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‘An Education for a Better Life’: Donors Endow Scholarship for First-Generation Students Honoring Longtime Dallas Pastor

By Kate Friend, BA ’07

The newly endowed Monsignor Donald Zimmerman First-Generation Scholarship honors the longtime pastor of Christ the King parish, his service to the Diocese of Dallas, and the example he has set as an alumnus of the University of Dallas. The scholarship will provide financial assistance to high school students who are the first in their families to go to college, and also sets up a support system to facilitate a smooth transition into college.

President Jonathan J. Sanford, Ph.D., Matthew Spring, PhD ’15, scholarship recipient Bryan Velazquez, and Monsignor Donald Zimmerman, BA ’69 MTh ’73, delivered remarks at an on-campus reception on April 15 thanking the donors who funded the endowment and highlighting the importance of assisting first-generation students in their pursuit of higher education.

“I want to give a special word of thanks to the donors who have made it possible, and I think it’s always an especially profound gift when it’s given anonymously,” said Sanford.

He explained that students whose parents went to college have the advantage of growing up hearing stories about the college experience. First-generation students, on the other hand, do not have the advantages of generational knowledge of higher education to guide them. “Just getting [first-generation] students here is a tremendous gift, and then finding ways to make sure that they flourish while they are here is part of the important work that we do,” he said. 

Spring, UD’s director of Academic Success and First-Generation Initiatives, praised the work ethic that first-generation students receive from their parents and grandparents and acknowledged the ways in which current first-generation students have already contributed to improving campus culture and serving their fellow students. 

“Just this past year, we had one group of first-gen students begin a First-Gen Student Association,” he said. “Another set in motion a small-groups program that offers peer-to-peer mentoring, both in person and virtually. And another group, led by two of our Constantin Scholars, Bryan Velazquez and Eli Cervera, has worked with Dr. Amy Fisher-Smith in our Psychology Department to begin a club whose members develop habits that benefit their mental health.”

Velazquez, a freshman who benefited from a first-generation scholarship when he entered UD in fall 2020, explained how the summer bridge program, funded by the Constantin Foundation, helped him form friendships with other first-generation students even before they arrived on campus, and how those relationships helped him build confidence as he prepared to enter UD. Due to the support he received navigating university life, he was able to become a student leader on campus, helping to co-found the mental health awareness club, Mind Matters. 

“This scholarship has reduced the financial stress that would have otherwise fallen on my family were the funding not available,” he said. “I come from two immigrant parents who work extremely hard to prioritize that their children have a better education and future than they did. There have been times when they didn’t work in the most glamorous of jobs, but because of their constant determination, they provide an example for me to follow. Both of my parents have made sacrifices to ensure that I will be able to gain a college education. Earning this scholarship is my way of reducing the sacrifices they had to make so that I can achieve my dream. 

“My dream is to work with children, whether it is in the classroom or in administration,” he added.

Zimmerman emphasized that the offer of a scholarship is not simply the offer of a better future; it is also the offer of a better life, “because that’s what a liberal education does.”

He continued, “To be exposed to the great values of Western civilization, to internalize them, make them part of yourself, gives you the tools to interpret the human condition.” He expressed his hope that this scholarship will allow people to receive a liberal arts education who otherwise would not be able to do so, so that they will then contribute those lessons back for the improvement of society. 

To learn more about establishing a scholarship of your own, please contact Vice President for Advancement Kris Muñoz Vetter at kmunozvetter@udallas.edu or 972-721-5149.

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For electrical engineer Jennifer (Coyle) Byrne, Ph.D., BS BA ’85, perhaps the greatest benefit of her UD education was that it taught her to seek truth and answers to big questions.

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