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Scholarship program supported by family’s love of their daughter gives hope to students

New Mexico State University alumna Elizabeth Ayres Pollard had a passion for theatre arts and heart full of compassion for students facing challenges.

A woman and a man from the waist with trees in the background
Gabby Lopez, sophomore NMSU criminal justice major, and Robert Dale, junior computer science major, are among the first recipients to receive financial assistance from the College of Arts and Sciences Sustaining Academic Progress program to help students continue their education. (NMSU photo by Andres Leighton)
head and shoulders of a woman
The Elizabeth Ayres Pollard Endowment is named for an NMSU alumna who graduated with a degree in theatre arts and worked in universities and artist-in-residence settings across the country. The endowment provides emergency financial assistance to undergraduate students to enable them to pursue their higher education goals and a way to continue the generosity with which Elizabeth showered her students every day. (Courtesy photo)

“She was a rescuer and she liked to help people,” said her father Warren Pollard. “I can’t remember how many kids she took into her house at times when she was in Birmingham. Some would stay for months, students having family or other problems.”

Elizabeth Pollard graduated from NMSU with a degree in theatre arts and from Arizona State University with a master's degree in dramaturgy. She worked at universities including Vanderbilt, Texas Tech and University of Alabama, Birmingham as well as Artist-in-Residence settings across the country. She passed away unexpectedly on Sept. 5.

In her memory, Warren and his wife Heather have created the Elizabeth Ayres Pollard Endowment. Their endowment supports the Sustaining Academic Progress program in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Heather Pollard is the chair of the Dean’s Council for the college while Warren Pollard taught in the department of electrical engineering for 14 years. When he retired, he had enjoyed his years teaching at NMSU and wanted to give back in a way he felt would best meet students’ needs and has already established a scholarship endowment in his own name for the College of Engineering. Elizabeth’s scholarship is a way to honor her willingness to always help others.

“We had been looking at fundraising for the new arts facility and the Dean’s Fund for Excellence,” said Heather Pollard. “One of the things Dean (Enrico) Pontelli and the associate deans spoke to us about just before Elizabeth died was that they were very concerned there were so many students who had good grades but were just lacking two or three hundred dollars to stay enrolled.”

The Sustaining Academic Progress program addresses that need, providing financial aid designed to help arts and sciences college majors who have demonstrated sustained or improved academic performance in meeting their degree requirements, but who have an outstanding balance with the University that prevents them from registering for classes.

“The fund helps these students pay down their outstanding balance, allowing them to enroll and to progress towards their degree in the next academic semester,” said Enrico Pontelli, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “The program is open to any student who has a declared major in the College of Arts and Sciences, is in good standing with an overall GPA of 2.5 or above and has completed at least two semesters at the NMSU Las Cruces campus.”

Gabby Lopez, a 20-year-old NMSU sophomore studying criminal justice, and Robert Dale, 26, a computer science major, are among the first group of students to benefit from the fund.

Lopez was dis-enrolled at the beginning of the fall 2017 semester because of a problem with her financial aid the previous semester. Her parents are unable to help her financially.

“I wasn’t aware of my debt because I was enrolled the first few days,” Lopez said. “I must have not qualified for financial aid due to the issues from the previous semester. I was worried about it because the only reason I was in school was due to financial aid and my academic scholarship. If I wasn’t going to be able to pay tuition, I would have to get a job and come back when I had enough money saved.”

Lopez plans to become a parole officer. She has family and friends who have been in the criminal justice system who struggle with recidivism and wants to create relationships with parolees based on mutual respect.

Dale had a similar experience in struggling to pay his tuition. This is his third attempt to graduate from college. The first time, he dropped out after a year because he couldn’t decide on a major. He started college a second time and financial difficulties forced him to drop out again while he worked for a while to save money. Dale is now two semesters away from graduation but was dis-enrolled because of an outstanding summer school tuition bill that he hadn’t completely paid off.

“I think this scholarship program is important,” Dale said. “I’ve asked other students their stories and a lot of them are like mine. Even though NMSU has some of the lowest tuition in the country, for a lot of kids in this area, it can be difficult to pay for school. At some point, work becomes more important than school because bills have to be paid.”

Dale is eager to pursue a career as a software designer.

“I’ve been doing this so long and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Dale said. “I would have tried anything to continue because I’m at the point where I’m almost done.”

The Elizabeth Ayres Pollard Endowment is what her parents believe Elizabeth would have wanted to do. “She was a mentor and a teacher,” said Heather Pollard.

“We think it would honor her memory because her true passion was to help people,” said Warren Pollard. “We think this is very appropriate for her memory.”

Learn more about the Sustaining Academic Progress program and how to give online at http://nmsu.life/25.

Checks may be mailed to the NMSU Foundation, P.O. Box 3590, Las Cruces, NM, 88003-3590 noting "Elizabeth Ayres Pollard Endowment."