Local family shares appreciation for Wayland experience, graduation

PLAINVIEW – For three members of Wayland Baptist University’s upcoming graduating class, the domino effect has been a way of life. Building off the experiences of one family member has led five others to pursue higher education at WBU, and the trend is liable to continue into the future.

So when Mary Ann Leyva, Amanda Garza and Rita Rodriguez cross the Harral Auditorium stage on Saturday, Dec. 13, to receive their degrees, they will close out a chapter in their own lives and leave a lasting legacy of their family ties to Wayland.

The family saga actually started with Trish Williams, Mary Ann and Amanda’s sister, who started her undergraduate degree at Wayland in January 1999, claiming that God led her to the university in her own hometown. Studying psychology and Spanish, Trish persevered in her education and graduated in 2003. She now works as a qualified mental health professional for Central Plains Center and is working on a master’s degree online through Walden University.

But before she ended her own stint at Wayland, she influenced youngest sister Amanda to follow in her footsteps.

“I originally wanted to go off for college, but (Trish) had a good experience here, so I thought I’d come too,” said Amanda, who enrolled in Fall 2002.

While rooming with sister Trish for a semester in Ferguson Hall was a different experience, Amanda said what she enjoyed best about Wayland was the School of Behavioral and Social Sciences where she spent most of her class time as a psychology major, minoring in criminal justice.

“I love all my professors and feel like I’m really close to all of them,” she said. Like her sister, she’s looking into an online master’s degree in criminal justice and would like to pursue a career in forensic psychology.

Shortly after her younger sister enrolled at Wayland, oldest sister Mary Ann was inspired to continue her education as well. But she had a different motivation.

“To be honest, my thing was not to get a degree and get a great job somewhere,” she said. “I just wanted to accomplish something, and I wanted to do something my kids could see me do and know they could do it too.”

Married at a young age and a mother just a year later, Mary Ann followed her sisters to Wayland, where she felt she could succeed as a nontraditional student with a family and a full-time job at Wal-Mart distribution center. She enrolled in Fall 2003 initially planning an education degree, then soon changed her major to business specializing in healthcare administration.

“The people I built relationships with in the business division have been great,” she said. “Dr. Schacht was so great to help me out and the others were too.”

Though she didn’t come into Wayland with big career dreams, Mary Ann said she very well may have found a career field she might one day pursue. After working part-time in a local clinic during the past year – while juggling her full-time job, class work and her duties as mom to Chantel, 19, Mario, Jr., 13, and Emilee, 2 – she said she’s thinking about a master’s degree in the healthcare field and the required hours for licensure in long-term care administration.

Though her first few years were admittedly easier with two children in public schools, once Emilee came along, the juggling act got a bit tougher. She credits the encouragement and support of her husband Mario with helping her persevere to the degree.

Once all the sisters had Wayland experiences under their belt, they began to inspire more family members to attend. Cousin Rita enrolled in Fall 2004, coming for her first year under the Plainview Education Partnership scholarship. Majoring from the start in biology and minoring in chemistry, Rita hopes to pursue a master’s degree in forensic science and dreams of a career in a crime lab.

And while she also admitted she felt her time at WBU would be short-lived, she followed her cousin’s experience and stayed the course.

“I always told myself I would transfer (away), but Wayland stuck on me,” Rita said. “I’m not just a number here, and the professors were always willing to help me after class or whenever I needed it.”

The three ladies say they didn’t plan their degrees to end at the same time, but it just happened in a nice surprise. They are excited to participate in the ceremonies together and share the special milestone.

But the family connection doesn’t end when Saturday is over. Mary Ann’s daughter Chantel carries on part of the family legacy as a sophomore and cheerleader at WBU, studying psychology like her aunts Trish and Amanda with plans to work in the field with children. She originally came to the hometown university at the urging of her parents since she graduated from high school early and was too young, they felt, to go far from home. But she has enjoyed her experience as well and returned for her second year.

Inspired by her other family members and daughter Rita, Minga Rodriguez enrolled in Spring 2007 to pursue her education degree. After several years of work as a teacher’s assistant in the Plainview schools – now working at College Hill Elementary – she’s working on an elementary education certification with hopes to finish by 2010 and get her own classroom.

“I never got the opportunity to go to college,” she said. “I was the head of household at age 18, then got married and had kids and stayed home with them for many years.”

Minga said her coworkers at College Hill have been encouraging to her, and she’s found great support from husband Oscar and her daughters. She looks forward to carrying forward the family legacy at Wayland and inspiring others to follow her example and continue their education.

Though the future paths may look different for the Garza-Leyva-Rodriguez ladies, they are all proud that their journey was shared at Wayland, where they are now part of an even bigger family.

Approximately 70 students will receive diplomas from WBU in Saturday’s 2 p.m. ceremony at Harral Memorial Auditorium, with several master’s degree recipients among the group. Senior Tamara Haney of Shallowater will give the student address, with President Dr. Paul Armes giving the charge to the class.