Posted on: June 15, 2012
By 26, Merretta Vasquez had quit college several times.
“I blew off college when I first went, right after I graduated from high school,” she said. “A few years later, but had to drop out when I had my son.”
It was when her son grew older that Vasquez decided she needed to return to school.
“This time I’m doing it right,” she said. But by “this time,” she had been out of high school for eight years.
“The thought of college just terrified me,” the young mother explained. “I knew I was going to be ten years older than everybody—the ‘old lady’ on campus.”
Now, as a 2012 College of the Mainland graduate with an associate degree, she laughs about her initial fears. “I loved it here. I know everybody.”
Even so, there were challenges. During a chemistry lecture, “I sat there and wanted to cry because I had no clue what they were talking about,” she said.
Though frustrated, she chose to persevere. I decided, ‘If I fail all my classes, I fail all my classes. At least I tried,’” she remembers. Vasquez went back, took the chemistry test and earned an A. That’s when she realized, “I can do this.”
Dr. Chris Allen, one of her science instructors, remembers Vasquez as a new student in his class. “She stood out as an academically successful student,” he said.
Besides teaching, Allen has been an advisor to Vasquez. He said, “Over the years, I have seen her grow from a quiet, introspective student to a student leader on campus.”
Vasquez become part of the honor society and was awarded the Coca-Cola Scholarship based on her academic record, community service and leadership skills. She also became a supplemental instruction leader, assisting small groups of students with the concepts teachers presented in science lectures. One of the subjects she helped students with was the same chemistry lecture that discouraged her as a new student. She now wonders, “What was so hard about this?”
Vasquez initially planned to major in health information systems and began the required courses. However, through her classes and COM trips to speak with those in the field, she discovered health information was not what she wanted to pursue.
She went to Allen, who taught the only class she enjoyed and asked him about other options in the science field. He suggested several. Vasquez thought the clinical laboratory sciences program at UTMB sounded interesting so she visited, and loved it.
She applied to the competitive program and was one of about 30 students accepted. She plans to earn her bachelor’s at UTMB and begin her career as a lab technician.
Vasquez is glad she persevered and thankful for the support she received from her family and friends. She learned to “step back and focus on what’s important.“
Keeping that focus even when overwhelmed and continuing to pursue education is important, she said. “Then once you do it, you’re like, ‘I did it and it wasn’t that bad.’”