New grant will help support first-generation Latino students

Gauri Raje, News Editor

On Monday, March 20, UTSA announced that it would receive a $2.4 million grant from the Hector and Gloria López Foundation to “provide full tuition assistance for 15 Latino first-generation college students” at the university. 

The announcement was made at an event in the Student Union attended by President Taylor Eighmy, Provost Kimberly Andrews Espy, UT System Board of Regents Vice Chairman James C. “Rad” Weaver, UTSA Student Government Association’s  Executive Director Zachary Nepote and Sergio Rodríguez, CEO of the Hector and Gloria López Foundation.

“Beginning in the Fall of 2023 and for the next five years, López Scholars will receive support for tuition and fees, as well as other resources including mentorship, tutoring, housing, study abroad programs, paid internships, leadership development and more,” the university’s official press release stated. There is no application, and the 15 scholars will be selected at random from first-generation Latino students who have demonstrated financial need. 

The Hector and Gloria López Foundation was started by its namesakes — Hector and Gloria López. Upon their passing, the couple left nearly all of their assets to the foundation for “the purpose of educating first-generation Latinos [in] Texas.”

Sergio Rodríguez, their nephew, who was in charge of running their ranching business, took over the foundation after their passing and serves as the foundation’s CEO. 

“Last year, the Hector and Gloria López Foundation began our journey to support colleges and universities who were intentionally — and I say that very purposefully — serving first-generation Latino students,” Rodríguez said. “This grant continues the legacy of my aunt and uncle — Hector and Gloria López.”

“We are investing in communities like San Antonio, El Paso, South Texas, the Rio Grande Valley and Austin. Our foundation is perpetual, and our goal is $11 million in annual giving,” Rodríguez added. “We are Latino founded, Latino led and 100% Latino-focused in our giving.” 

According to Rodríguez, while Texas has the second largest Latino population in the country, only 39.9% of Latinos in Texas have some sort of college degree compared to 70.1% of non-Hispanic White people. Rodríguez also referenced the state’s 60×30 plan, which “calls for 60% of working-age Texans to receive a degree, certificate or some kind of post-secondary credential by 2030.”

“To reach that goal and close that gap, at least 285,000 Latinos must complete a degree or certificate each year,” Rodríguez said. “And in 2021, only about 132,000 completed that degree or certificate and fewer than half — 52,000 — were baccalaureate degrees. That’s a very sobering statistic. We have to do better than that, and we have to work hard to ensure that Hispanic serving institutions like [UTSA] are leading that way.”

Given this shared goal to serve Latino students, the partnership between UTSA and the Hector and Gloria López Foundation came about when Rodríguez met with Eighmy to learn more about UTSA.

“[Rodríguez] wanted to learn more about us, who we are, what we’ve been doing and where we were going as an institution,” Eighmy said. “He wanted to understand our deep commitment to the trajectories of the students we serve, especially from South Texas, and he wanted the impact of this opportunity to be profound for the students that it would benefit.  

“Here we are today, one of the proud recipients of this grant from the Hector and Gloria López Foundation and it’s so transformational for the students it will impact, but it speaks explicitly to who we are as an institution, what we do as an institution, who we serve and how we go about doing it,” Eighmy added.

At the event, Provost Espy also talked about the importance of “classroom to career experiences” like undergraduate research, study abroad and industry internships.  Students who benefit from the grant will also be provided the opportunity to participate in these career-related experiences. 

“It’s those kinds of experiences that set someone up for a lifetime of success,” Espy said. “This support from the foundation also enables us to develop highly skilled Latino graduates who are ready to go, ready to enter the workforce, contribute to their community and chart new paths for others to follow.”

UT System Board of Regents Vice Chairman James C. “Rad” Weaver also gave some remarks, thanking the foundation for their support. 

The event concluded with remarks from Zachary Nepote, a junior at UTSA. Nepote also began by thanking the foundation for its support. As a first-generation student, Nepote highlighted the importance of scholarships in the context of increasing tuition.

“Growing up in a lower-income family meant that my parents stressed the importance of getting a college degree to have a career for myself, to provide for my family and to give myself a sustainable future,” Nepote said. 

“Through this gift, the Hector and Gloria López Foundation will assist students in completing their educational goals and laying the foundation for Latino economic success and mobility in the state of Texas,” Nepote added.