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At 87, this Texan just earned her fifth college degree

Eloisa Tamez.JPG
David Pike
/
UTRGV
UTRGV Professor Eloisa Tamez earned a second master's degree in criminal justice in May.

“My children want me to retire, but I just can’t. I’m just having too much fun learning.”

Eloisa Tamez grew up on a farm in South Texas. Her village was so small that she had to be bused to nearby San Benito for high school. But they did have an elementary school.

“That was built on land that had been donated by some of my ancestors … so early on they had a vision for providing education to the young people living in the area,” Tamez said.

In high school, she became interested in nursing and decided she wanted to go to St. Mary’s School of Nursing in Galveston. She didn’t consider how her family would pay for it.

“And my parents never told me, ‘Well, no, you can’t go.’ They never said anything. I don’t know to this day how they figured out how to send me to the school of nursing. But they never told me no. And they did take me over to Galveston on the day that I was supposed to be there,” Tamez said.

She says when they came back home, her parents received a call from the local Ladies Auxiliary. Tamez had written an essay about wanting to become a nurse that came with a scholarship for nursing school.

“So that’s how I started my education,” Tamez said.

And she hasn’t stopped.

“After I got out of nursing school and got married, I had an opportunity to go to San Antonio, to Incarnate Word,” Tamez said. “There was a movement to get more people with diplomas in nursing to get a bachelor’s degree. And there were funding opportunities from the U.S. Public Health Service. So I applied.”

Later, a similar situation led her to get a master’s degree.

“The schools of nursing needed people with a master’s of science in nursing to teach. So I got my master’s degree again with funding from the U.S. Public Health Service. And it just kept going and going,” Tamez said.

But as she was seeking education, life was also pulling in many other directions. She was working the Department of Veterans Affairs and also joined the U.S. Army Reserves and National Guard.

Then, just as she was accepted into a Ph.D. program, her husband had a terrible accident.

“And so now it was only one salary,” Tamez said. “And our first child … she just went in her first year of college and we lost the salary. And I had to make a decision, ‘Do I stay in the doctoral program and continue working full-time and go to school full-time?’ So it was a no-brainer … I have to do this because it’s going to have to be up to me.”

She says it was hard.

“I was working nights, whatever shift was needed – so long as I could be at home to take care of kids and to go to school and all of that all at the same time,” Tamez said. “So it’s been a very active life all along.”

After retiring from the VA, Tamez said she wanted to continue that active lifestyle. She joined the faculty at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. But life had another curveball.

“I had a real shock because the government contacted me and said that they were going to build a wall across my property,” Tamez said.

She said dealing with the lawyers was overwhelming, so during the isolation of the pandemic, she jumped at the chance to get yet another degree – this time in criminal justice.

“Each course gave me new ideas,” Tamez said.

And she says what she wants to do next is create a learning opportunity for others.

“I want to create a post-master’s certificate in forensic science that would be interdisciplinary,” Tamez said. “And the reason for that is that in the Rio Grande Valley … there’s only one person that is credentialed in forensic nursing. And this would be a good market for having more people with that kind of expertise and credentialing to be able to serve the community better.”

Tamez says she wants to inspire others to seek education, “because it’s what’s going to open doors.”

“So I don’t worry about age. I just live to the fullest,” Tamez said.