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The University of Texas at San Antonio Online Magazine

opportunity of lifetime

Opportunity of a Lifetime

Alumni Association scholarship recipient hopes to change the world, beginning with his home country

Arinze Chukwunonso Bennard Alva—“call me Chukky”—smiles broadly when asked his impressions of South Texas. After all, the 17-year-old native of Nigeria has been a Texan for the past year-and-a-half, since relocating here to accept a scholarship and work toward his dream.

Alva hopes to earn an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering, as well as master’s and doctoral degrees, before returning to Lagos.

For a teenager who had never been away from family or out of his hometown, the journey halfway across the globe was the trip—and opportunity—of a lifetime.

“Before coming here, I never could have imagined that the things I was reading about in textbooks I would be able to actually see with my own eyes. It has been amazing,” he said.

Through a first-time UTSA donor’s collaboration and the Alumni Association’s endowment surpassing $1 million, a match was created that essentially doubled Alva’s scholarship. This academic year, some $120,000 in scholarships was distributed; nearly $50,000 more than the previous year, said Jim Mickey, associate vice president for alumni programs and marketing.

While still lonely and missing his parents and three younger siblings, Alva is wide-eyed when talking about things that most of us take for granted—electricity at the flip of a switch and modern highways.

“You get used to the idea that the electricity is always there, 24/7,” he said, contrasting the situation in his homeland, where service can be spotty and power outages frequent.

“I can still not imagine how big Texas is,” he said. “Getting around the state is quite a challenge”—especially when he doesn't’t have access to a car.

The easy-going, constantly smiling young man may give the appearance of a happy-go-lucky teen, but he is driven to make good on what he acknowledges is “an opportunity that very few people in my country will ever have.”

Alva speaks purposefully about the career path he has chosen for himself: “My motivation is to be the best, because that is how I will make a positive impact on my society. My country is suffering from poverty and political and social unrest, and what you hear mostly is: ‘All will be well.’

“But we can no longer afford to sit back and wait. If I am to do something about it, I will have to do something to improve the situation in my homeland, because my country really needs to change and I hope to be part of that change. If I don’t succeed, here at the university or in what I want to do afterward, it will be to the detriment of the next generation. I won’t be a part of letting down the youth in my country.”

It is heady stuff for a homesick teenager who has maintained a perfect 4.0 GPA while working as a research assistant in the Department of Mechanical Engineering’s Computational Reliability and Visualization Lab.

Alva is as comfortable talking about applied physics as he is about research into experimental nano reactors.

He chose UTSA after applying to 16 U.S. universities and being admitted to four “because coming here granted me the opportunity to fulfill my lifelong dream. The day I received my admissions letter was one of the happiest moments of my life.”

W.G. Yates & Sons Construction Co. and the Alumni Association teamed up for the $2,500 per year scholarship. Separately, Alva also received the Honors College’ Presidential Honors Scholarship.

“Our intent is to create a relationship between the student and the donor,” and in that way also create a connection between the student and the Alumni Association, said Mickey, who introduced Alva to the construction firm’s leaders at an off-campus dinner.

Plans call for continuing significant increases in the alumni endowment fund, which will mean more scholarships being issued to more students like Alva, Mickey said.

Some $150,000 in scholarships will be distributed next academic year, more than doubling the $72,000 awarded in each of the 2009 and 2010 academic years, he added.

Since 1982, when the association awarded its first $250 scholarship, about $985,000 in scholarships has been awarded.

Alva, who notes that “here, professors like it when you ask a lot of questions and they encourage your curiosity,” wants to pattern his life after a comment attributed to Albert Einstein: “Try not to become a man of success, but rather to become a man of value.”

—Guillermo Garcia

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