|By Letty Fernandez
RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – Dr. Eloisa G.Tamez proves you are never too old to learn.
At 87 years of age, she remains passionate about learning, and just as passionate about sharing that love of learning with students.
The UTRGV professor of nursing has earned four degrees in her lifetime, and she isn’t done yet. On May 13, at the UTRGV Spring Commencement in Brownsville, she will walk across the stage to accept her fifth degree, a master’s in criminal justice.
She said she definitely will be at the commencement ceremony.
“Absolutely! It’s going to be a big celebration,” she said. “My family is coming, and they are coming from everywhere.”
It was during the early days of the pandemic that Tamez decided to get another degree. She was at home, like most of the world, attending meetings and teaching classes remotely, when she saw an email that UTRGV was offering an online accelerated master’s program in criminal justice. She always had been interested in law and policy, so she applied.
Classes started in summer 2020, and Tamez took one course each semester.
“I did it because I could,” she said. “And I wanted to learn more. My world opened up and it has been a great journey. I am 87, some of my students were 21. They could be my great-grandchildren.”
Her classmates were respectful and delightful, she said.
The last time Tamez was a college student was 37 years ago. That was back in 1985, when she was pursuing a doctorate in nursing at UT Austin.
Looking back on these past two years as a student again, she said, writing essays and term papers were easy but she had to get used to taking timed exams.
“I had not had that kind of a test in a long time. I would sit down and pray the rosary before I opened the test. It was a challenge,” she admitted. “But I made it.”
LOVE OF LEARNING
Tamez was a first-generation college graduate, and she credits her parents for her success.
“Both of my parents had a sixth-grade education. They always promoted education to my sister and myself. My sister was an elementary school teacher for 35 years and I became a nurse,” she said.
Tamez spent 44 years working in service, the past 27 years with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as a nurse and in executive management. In 2000, she joined legacy institution UTPA and then moved to UT Brownsville in 2004. She continues to teach future nurses.
When she sees students in her classes who get discouraged, she shares this story with them:
She was just starting the doctoral program when her husband, Luis, was in a car accident. He was in the hospital for months. She could have given up, she says, but knew that just wasn’t an option.
“I had five children to take care of,” Tamez recalled. “My husband was in the hospital. We had one salary. So, I had to get the best education I could. “
“I tell my students not to give up because this degree will make a difference in their lives,” she said. “In my own way, I am an example. I was in the same boat. Many times, I could have given up, but I did not.”
Ask Tamez what her secret to life is, and she really isn’t sure. She loves reading, for one thing.
As a 22-year veteran of the U.S. Army and the National Guard, she learned to stay fit and healthy.
And, she believes learning is a forever thing.
What about retirement, though? Her children often ask about that, she said.
“I always tell them – next year. And the next year comes around and I haven’t retired,” she said.
“I feel that I have a lot of positive energy to be able to keep our students engaged and to motivate them,” she said. “As long as I am physically and mentally capable of doing it, I will continue to teach. So, I don’t know if I will retire anytime soon.”