Melody Zuniga joined her daughter for a program that identified sixth-grade girls who would be the first generation in their families to go to college. She wanted her youngest child to have opportunities she didn’t. Now, she’s an inspiration to her daughter. The 40-year-old mother is set to graduate in August.
“I don’t want to say it’s everything, because it’s not,” she says. “I’ve become a little bit more humbled. It’s more like a great accomplishment.”
The genesis of Melody Zuniga’s journey toward a bachelor’s degree found her out of the blue five years ago. Zuniga wanted to give her daughter a chance to find out about going to college through a program sponsored by the American Association of University Women.
Instead, Zuniga found herself with a desire to pursue a degree. Buoyed by supportive faculty and staff at Texas Tech, Zuniga discovered a passion for geology that surprised even her.
“It’s love at first sight,” she explains. “It was just one of those things, I knew. I thought, 'I love this, I can do this. I’m going to do this.' All it took was a couple of women to give me the little push.”
Zuniga grew up about 90 minutes east of Lubbock, in Spur. She started working at age 8, hoeing cotton in the fields. She did well in school. But because of her family’s financial situation, college never came up in conversations. From her mother she heard: find a husband.
“I was never told that I could college. It never occurred to anybody, even though I was in the top five of my class. I was in the national honors society. I competed in UIL Academics…I did all of that, but my teachers never talked to me about going to school because of where I came from.”
Before she came to Tech in fall 2012, Zuniga worked full-time as a school bus driver and trainer, while also raising her two sons and daughter. Her drive to improve her life for the future is the result of her decision to get her bachelor’s degree.
“That is basically the gas in my engine, is growing up knowing that people didn’t think I could do or be anything because one, I’m female, two, I’m hispanic, three, I’m poor,” she says.
Initially, Zuniga received grant money and financial aid. But it wasn’t long before she started to earn scholarships.
Currently she’s at Texas Tech as a fulltime student and she works fulltime at a gravel company as part of an internship. And she’s still a parent. The pace often leaves her spent. But she perseveres.
“There are times that it becomes too much, but you don’t have a choice. There’s no other option but to go. There’s no stopping. There’s no hiding in a corners. There is no reverse. This is just a straight shot. There is no other direction,” she says.
Zuniga’s goal is within sight. She’s set to graduate in August. And though she loves Texas Tech, Lubbock and West Texas, she’s keen to get her first job somewhere there are trees and water. Being an independent geologist is a possibility down the road.
Callum Hetherington, one of Zuniga’s professors, says she is the embodiment of tenacity.
“She’s going to be very successful as a geologist because of this willingness to continue working to be excellent,” he says.