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NMSU engineering alumnus Richard Leza creates scholarship to propel students to graduate

A new $290,000 endowed scholarship equipped to help New Mexico State University College of Engineering students in financial need stems from a resilient story of an NMSU alumnus.


Man and woman pose for a photo.
Richard and Cynthia Leza have established an endowed scholarship honoring former New Mexico State University College of Engineering Dean John Hernandez to help students faced with financial challenges. (Courtesy photo)

After growing up in Placitas, a colonia in Hatch, New Mexico, and receiving a severe cancer diagnosis at 22, Richard Leza wasn’t afraid of risk at a young age.

“When I graduated from NMSU, I had formed a mentality that said what do I have to lose? I might as well take a chance when I can,” he said. “I think it gave me the opportunity to take more chances than the average person would do, even though I was married and had a child. At the end, it really paid off.”

Following his two-year battle with cancer, Leza, his wife, Cindy, and their son, Richard Jr., moved to Las Cruces. Leza earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from NMSU in 1973, and five years later he graduated with a master’s degree in business administration from Stanford University.

Leza, who worked a graveyard shift at White Sands Missile Range while attending NMSU, said he knows the difficulties of managing college and raising a family. This fall, the Lezas established the Richard and Cynthia Leza Endowed Scholarship Honoring John Hernandez, who was his mentor and encouraged him to become the number one student in engineering.

“Education is hard with many obstacles, but students should keep going. With determination, pride and hard work it can be done,” he said. “I’m hoping this scholarship will help engineering students stay in school and have more time to put into their studies.”

“To me education is very important,” Leza said. He added he was encouraged to further his education by his mother, who strived and succeeded with all 10 of her children graduating from high school. She believed that the only way they were going to get out of there was with higher education.

This scholarship will be awarded starting in fall 2018. The scholarship will be given to a junior or senior level engineering student who needs financial assistance. Preference also will be given to minority students, married students and students who have children.

“With this endowment, Mr. Leza enhances student retention in the College of Engineering by addressing the needs of enrolled students who benefit from financial support,” said Lakshmi Reddi, College of Engineering dean. “Mr. Leza exemplifies the focus, creativity and persistence needed to excel in an engineering education and career.”

Leza, who is now retired, spent more than 40 years in public, private and nonprofit organizations and as an entrepreneur and a venture capitalist.

Leza’s commitment to NMSU also includes previously established investments through the Richard L. Leza Endowment, Kenneth White Endowed Scholarship Fund and the Richard & Cindy Leza Library Acquisitions at NMSU.

To apply for scholarships at NMSU, visit scholarships.nmsu.edu.