December 12, 2014
Photo: Dora Molina and Gabrielle Chavez
Las Vegas, New Mexico – The Las Vegas chapter of the American Association of University Women awarded $1,000 scholarships to two nontraditional Highlands University students.
Gabrielle Chavez, 38, will complete her M.A. in public affairs in May 2015 and holds a 4.0 GPA. Dora Molina, 26, will earn her bachelor’s degree in social work in May 2015 and is on the dean’s list.
Both women are single parents who have worked to juggle school, family and work responsibilities.
“These two exceptional women demonstrate such fervor and extraordinary determination in pursuing their education, being a voice for those who struggle, and contributing to the university and community,” said Carol Winkel, AAUW scholarship co-chair. “Gabrielle and Dora are also dedicated mothers and positive role models for their daughters, and are very actively involved in their lives.”
Chavez’ 16-year-old daughter Ariana is a junior at West Las Vegas High School while Molina’s 6-year-old daughter Itzel attends Los Niños Elementary School.
For her graduate studies in public affairs, Chavez emphasized political and government process, with a special interest in public policy. She is a graduate assistant for classes such as New Mexico Government and Politics, American National Government, and Public Policy.
In 2013, Chavez took a leadership role to establish the student Political Science Club at Highlands.
“I want to work as a manager for a nonprofit or government agency to advocate for single parents and other people who are lacking support to become and remain self sufficient,” Chavez said. “Legislators need to know how their decisions affect people in social service programs who are working hard to support themselves and their families.”
Chavez said her experience at Highlands has been very positive and gave her the flexibility she needed.
“It’s been a very refreshing, supportive environment at Highlands for growing as a student and professional. The professors have high expectations and yet are accommodating to my work schedule and family responsibilities,” Chavez said.
She earned an anthropology degree at the University of New Mexico and has worked at Southwest Archaeological Consultants in Santa Fe for 14 years, currently as the publications manager and previously as a lab manager.
“My love of Southwest archaeology and history will always be a part of me,” Chavez said.
Molina was born in Mexico and came to the United States in 1996 at the age of 11, working as a migrant worker in the fields alongside her father and three sisters. Molina’s mother died when she was a young child.
Alicia Hernández, an English as a second language teacher in Ohio, took an interest in the sisters, encouraging them to excel in school and pursue college. Molina said Hernández is like a mother to the sisters.
“I’m in college to become a social worker who will advocate for families that are impoverished and be the voice for those who are less fortunate,” Molina said. “Education is truly the key to success because without it you can’t find fulfilling professional work. At Highlands, the social work professors have worked in the field and provide real-life scenarios and experience. They’re also very supportive.”
Molina’s practicum is at the New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute and she works a full-time graveyard shift for Family Options, LLC, providing homecare for disabled adults. She gets by on very little sleep, saying her faith, determination and lots of coffee make it possible, along with help from her sisters, Ines and Leticia.
Ines is enrolled in the MBA program at Highlands while Leticia is in the MSW program.
Somehow, Molina finds time to be active in the Los Niños PTA and volunteers at Calvary Chapel Sunday school and Samaritan House thrift store.
Valdez and Molina expressed heartfelt gratitude for the AAUW scholarships, which the organization funds through its used book sales.