Robert Vargas '17 BS Biology, is a talker — fast, animated, quick to smile. He’s sitting in the Student Union explaining how the Engelstad Scholars Program helped him get through his undergraduate studies and on to medical school.
“I liked the regimen of the program,” he said. “Staying focused on school and service helped me when I felt overwhelmed. And bonding with my cohort helped me through some really stressful times.”
Times like his freshman year, when, as the first in his family to attend college, he was stretched thin taking 15 credits, working two jobs, and volunteering for Project 150, which provides clothes, school supplies, and hygiene products to homeless high school students.
“I didn’t come from the most well-off family myself,” said Vargas, whose parents emigrated from Mexico. “My mom worked three jobs and my dad worked construction, and I didn’t even know how to get into college. I Googled it.”
So volunteering was humbling, he said. “It was empowering to be on the other side and help others. It was eye-opening.”
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Engelstad Scholars Program. In 2009, The Engelstad Family Foundation contributed more than $12 million to create the program, whose motto is “Scholarship, leadership, and service.”
Undergraduates receive $5,000 per year toward
s tuition, and volunteer 50 hours per semester with one of 24 partner nonprofits, such as Three Square, Opportunity Village, and Project 150.
In the last 10 years, Engelstad Scholars provided more than 43,000 hours of community service.
And for some, that spirit of service inspired their future.
For Vargas, serving with Project 150 clarified his purpose in life. “My mom wanted me to be either a doctor or a lawyer because it was the ‘quintessential American dream,’” he said. "Volunteering solidified my desire to help others. It’s part of who I am.”
He plans to practice primary care when he graduates from the UNLV School of Medicine, where he received a full scholarship from the Engelstad Family Foundation.
I remember listening to (foundation trustee) Kris Engelstad McGarry telling us in the beginning, and she always says this, that we should pay it forward.
“I’ve taken that to heart. Even though I’m just a second-year medical student, I think, ‘Someday I will give scholarships too.’