Published on September 17, 2019
Scholarship recipient follows in mother’s footsteps
When Austin Torres stepped onto NAIT’s campus for the first time as a student, the campus was abuzz with excitement. Although he was also excited, it was a bittersweet moment as he was following in his late-mother’s footsteps some 2 decades after she attended the polytechnic.
For as long as Torres could remember, his mom Ana was his role model. When she was just 14 years old, she immigrated to Edmonton with her family from San Salvador, El Salvador, which at the time was embroiled in civil war.
“My mom and grandparents came from a country where they had to leave their family behind,” Torres explains. “They came here not knowing anyone to make a better life for their children.”
Looking back at the war-torn, impoverished country they came from, Torres’s grandparents stressed the importance of post-secondary education – values his mom shared. She completed a Health, Safety and Environmental Technician continuing education diploma at NAIT before earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees – all while raising 5 children.
“All the sacrifices my mom and my grandparents made, I felt like I had to do something for myself.”
After she passed away in December 2016, the impact of his mom’s education created a legacy Torres carries close to his heart.
“My mom’s perseverance and drive allowed us to have this amazing life,” he says. “All the sacrifices my mom and my grandparents made, I felt like I had to do something for myself.”
Fulfilling a family legacy
Even through his grief, Torres knew he had to honour his mom and become an example to his younger sisters. After researching schools and programs, he was accepted into Construction Engineering Technology.
“My whole mantra, even before my mom passed away, but more so after she died, is to enjoy life to the fullest,” he says. “I didn’t want to be stuck in a program I didn’t enjoy.”
The diploma program stood out to then 20-year-old Torres for several reasons, not the least of which was a quick entry into the workforce and ample opportunities for employment. He also liked that he could pursue a degree down the road.
Attending his mom’s alma mater was also appealing. After all, NAIT was where she built the foundation of her career.
While walking the halls on campus as a first-year student, Torres thoughts often turned to his mom, imagining the experience she would have had like in the mid-’90s. One day, he stopped in his tracks and did a double take when his eye caught a flash of blue. It was an advertisement featuring a photo of his mom in one of the display cabinets in the E-wing.
Torres recognized it immediately because he had previously seen the ad on billboards around the city.
“I took it as sign from the universe that I had made the right decision coming to NAIT.”
“I was so happy; it brought tears to my eyes,” he recalls. “I took it as sign from the universe that I had made the right decision coming to NAIT.”
Now entering his final year of study, Torres still admires his mom’s unwavering pursuit of her educational goals. Her example has inspired and motivated him throughout his studies when success seemed out of reach.
“There were times that I thought I wasn’t going to pass a test or be able to do something because of how difficult it was,” he admits. “I can be hard on myself because I want to push myself to do better. When I get stressed, I channel her and push through it, because she had that drive and perseverance.”
NAIT scholarships relieve financial burden
His mother’s example – and his own hard work – paid off when Torres made the dean’s list his first and second semesters.
Despite being a model student like his mother, Torres has faced his own challenges. Although he had some savings, during that first semester he soon found the financial burden difficult to bear on his own.
He applied for student awards and remembers when he found out he received the Trevor Korol Memorial Award in November 2018.
"I don’t think I would have been able to get the same grades if I had to work.”
“I felt pure happiness and gratitude,” he recalls. “Any time you are low on money, you are in stress mode. I don’t think I would have been able to get the same grades if I had to work.”
At the annual Ledcor Group Scholarships and Bursaries Celebration, Torres’s grandfather Efrain and his eldest sister Natalie were in the crowd to see him accept his award. Once again, he thought about his mom.
“My mom would be proud,” he says. “It’s my goal to step up, care for my family and give back to the community. I want to be a rock in my family, because that’s who my mom was.”
Torres volunteered to be a student ambassador at the annual President’s Society Celebration this past February. Meeting the donors who support so many NAIT students was a light bulb moment.
“It means a lot that people choose to donate to the next generation. It inspires me.”
Without the generosity of NAIT donors, he would have struggled on his educational journey – and in reaching his goals to follow his mother’s example and make her dreams a reality. It’s a gesture that he wants to pay forward someday.
“It means a lot that people choose to donate to the next generation. It inspires me,” Torres says. “I want to be invited to these events in the future as a donor. I want it to come full circle.”
Learn more about how to create scholarships and help future leaders like Torres pursue their post-secondary dreams.