Non-traditional student overcomes slew of obstacles to earn degree

Email this article 06/02/2014

Imagine coming to this country from Mexico with a 4-year-old child, no education and unable to speak a lick of English. Throw in the emotional distress of having recently separated from your spouse of 12 years and you get some sense of what Maria del Rosario Torres faced when she arrived in the U.S. over two decades ago.
 
In 1993, after her 12-year marriage ended, Torres made the difficult choice of uprooting herself and young daughter Celia Guadalupe Aboytia, from her hometown of Navojoa, Sonora, MX, to make the long journey to the United States.

“I went to Perry, Florida to live with my sister because I felt I needed to lean on family while going through such a rough time in my life,” Torres said. “My time there was short, a little over a month to be exact. I never felt comfortable there, so I decided to move to Dilley to live with my other sister.”

Torres and daughter Celia moved in with her sister and husband in Dilley. It was there where she pondered her options, which were not numerous.

“I was determined to do something. I had no idea what that was going to be, but it had to be something and soon,” Torres recalled.  “I couldn’t just sit around and hope for everything to work out.”

Maria enrolled her 4-year-old daughter into pre-k at the local elementary school in Dilley. Because Celia could not speak English, she was enrolled into an ESL class. It was her daughter’s schoolteacher who recommended that Torres take ESL classes as well.

Torres began taking ESL classes in 1994 and over the next six years, she learned the basics of the English language. In 2000, Maria began taking adult basic education classes, with the goal of acquiring her GED.
 
“It took a long time to get my GED because classes were relatively short in duration and at times, if there were not enough students, the classes would be canceled,” Torres said.

Finally in 2006, Maria earned her GED and by the fall of 2007, she enrolled in classes at Southwest Texas Junior College in Crystal City. Due to the limited amount of courses available at the Crystal City facility, Torres began commuting from Dilley to Uvalde in the spring of 2008.

Maria overcame obstacle after obstacle, but not being able to speak English fluently was her biggest challenge. “My biggest obstacle was my poor English, which was keeping me from excelling in my college classes,” Torres recalled.

Torres began to use Student Support Services, one of the college’s most useful resources for students, in her efforts to improve her performance in her classes.

During her time at the Student Support Services, workers such as Diana Garcia, Julie Garcia and Albert Alonso would help her with her coursework and also worked with her to improve her English skills.
  
“When she first came to us, we could see she was intimidated and not very confident in her abilities,” said Julie Garcia, TRIO/EOC Outreach Specialist. “As time went on she improved tremendously, she was dedicated and worked very hard.

Over the next two years she was enrolled full-time and worked part-time. Maria was also a driver for SWTJC, driving students to and from Pearsall.

“It worked out for me as a driver because while I waited for students to be done with their classes I would take advantage of the free time and go to Student Support Services for tutoring or go study in the library,” Torres said.

Ultimately, Torres graduated from SWTJC with an Associates of Arts degree in the spring of 2010. The following fall she enrolled in classes at Sul Ross/Rio Grande College and began working on her B.A.

“My intention was never to get any kind of degree, but once I began learning, it triggered something inside of me and I wanted to learn more,” Torres said. “Even outside of school I took classes on how to play guitar and how to knit, among other classes being offered in Dilley.”

In the spring of 2013, Maria earned her B.A. in psychology from Sul Ross/RGC.

“It has been a long road, but I’m happy with what I’ve accomplished,” Torres added. “I get my inspiration from my daughter and am thankful for her support and words of encouragement.”

While Torres eventually hopes to return to the classroom and work on a Master’s degree, family circumstances have caused her to take a break from her studies.

“My brother-in-law is having some health concerns so I needed to go back to work and help my sister with his care,” Torres said.
 
Helping with her brother-in-law’s rehabilitation has made Torres start thinking about a future career working as a social worker in a hospital or nursing home environment.

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