Specialist Virginia Ledesma said although English is a second language to the family, it has not been an obstacle for them and describes the entire family as hard-working.
“Here in the lab, Maira asks for help, she wants to learn and thrives in whatever she does,” Ledesma said. “Her children are very active, always in the lab and do whatever they can to succeed.”
The entire Mendez circle calls ASPIRE tutors, family.
Mendez will obtain her associate of arts degree in teaching next month, and hopes to graduate with her bachelor’s degree in 2014. Her children are incredibly proud of her and look forward to seeing her cross the stage to receive her degree.
Asked how she will feel when she sees her children walk across the stage to receive their diplomas, Mendez replied: “It will be the best present that they can give me.”