Daniel Sifuentes never imagined that at the age of 60 he would be attending college simultaneously with his son and daughter. A junior computer information systems major, Daniel, became a student at UIW along with his son, Miguel, also a junior studying engineering.
Daniel, who was semi-retired for 10 years and owned his own fundraising business for 20 years, decided to return to school after discovering he could take advantage of opportunities as a disabled Vietnam veteran.
“No one ever shared with me that I qualified to attend college under the G.I. Bill,” explained Daniel. “While attending a Red, White and You job fair, an employer mentioned to me that I should consider looking into the Chapter 31 program.”
As part of applying for the federal program, he visited more than 15 schools in the area and decided Incarnate Word was ideal.
“I saw UIW had the best program for what I was looking for and I brought my son along,” Daniel said.
“The spring before I was looking at colleges. I wanted to stay local and my dad convinced me that UIW had a great program,” added Miguel.
When it came time for his daughter, Sarah, a freshman, to start thinking about college, UIW once again seemed a natural fit.
“I saw on the website that they had a good accounting curriculum,” said Sarah. “So, I decided I would come to UIW and then I started getting scholarships.”
In fact, Sarah’s first year was completely covered by scholarships. Miguel and Sarah were also able to take advantage of UIW’s sibling tuition discount program.
Sarah and Miguel, who live at home with their parents and younger brother, commute with their father to and from school. Though Daniel and Miguel have had classes together, Sarah has not yet had that opportunity.
“I might take another core class just to be with her,” Daniel admitted.
Sarah and Miguel are involved as students at the university. Sarah is a member of TRiO, the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and Cardinal Latina Mentorship Program, among others. Miguel is a math tutor in the math lab, camp counselor for Girls in Engineering, Mathematics, and Science (minGEMS), a UIW Cardinal Camp leader and a TRiO member.
Alejandra De Hoyos, TRiO program counselor, said Sarah has benefited from TRiO, a program providing academic support, leadership development, and educational services to students who meet first-generation, low income, and/or disability criteria.
“I have watched Sarah grow from being a quiet shy individual to an outgoing student in a very short period,” explained De Hoyos. “She makes time to make a difference by participating in cultural events, tutoring and providing community service.”
Daniel said UIW’s Veterans Affairs office, Student Disability Services (SDS), and his advisors have provided tremendous support.
“I know he appreciates the time I take to go over his degree plan with him every semester,” said Dora Garner, Daniel’s secondary advisor. “It is the little things we do that make his life easier that he truly appreciates.”
Interestingly, Garner was instrumental in encouraging him to send Sarah to UIW.
“He asked for my advice for his daughter. So we talked about her applying and completing her FASFA. We talked about different options including cost,” said Garner.
Beyond the support they receive from the university, the family’s close ties serve as a primary source of encouragement.
“Over and above the support that Daniel receives at Student Disability Services, his true support comes from the close bond he shares with his family,” said Michelle Beasley, coordinator of SDS. “I often tell Daniel what a wonderful role model he is for his two children attending UIW. When I see them on campus, I see how they are a very close-knit, Christian family who genuinely care for each other.”
Beasley added that Daniel’s lifelong experience benefits his classmates as well. “Daniel brings so much value to the classroom by sharing his military and life experiences with the traditional students that make up the majority of the classes,” said Beasley.
The trio, who are the first in their family to attend college, said they are blessed to be able to pursue an education at Incarnate Word; for Daniel, in particular, this hits home.
“I was born in Del Rio. We were really poor. I went to work in the fields of California, in the canneries,” Daniel recalls. “We’ve come so far. There was a time when we barely could afford food. There were times when my stomach was really hurting. I had good parents. We just did not have enough money sometimes.”
“And from that I think we try to give back,” Sarah added. “They’ve already finished their service hours and this semester I will finish mine. I’m intending to go further because of stories like my father’s.”
As for the future, Daniel looks to pursue a career in emergent technology. Sarah plans to continue on to UIW’s master’s degree in accounting with the goal of becoming a CPA. And Miguel hopes to join the workforce for a few years, particularly developing prosthetics for veterans like his father who uses a leg brace, and then pursue a master’s in engineering. In addition, he was offered an internship with Saber Power Services this summer.
For the Sifuentes family, UIW is truly a special place.
“We feel very at home here,” said Miguel. “It’s big enough so there is a large diversity of people and it’s also small enough so you know people personally.”
Daniel agreed, “I like to call this place a family within a family.”
For more information on UIW’s sibling tuition discount program, visit www.uiw.edu/news/2016/2016siblingtuition.html