16:21 PM

BU Student, Scholarship Recipient Shares Story of Resilience


Guadalupe “Lupita” Ayala Montañez loves people … and dogs.

Most days you can find her at the park walking her 140-pound Great Pyrenees, Zeus. And on work days, the paralegal puts her friendly smile and people skills to good use assisting her clients with immigration paperwork.

“I get to help people,” says Montañez about her role at the Multicultural Coalition in Grand Island, Nebraska. “I get to make a difference.”

An immigrant herself, she knows a thing or two about resilience and how it feels to be on the receiving end of a stranger’s kindness.

Studying behavioral science online at Bellevue University, Montañez will graduate in 2021 debt free with her bachelor’s degree -- a feat made sweeter thanks to support from several scholarships.

“It’s changed my life in so many ways,” says Montañez, a native of Mexico and the first in her family to attend college. “Without my scholarships, I wouldn’t be able to finish my education.”

Scholarships not only provide a financial boost but also instill the confidence that many students need to continue forging ahead toward the finish line.

For Montañez, knowing that others were investing in her future was the spark she needed to press on and apply herself.

Today, this 22-year-old is paving the way for generations to come, showing her family they can also break barriers and achieve their dreams.

College is now a hot topic of conversation at family gatherings, Montañez says. “My aunts and cousins ask me, ‘How do you do it?’ I tell them some of the tricks I’ve learned along the way.”

Aside from the typical tips, such as asking questions and forming relationships, her best college advice comes in the form of encouragement: “You can do it!”

When a younger cousin was expressing doubts and fear of failing, Montañez was able to empathize. “I told her it’s normal to have those fears because I’ve had them before. I did it with my broken English and you can too.”

Born in Zacatecas, Mexico, Montañez moved to the United States at 15 with her parents and two younger brothers. The family arrived in Nebraska ... in November.

“It was so cold outside! It was the first time I saw snow,” says Montañez, reliving her state of culture (and climate) shock.

A homesick teenager, she struggled to adjust at first. Montañez was a sophomore according to her age, but because she didn’t know any English, her high school placed her in freshman classes so she could learn the language.

Sadness soon set in. But then something shifted inside, Montañez says. “I saw my parents working the night shift. I thought, if it’s hard for me, it must be hard for them. I want to do something about it. I want to make them proud.”

So she buckled down, acing her ESL classes in just five months. Eventually, she enrolled in three English courses during the same semester, determined to catch up to her classmates.

Montañez succeeded, and she hasn’t slowed down since. After high school, she earned an associate’s in human services, which eventually led her to BU. 

“I enrolled at Bellevue University for the convenience of online classes,” she says, allowing her more flexibility to manage her full-time job while working toward her degree. “Plus they have a great program for my major.”

Looking toward her future, Montañez imagines many career possibilities, including counseling, case management, or social work. Regardless of her role, what really matters for Montañez is serving people.

Even when she’s off the clock, her clients are on her mind. She uses the Duolingo app (usually while walking Zeus) to learn basic words in their native languages -- a simple gesture to let them know she cares.

“I try to learn as much as I can about other people to connect with them,” she says, crediting her heart for helping others to her Mexican culture. “That’s what makes me proud of my culture, the love we have for other people.” 

As Montañez thinks about her scholarship benefactors, she’s moved by the love they’ve shown her and many others through their generosity.

“I hope I get to meet them one day in person, and I hope they let me give them a big hug because I’m so thankful,” she says. “They changed my life.”

That’s how love works. And every day, Montañez pays it forward by touching the lives around her. 

“The way I can change the world is by changing one person’s life,” she says, reflecting on the legacy she aspires to leave, already well on her way.

Learn more about the Bellevue University Scholarship Program.