When it comes to students, scholarships and motivation, Eduardo Elizondo has come full circle. In 1986, he was a senior at Nimitz High School in Houston. He had pretty good grades, knew he could probably be admitted to a college of his choice and had narrowed it down to three colleges.
His counselor helped that decision by telling him about The Academic Excellence Award, a new program at the University of Houston. This award was merit-based, renewable each year and would allow him to attend college debt free. He ended up receiving this scholarship.
Now, Elizondo is a senior career technology education program advisor for Houston Independent School District (HISD). His team visits and supports all 50 high schools in HISD.
“I’m an advocate for education,” Elizondo said. “I help guide high school students as they decide what comes after they graduate. My goal is to keep them focused on a goal beyond high school. I want them to realize they can’t stop there — so we work to try and figure out what they want to do and how to get there. I don’t want kids to get pigeonholed into college or non-college boxes. Everyone has their path, and their routes may be different, but we all should be headed to success.”
Elizondo’s enthusiasm for continuing education shows in his work. “The Academic Achievement Award is easy to promote,” he said. “I can speak from experience: I got this award, it helped me succeed, and you can do it too. I’m sharing my story, not selling a line. It’s believable, and the kids can see that I’m one of them.”
Elizondo believes in honesty and talking to young people like adults. He shares his experience in the context of how basic intelligence and getting by in high school is often not enough to get you ahead. “I tell them how college isn’t the same as high school, and I illustrate that with a story of how I almost didn’t make it.”
Elizondo had made a deal with his father: As long as he kept his grades up and maintained the scholarship, he could live rent-free at home.
“My first semester at UH was a real eye-opener for me. In high school, they take roll and call your parents when you don’t show up,” he said. “College was different. You were responsible to attend and learn. I figured I could attend voluntarily and study hard the night before an exam. Well, that doesn’t fly in college, and I was right on the edge of failing. But I had to experience that and get a wake-up call and risk the scholarship.”
Elizondo got a call from someone at UH who supported scholarships and was hoping to keep him from failing out. “He knew about my scholarship, wanted to help me succeed and we discussed it. He told me, ‘Look, this is your one-time pass. This is it. From here on, if you do this again, you’ll lose your scholarship. You also run the risk of suspension for a semester.’
“I realized I’d also be breaking the agreement with my dad,” Elizondo said. “It shook me up; I felt a responsibility. UH had given me an opportunity, and I didn’t want to lose it. Because people cared and wanted to make me succeed, I kept at it. The whole idea of someone monitoring me changed my life. Donors give money for scholarships, and they want to see students become successful. When donors become involved, they have a great impact. It’s so much more than just money.”
Getting a strong education wasn’t all that Elizondo received from his time spent at UH. “Internships are announced in class, and they’re opportunities you miss out on if you’re not there,” he said. “I learned about a Baylor College of Medicine grant research. I got it, and it paid better than my part-time job — double what I was making at the mall. It was a great fit, right up my alley and very positive. Then I got a research assistant job at UH when working on my master's degree. It gave me good pay as well as health care insurance. None of that would have happened if I hadn’t been there to hear about the positions. When someone offers information, take it!”
Elizondo is also a donor at the Center for Mexican American and Latino Studies (CMALS) and serves on the CMALS advisory board with the goal of raising funds for scholarships. “My volunteer work is geared to four-year colleges because that’s the best choice for most kids,” he said. “But I also recognize that there are so many different options. College isn’t for everyone. We need to support young people in choosing their path, weighing the options and exploring the pros and cons. It’s hard to accept that you lose some of the kids, but scholarships increase the odds that these kids can take advantage of an opportunity when finances aren’t the barrier.
“If parents haven’t attended college, but their children do, they’ve just raised the bar and potential for that family. The counselor who gave the application, the dean who set you straight, the internship opportunity — each one helps make the vision a reality. I’m happy to be a part of keeping that going. Everything that goes around comes around. I’ve helped kids get awards, and now I’m seeing their kids in school, and I feel proud. I hope that my influence helped make that happen.”