Although Gabby Chavez became a mother at 15 years old, she remained focused on finishing school.
The Alamo, Texas, native enrolled in a self-paced program for young mothers to complete their high school education and graduated in what would have been her sophomore year of college.
“Because I was a teen mom, I have always been pro-education,” she said. “I knew that’s what was going to get me somewhere in life.”
Twenty-one years later, learning still holds appeal for Chavez. Her career in the education industry as an enrollment specialist at the Lamar University Student Service Center in McAllen, Texas, is proof.
“We help students interested in higher education get through the application process and follow up with them,” she said. “We make sure that all of their documents are in and also serve as moral support.
“I work in the education vertical, so a lot of the individuals I deal with are teachers who have been out of school for a long time. We motivate them and encourage them by telling them that going back to college is something that they can do.”
Chavez should know. As a single mother of four, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership from South Texas College in 2019. She expects her children — Brandon (21), Natalie (19), Matthew (18) and A.J. (5) — to follow her lead.
“My oldest son is taking real estate courses,” she said. “My daughter decided to get her cosmetology license. My middle son is in his last year of high school and is going into accounting. They have no excuse not to pursue higher education. I told them, ‘If I can do it, you can do it.'”
The only time Chavez has not lived in the Rio Grande Valley was when she moved to San Antonio for a few years to work at Goodwill Industries. That job also had an educational tie.
“I was a case manager for people trying to get back into school,” she said. “As long as they were in school, I helped them with child care.
“My first experience working in higher education was at Brightwood College as an admissions representative. I enjoyed it, and I knew from experience that education can get you far.”
Since Chavez started working at the Lamar University Student Service Center in March 2019, she has shared her story with potential students to assure them that earning a degree as a returning student is possible for most anybody.
“I tell them that if I can do it after being a teen mom and trying to keep a full-time job, it’s pretty doable,” she said. “When I went to college and had to do a research paper, I had to go to the library to check out books. Now, it’s much easier to do a research paper.”
Chavez enjoys enhancing the lives and careers of teachers. Since the coronavirus pandemic started, she has seen an increase in the number of educators considering a return to college to boost their knowledge and become tech-savvy.
“Now that they’re having to learn online, it’s been difficult for them. Not being up to date with technology is the main challenge for many of them.”
Inspiring teachers to overcome self-doubt and pursue a degree program online is all in a day’s work for Chavez. She is also not finished with her own career as a student. In fact, she’s considering a return to higher education.
“My long-term goal is to go to law school,” she said. “I started studying for the LSAT a little bit. I am trying to pace myself through that. I want to do corporate law.”
For now, Chavez is focused on spending time with her family, working out, reading and making a difference in lives through higher education from the Valley.
“I get a lot of fulfillment out of it — especially when I get calls back and somebody says, ‘Thank you. Because of you, I decided to do it,'” she said. “It’s a rewarding job.”
Learn more about Lamar University’s online degree programs.