MAY 2, 2022 — It was a less than an ideal day in Siem Reap, Cambodia, during a heavy rainfall so thick it created a fog-like atmosphere. But Daveedth Macias, who was there on deployment with the U.S. Navy, witnessed something undeniably bright in the storm: children stopping at nothing to get an education.
The moment became etched in his memory. It motivated Macias to return to school, ultimately leading him to UTSA, where he will earn a Bachelor of Science in civil and environmental engineering this month.
Macias was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to migrant working parents. His father, the only one of his siblings to attend college, had always instilled the importance of education in his son.
Macias had not always been keen on school, though. His early education at a Montessori academy allowed him the space to cultivate his interests in math and science. A move to Texas, however, proved to be a difficult academic and personal transition. His father, previously a principal in Michigan, encountered issues with certification and could only secure subbing opportunities. As a result, their family was homeless for two years.
“It was tough. I’m grateful for my parents. They worked really hard. I’m glad we overcame that as a family,” Macias said. “You don’t think about it at the time, but that adversity really builds resilience, no matter how hard it was. It’s made me a better person.”
As the time to enroll in college neared, Macias was unsure about what he wanted to do. He joined the U.S. Navy, which opened his eyes to a completely different world.
During his first deployment, as part of a small team working on a bathroom facility and school in Driwa Darwa, Ethiopia, Macias encountered young students and their passion to learn. At a school for orphaned girls, he recalled their unwavering interest in wanting to know more about anything, from math to language. Many of the students had been left at the school by their parents, who lived in rural communities far away—their sole purpose to give their children an education. The youngest students were four years old.
“I felt that I had squandered an opportunity. Here I am with parents who I got to see every day and I had the chance to go to school. Yet, I didn’t have that same desire or passion for academics like these girls,” Macias said. “At that point I made the decision that enough was enough, and I needed to share in that passion because I have that opportunity.”
Macias enrolled in night classes after returning stateside from his deployment to Ethiopia. Though he was still unsure about what he would study, he was certain in his newfound drive, which only deepened upon his second deployment in Cambodia, where he was working with a team to construct bathroom facilities throughout various locations including a maternity clinic and several schools.
“A lot of the kids didn’t have shoes. During the rainy season, it rains so hard it looks like fog. It’s so thick. They lived far from the school and there are no bus systems, so they walk four to six hours sometimes to get to school,” Macias said. “Just to learn something.”
Again, he felt the nudge to continue his education.
Macias faced a choice toward the end of his latest deployment. He could either go into specialty training to work on industrial-size generators for the Navy or pick another command and the opportunity to be stationed elsewhere. He chose the latter.
“And I’m glad that I did that because it ultimately landed me here,” he said, sitting in the UTSA Science and Engineering Building.
His next assignment was in Italy, where he continued to take night classes and worked as a facility manager. A colleague kept insisting Macias should be an engineer, but he shrugged off the idea, saying he wasn’t smart enough.
He decided to give it a try, though, once he returned stateside in 2018 and began taking classes at San Antonio College. Two of his cousins who were attending UTSA at the time had urged Macias to join them, but he’d missed the deadline to enroll. Macias kept a lookout for the next chance to get to UTSA and stayed at SAC to finish his Associate of Science.
When he finally began his studies at UTSA, he joined a community where transfer students comprise about 38% of its total undergraduate population, and 16% are military-affiliated, including active-duty military members, veterans, reserves/guards and their spouses or dependents.
Another obstacle, however, wedged itself between Macias and an education: the COVID-19 pandemic. He touts his professors and his deployment experiences with equipping him to take on the challenge. He’s also grateful for his wife, who he said has been the foundation of his success.
“I think it’s important to not think of things only in the sense of academics but in a sense of being a learner of everything. We’re constantly learning. That’s part of human nature. It’s important to find what you’re passionate about and focus on that,” Macias said.
Macias’ UTSA professors gave him the freedom to experiment in labs during his research, something reminiscent of his time in Montessori school. The father of three young girls, Macias has made the Dean’s List, is an active member of the American Society of Civil Engineers at UTSA and the Institute of Transportation Engineers at UTSA, and is an ambassador for the Margie and Bill Klesse College of Engineering and Integrated Design.
Macias’ experiences are representative of how UTSA, a Tier One research university and a Hispanic Thriving Institution, is cultivating an environment that puts students first and focuses on their success by offering experiential learning opportunities that provide students with a greater understanding of marketable skills needed in the workplace and are particularly important in linking classroom success to life after graduation for historically underserved populations.
After Macias walks across the stage this month, he plans to return to the Navy and apply what he’s learned as a civil and environmental engineering student. But before doing so, he’s earned an opportunity to work with a local engineering firm over the summer.
“I want to be applying what I’ve learned, continue supporting what I know and learn new things,” Macias said.
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