High school couple benefits from surprise Impact Scholarships

Maria Mendez

Alejandro Martinez never expected UT officials to show up at his home in Mission, Texas, with an admissions letter, giant check and balloons for him.

But when it happened, he quickly texted his girlfriend Alyssa Garza.

Garza was excited for him but wished she had also received a scholarship to their dream school. Fifteen minutes later, admissions officers from UT showed up at his girlfriend Garza’s door with the same scholarship.

“It was a complete surprise,” Garza and Martinez said, laughing together.

The surprise the two Mission High School seniors received is part of the new Longhorn Scholarship Surprises effort this coming academic year by UT’s Office of Admissions to surprise selected students at their homes. Through this effort, the admissions office awards Impact Scholarships to students with potential to transform their communities.

Rachelle Hernandez, senior vice provost for enrollment management, said the University had no idea Garza and Martinez were high school sweethearts. They were chosen for their involvement in science extracurriculars and their hope to expand science and technology in the Rio Grande Valley. 

“That’s not info we had, so it was a complete coincidence,” Hernandez said. “We wanted to roll out the burnt orange carpet for them.”

The Impact Scholarships will help cover tuition by providing students with $12,000 annually for four years, Hernandez said. Impact Scholarships have previously been awarded, but students would not have known about their scholarship award until the spring. By awarding the Impact Scholarship early, the University hopes admitted students will see themselves at UT, regardless of their finances, in the fall. 

“We want students to know it’s not just an admit letter — it’s possible,” Hernandez said. “We want to make sure their dreams come true.”

Students are selected for the Impact Scholarship through UT’s holistic review process, which considers students’ academics, extracurriculars and their community contributions, Hernandez said.

Two other students from the Rio Grande Valley were also surprised with the Impact Scholarships over Thanksgiving break.

“We’re looking to identify students who have made an impact in their school and their community and also have potential to make an impact when they enroll,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez said UT will award more Impact Scholarships to deserving students across Texas in December and expects to award at least 30 scholarships in total.

“The point is to make sure that students — who we would love to see enroll at the University of Texas — know that we are committed to Texas students,” Hernandez said.

For both Garza and Martinez, studying aerospace engineering at UT has become a possibility with the Impact Scholarship.

“We were both really happy because one of the issues about attending UT was the cost of attendance because we both come from low-income families,” Garza said. “We didn’t want that to prevent us from achieving our dreams.”

Garza and Martinez both grew up surrounded by Longhorns and burnt orange in their homes, even though their parents had not attended UT, and they both fell in love with UT during a summer engineering camp on campus. These students hope to provide more educational opportunities for other students by expanding technology in the Rio Grande Valley.

“It would be nice to come back home and work in the Valley again,” Martinez said. “In the end, what I really want is to be able to give back to my community. That is the most important thing that I want.”