Ricardo Vasquez initially began his college experience at Boston University, more than 2,000 miles and a world away from his hometown of Vinton, Texas, a suburb of El Paso.
Vasquez had just received the Gates Scholarship and was among the scholarship’s first cohort. Boston University had a six-year doctor of physical therapy program where he could go straight from his undergraduate studies to pursuing his graduate degrees without applying.
But despite that university’s prestige, Vasquez didn’t feel at home.
“When I got there, I realized there was a personality difference,” Vasquez said. “I didn’t really mesh into their system entirely. It didn’t really feel like home.”
After one semester at Boston University, Vasquez transferred to New Mexico State University, where his education would be fully paid for through Pell Grants, the “A” Mountain transfer scholarship and NMSU’s out-of-state competitive discount, along with his Gates Scholarship award. At NMSU, Vasquez is closer to his family, and he’s discovered faculty who care about his future.
“My family is always pretty much an hour away, so that provides that extra emotional and social support that I believe is really important and really valuable,” Vasquez said. “NMSU offers more of an individualized experience. You’re not really a number. I feel like everyone here welcomes you and is concerned about what your problems are. That’s really valuable to me.”
Vasquez is NMSU’s first Gates Scholar. The Gates Scholarship was formerly known as the Gates Millennium Scholarship, but beginning in 2018 became the Gates Scholarship funded by the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. The Gates Scholarship is a highly selective, full scholarship for exceptional, Pell-eligible, minority high school seniors. The scholarship is awarded to 300 top student leaders each year.
“We were so pleased that Ricardo chose NMSU, as he joins many outstanding students including many National Merit and Hispanic Merit Scholars, and our President's Associate Scholars,” said NMSU Honors College Dean Miriam Chaiken. “NMSU offers the best of both small and large universities – students have a hundred different programs of study, but through the Honors College they get the small college feel and support.”
Now a kinesiology major, Vasquez is already looking into graduate physical therapy and occupational therapy programs in New Mexico and Texas. Vasquez is a former high school athlete who said he fell in love with the physical therapy profession after a sports-related injury.
“I fell in love with the process of getting back in recovery and what it takes not only physically, but mentally, to overcome those challenges,” Vasquez said. “I fell in love with how people can grow through the therapy process and overcome those challenges.”
Vasquez said at NMSU, he’s found that his professors are passionate about the subjects they teach, and he considers kinesiology professor Joseph Berning a mentor.
“He always guides me on the right track and says, ‘If you really want this to happen, these are the steps you should take.’ He makes recommendations for me,” Vasquez said.
Vasquez said he’s fortunate in that the Gates Scholarship allowed him to transfer universities, and now his undergraduate years are fully covered without having to take out any student loans. He heard about the scholarship through his high school internship with El Paso Electric. Now that he’s a member of the scholarship’s first cohort, he hopes to become a Gates Scholarship mentor to encourage high school students to apply.