First-Generation Graduate Gives Back to Texas Tech

Born in Guatemala, David Rivas was raised by his grandmother until he was 4 years old. Then he and his mom moved to the U.S., but through a series of circumstances, David was placed into the foster care system. Neither of his parents had attended high school, so the idea of attending college stemmed from people he knew during his foster care years. David credits some of those foster care parents for helping him grab hold of the American dream of graduating from college.

There was plenty of college influence during his teen years.

“I grew up near the Austin area,” David laughed. “Kids talked about UT a lot, but you know, I didn’t see myself as a cow.”

David saw some Texas Tech sports apparel in a shopping mall and everything changed.

“I saw the Double-T logo and I thought that was the coolest thing ever,” he said. “I pretty much decided right then I was going to go to Texas Tech and become a Red Raider.”

School counselors strongly suggested he submit multiple applications to ensure he would be accepted somewhere, but David was determined to become a Red Raider.

“I only applied to Texas Tech,” he said. “I had met students who embraced Tech and were highly motivated and that inspired me.”

David had to be self-motivated to pursue his dream. He was a first generation college student and application forms were laborious and complicated.  Financial aid papers asked tough questions about a family he was no longer connected to, but David never gave up.

In January of 2000, David received a letter in the mail from Texas Tech University. He had been accepted.

“It was the greatest moment ever,” he said smiling. “I was overjoyed and remember just driving around and telling my friends and teachers.”

David still has the acceptance letter framed in his apartment.

“It’s a success milestone for me,” he added. “I keep it as a reminder of an achievement.”

David’s journey had also inspired other people including the Director of the Texas Department of Regulatory and Protective Services, Thomas Chapmond, class of ‘74, who was aware of David’s case at the time. Mr. Chapmond contacted then Texas Tech President David Schmidly, who later offered Rivas a work-study job through the President’s office.

Qualifying for scholarships was difficult for someone in David’s position. Many of the traditional scholarships were based on parent income and information, yet David’s folks were no longer part of his life. In addition, many of the civic-based scholarships, like Lion’s Club or Rotary, required a student to live in that community for a extended period of time.

“As a foster child, I was very nomadic,” he said. “I moved around a lot.”

David was an average student academically. He made good grades in high school, but didn’t qualify for presidential or merit scholarships.

“At the time, it seemed like the only scholarships out there were for 4.0 students,” David said. “I was your typical A-B student.”

Another obstacle for David was access to the Internet.

“Coming from low-income families, we didn’t have the Internet at home,” he added. “I’m sure I could have found scholarships had I been able to spend a lot of time searching the web.”

Nonetheless, he pressed on with his dream and took out the maximum loans that first year. He studied architecture and earned a bachelor’s degree from the College of Architecture with a minor in psychology. Just before graduation he received an email about the Pegasus program for first generation students. He applied and was hired as a mentor.

“Basically we function as a big brother/big sister to other first generation students and help them understand college life,” he said. “We mentor in teams and it’s very rewarding.”

Today, David recruits students for the college of arts and sciences and serves as a mentor for student athletes. He will earn an M.B.A. from Texas Tech University in December of 2007.

Next story

From the Classroom to the Stage