John Brown University serves as a temporary home for 59 Walton scholars from Latin America. Three of these scholars, Walter Medrano, Andrea Rodriguez and Alex Paniagua, expressed their plans to return home and serve their communities.
May marks the 30th anniversary of the Walton International Scholarship Program (WISP). The program has brought 441 students to JBU from Central America and Mexico.
Walmart’s founder Sam Walton and his wife Helen started the program in 1985. The program has provided over 1,250 students with scholarships to three private Christian universities in Arkansas: JBU, Harding University and University of the Ozarks.
On the Walton’s website, President Chip Pollard expressed that the program has “been a huge blessing to the University.”
Pollard said that through this program, students can develop strong relationships that “enrich the lives of both the students that receive the scholarships but also the others students here at JBU.”
Walter Medrano is a junior digital cinema major who grew up in Guatemala.
As part of an indigenous people group called the Mayan K’iche’, he is well acquainted with the needs of his people. Medrano said he is very proud to be a Mayan descendant.
Medrano said he often traveled with his father, who works in almost every city in his state. These trips highlighted the poverty of his people, he said.
He described seeing 70-year-old people working as manual laborers, and 8-year-old children selling candy to support their families.
“There is a great disparity between the rich and the poor, and I think most of the people live on less than one dollar per day,” Medrano said.
While Medrano has a comparatively good standard of living, he said his parents grew up in severe poverty. However, through education and hard work, they made it out of their situation. Medrano’s mother is now a nurse, and his father is a social worker.
“They are my heroes,” Medrano said. “They’ve taught me that nothing is impossible.”
Medrano has taken courage from his parents, and says he knows that he can accomplish whatever God’s will is for him.
“I’m sure that my circumstances will not determine what my future will be,” he said.
Andrea Rodriguez, a sophomore mechanical engineering major who grew up in Nicaragua, said service is what caused her to mature. However, Rodriguez endured a major setback before she discovered her passion.
Once she graduated from high school, Rodriguez wasn’t sure of what she wanted to do next.
“I was frustrated because everyone else had a plan, and I didn’t,” she said.
When Rodriguez first found out about the Walton Scholarship, she applied to study biology, but was not chosen. However, not being selected to be a Walton scholar helped her reevaluate what she wanted to do with her life.
“I got many opportunities that I didn’t think I would get,” she said.
At this time, Rodriguez had been volunteering for two years at an organization called Techo, which means “roof” in Spanish.
This organization builds houses for people and promotes social inclusion for the homeless, she explained.
After being declined for the scholarship, Rodriguez became a leader in Techo. In this position she, with three months of preparation, managed 60 high school volunteers for three days of building 10 houses.
“I realized what really motivated me. It wasn’t just schoolwork but actually seeing how I could impact others’ lives,” she said.
When the next year’s applications for the Walton Scholarship opened, Rodriguez resolved to give it a second chance.
Because of her experience with building houses, this time she applied to study mechanical engineering. She was accepted to be a Walton Scholar.
Alexander Paniagua, a freshman international business major from San Vito, Costa Rica, also had a positive application experience because of his passion and experience with serving others.
“Alex impressed me because of his vision to really make a difference for his country,” Ron Johnson, a director of the Walton program, said of meeting Paniagua.
In San Vito, Costa Rica, almost everyone is a coffee farmer, working long and hard hours. Paniagua said that for all their work, the coffee farmers in his community make about $3,000 a year.
“I was born and raised in a family of coffee farmers. We have always been an economically disadvantaged family,” said Paniagua. He explained how he used to work all day long and got no more than $7 per day.
Paniagua decided to engineer a new solar-powered coffee-roaster, which would reduce the amount of work required to roast coffee, protect his people’s health and protect the environment.
Paniagua said that one of the main goals of his project is that one day coffee growers could be businessmen as well as farmers.
“This project encourages coffee farmers to be entrepreneurs too, and produce their own better-quality coffee,” Paniagua said.
Paniagua’s coffee roasting invention went on to win silver and bronze at two international innovation competitions, proving that he has the natural potential to be a successful engineer. However, his true passion is business. He is studying international business in order to teach his community how to effectively implement their ideas and help them to succeed.
Although all three Walton scholars have different ideas for serving, their passion in united by their motivation to help their communities.
After finding her passion in engineering, Andrea Rodriguez was chosen to study at John Brown. She discovered that she loves designing all kind of things, especially toys.
After graduation, Rodriguez also hopes to use her skills to design things that will help people, or to simply create new things.
As Rodriguez looks towards her future, she will always have the lessons of the past to guide her.
“The good things in life are not served on a silver platter — you have to work for them. You need to grow in order to know how to fail and to keep trying,” Rodriguez said.
Walter Medrano hopes to create documentaries that will cause the people of his country to see and care about the plights of those who are impoverished.
“If I have the chance to do something for them, I think that that’s all that matters in my life,” said Medrano.