Why I Started A Scholarship Fund With The Area Foundation

By Edward D. Esparza

Sonia & Ed Esparza

SAN ANTONIO —  As the eldest of eight siblings and the first to graduate from college, I knew back during my days at Highlands High School in San Antonio that I would need scholarships to be able to go on to higher education. 

I applied for a number of scholarships, including a four-year ROTC scholarship sponsored by the U.S. Navy to attend Rice University in exchange for four years of service after graduation. I actually met the scholastic requirements, but then I had to take the qualifying pilot physical exam at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Houston — unfortunately, I failed it due to my slight color blindness. 

Undeterred, I eventually applied and was admitted to Texas A&M University and was offered an institutional scholarship covering 25 percent of tuition. I was also awarded a one-year scholarship by the Steel Workers of America, which covered 50 percent of costs for my freshman year. 

I was also able to save up the summer before starting college, doing engineering drafting for a small aircraft company. That covered the remaining freshman year costs. By working every subsequent summer at CPS Energy and being awarded a Cooper-Bessemer Corp. scholarship during my last two years, I was barely able to cover most tuition and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. 

After a stint as an engineer at NASA in Houston, I signed up to serve with the U.S. Air Force at the Weapons Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This afforded an opportunity to continue my higher education with costs covered, attending evening courses at the University of New Mexico and eventually completing a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. 

After military service reaching the rank of captain, I returned to civilian life in San Antonio to continue my engineering research career in air blast phenomenology, explosion testing of structures and measurement engineering of sub-microsecond transient events at Southwest Research Institute. 

I had previously gotten married to my wife Sonia and by this point we had three children. Sonia returned to San Antonio College to get her associate’s degree and then continued at UTSA for her bachelor’s in interdisciplinary studies. 

After obtaining her teaching certification, she started at Harris Middle School, where she quickly rose to the science department chair and vastly increased the participation of her very economically disadvantaged students in the school science program. Due to the exposure her students received in these academic extra curricula, many of her students were able to qualify to go to regional and state competitions — providing the academic spark which convinced many of them to go to college 

After more than two decades at SWRI conducting research, I made a career change into education and began taking graduate math courses to be able to teach college classes. Soon after, now both as educators, Sonia and I realized the lack of students in the San Antonio area graduating in STEM fields — a negative trend that needed to be reversed. 

Remembering how scholarship money helped me complete my undergraduate degree, Sonia and I decided four years ago to do something to pay it forward by creating a scholarship fund at the San Antonio Area Foundation to provide financial assistance to San Antonio students seeking to major in engineering at Texas A&M, one of the best public engineering schools in the country. 

We pray and hope to increase the endowment in the future to be able to assist more of these very talented scholars who need this economic help to make their educational dream become a reality. Thus, this fund not only benefits students who cannot go to college without financial assistance but also their immediate families and our San Antonio community as a whole. 

Our fund awarded its first scholarship in 2018 to an outstanding young lady majoring in mechanical engineering at Texas A&M University. We met her as she was getting ready to start her freshman year. We were elated and proud as she communicated all of her high school accomplishments. We felt very gratified to have been able to assist such a deserving candidate and happy that our contribution to her future education expenses was yielding such high dividends. 

For anyone in San Antonio wanting to help deserving students needing economic assistance to continue their post-secondary education, we encourage them to consider setting up a scholarship fund at the Area Foundation. They worked really well with us and answered all our questions in setting up our scholarship fund. They were the only one that would allow us to use our own selection criteria without limitations. We look forward to when we can endow additional scholarship funds to support more than one scholar at a time.

Edward D. Esparza, P.E., M.S., currently serves as a Lecturer in the Department of Mathematics at the. University of Texas at San Antonio.