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The University of Texas at San Antonio Online Magazine

It all adds up

A strong Alumni Association equals more scholarships

Ariel Garza enjoys solving algebra, geometry and calculus problems and often earned A's and B's on her high school math tests. That's why she wants to become a math teacher.

Ariel Garza

"A lot of kids need help with math," Garza said. "It would be great to help them in the areas that they are struggling."

However, Garza, who was raised in a single-parent household, knew that going to college would be a financial challenge. Her mother's annual salary could not cover the cost of books and tuition. Still, Garza's heart was set on attending UTSA to major in education.

"I wanted to stay in San Antonio, and my sister graduated from UTSA and is now a teacher," she said.

Today, Garza's dream of becoming a math teacher is almost a reality. Garza expects to graduate in May 2012 after being awarded a four-year UTSA Alumni Association Scholarship.

"It has helped me and my mother from stressing about how to come up with money to pay for my education," she said. "I'm grateful to have the opportunity to focus on my studies and not have to worry about getting a part-time job right now."

Garza is one of 36 UTSA Alumni Scholars who received a total of more than $72,000 in scholarships this year. Since 1982, the Alumni Association Scholarship Program has distributed more than $865,000 in scholarship funds to almost 300 students. The first scholarship ever awarded was a $200 scholarship for textbooks.

Scholarships would not be possible without monies generated from Alumni Association membership dues, said Jim Mickey '78, associate vice president for alumni programs and marketing. The association's challenge, he said, is to get more alumni to join.

"There are more than 80,000 alumni and only 5 percent are members," Mickey said. "We want to earn our alums' membership by adding value and benefits."

Each year, the Alumni Association hosts two key fundraising events for scholarships: the Diploma Dash 5K City Championship Race and Fitness Walk, and the Alumni Gala.

"When it comes down to it, the purpose of these events is to raise money for scholarships and also have fun, so the more alumni that participate in the Diploma Dash or the gala, then the more funds we can raise for scholarships," Mickey said.

To date, the Alumni Association's endowment has grown to more than $1 million, Mickey added. If the association can award more than $100,000 next year, it will be the highest amount given in one year in the association's history.

But to keep up with ever-increasing student enrollment, alumni membership must be greater than 5 percent. It goes even further, though, Mickey explained. A robust Alumni Association ultimately benefits the university and adds value to the degrees that have been awarded since 1974.

Involvement and support from alumni will help UTSA reach its goal of becoming a Tier One university, also known as a premier national research university, he said. In 2009, UTSA was identified as one of seven universities vying for that rank in Texas. This status is measured by research expenditures, faculty publications and research citations, among other criteria. Alumni membership helps increase UTSA's overall national rankings, Mickey said.

Yvonne Jones, a 2006 UTSA graduate and staff member since 1996, recently joined the Alumni Association. Although she has always been involved with the university as an employee, she never considered becoming an association member until recently.

"Whenever I get an e-mail from the association, I forward it to my friends," said Jones, associate director of the Career Center. "I want to get involved in one of the committees. I'm hearing more about what [the association] wants to do in terms of tradition and opportunities to give back through volunteering and connecting with alumni, which I think is great.

Mickey wants to ensure that alumni also continue to benefit from joining the association. So attracting more members has become a quest for him, both personally and professionally.

"When I think about my involvement with UTSA, I have fond memories as a student because I was a part of several firsts: 1976 was the first year underclassmen were allowed to attend UTSA, selection of the roadrunner as our mascot was in '77 and the first fraternity on campus came in '78," Mickey said. "Today, not only as an alumnus, but as an employee of UTSA, I can help encourage other alums to get involved in helping us build new Roadrunner pride and traditions together."

Garza still has more than a year left before she can call herself an alumna. But she already feels a strong connection to the Alumni Association. It's because of her scholarship that she's had her own set of college firsts.

It wasn't easy getting where she is now. In high school, she applied for more than 100 scholarships so she could attend UTSA.

"I lived in the counselor's office my entire senior year," she said, laughing. "I was in there so much that we even became good friends."

But it was worth it to score the big one, she said.

—Rudy Arispe


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