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President's Scholarships Helping Students Stay in School, Earn Degrees, Oct. 1, 2008

By Thomas Guengerich

SOCORRO, N.M., Oct. 10, 2008 – More than 300 golfers and several dozen sponsors gather every September at New Mexico Tech for the largest single-day fundraising golf tournament in the state.

Everyone enjoys a beautiful day on the golf course, great meals and good company. The winning teams (or best cheaters) go home with some prizes. The ultimate reward, however, is reserved for the New Mexico Tech students who received Presidential Tuition Assistance scholarships.

This fall, more than two dozen college students – many of whom might not have been able to afford tuition – will continue their studies thanks to the generosity of tournament donors and sponsors.

New Mexico Tech President Dr. Daniel H. López started the fundraising event 14 years ago when he first took the reins of the university in Socorro.

“Retention will always be an important issue for science and engineering schools,” López said. “This is just one weapon in our arsenal to help keep students in school and help them earn their degrees. A variety of issues influence a student’s decisions, and finances often are crucial.”

The recipients include a few high school students taking college classes, a few non-traditional students and an occasional graduate student.

The bulk of the recipients, however, are fifth-year (and beyond) seniors who have run out of scholarships and full-time undergraduates who don’t have the resources to put themselves through college.

Peter Empey, a fifth-year senior in chemical engineering, doesn’t have to worry about getting a part-time job this semester.

Life intruded on his college plans. Over the past year, Empey got married and welcomed his first child.

“The family made it not so urgent to get out of here,” he said. “I’ve reshuffled my priorities.”

Empey was not eligible to keep his other scholarships for a fifth year of college – a situation in which more than 70 percent of Tech students find themselves.

“This President’s Scholarship allows me to spend my free hours studying and with my family,” he said. “As opposed to working another job to pay my bills and tuition.”

Empey only needs assistance for one semester. He’ll finish in December, then hopes to begin his career working at a research facility.

Winston Benally, another fifth-year senior, likely wouldn’t be in school this fall without the President’s scholarship.

“Last year was kind of difficult and my finances got really difficult this semester,” he said. “I really wanted to finish my course work, but I was running overboard on my budget.”

Benally has already 145 credit hours and only needs a few classes to earn his degree. However, as he got closer to finishing, his dwindling financial resources forced him to cut his credit hours each semester.

“I was running out of options,” he said. “The President’s Scholarship showed me that someone really does care in Brown Hall and that they want you to get through school and be successful. That was a big encouragement for me.”

Benally works at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and expects to earn his degree in electrical engineering this year.

A native of Crystal, N.M., north of Gallup on the Navajo Reservation, he attended St. Michael’s High School in Arizona.

“I hope to get a job and help my family because I’m sure they’re having a tough time too,” Benally said. “They’ve been supporting me all the way through college.”

Breanne Dunaway is a sophomore in petroleum engineering – and an A student. A native of rural Nebraska, she works part-time on campus and is carrying 16 credit hours this fall.

“This scholarship is helping me with tuition and expenses so I don’t have to work at my job as much,” she said. “I haven’t had to take out a loan for school this year, so I don’t have to worry about paying off as many loans when I get out of school.”

– NMT –