From High School Dropout To Deputy Corps Commander
“Texas A&M was it for me. That is where I wanted to be, and that was the ultimate goal.”
These are the aspirational words of Ennis Rios ‘19, the 2018-19 Deputy Corps Commander of the Texas A&M University Corps of Cadets and a Geographic Information Sciences and Technology (GIST) senior in the Department of Geography in the College of Geosciences. While the path that led Rios to Texas A&M was not always an easy one, he has persevered in the face of adversity and will graduate this month.
Although he did not know it at the time, his road to Texas A&M started when Rios dropped out of high school.
“I didn’t really know what my cap on success would be,” Rios said. “Looking back, I had set the bar for myself fairly low.”
Uncertain of where his life was headed, Rios decided to join the United States Navy.
Rios joined the Navy as a radioman in 1999 and spent 15 years working in a range of fields, from network security management to naval special warfare. His last position in naval special warfare landed him in Stuttgart, Germany, where he met his future wife, Ambyr, a 2008 Aggie graduate. “I didn’t know anything about Texas A&M, or Texas in general, so when I saw her Aggie Ring, I asked her about it,” he said. After that first introduction to Aggieland, Rios set his sights on Texas A&M.
“When it came time to transition out of the military, I knew I wanted to go to college and I had my hopes set on Texas A&M.”
Overcoming adversity as a non-traditional student
After completing his time in the Navy, Rios faced significant challenges in applying to Texas A&M.
“I dropped out of high school, I had no SAT scores, and I had no college credits from my time in the military,” he said. “I wanted to go to A&M, but I did not have the credentials.”
Twenty-seven days after leaving the military, Rios started at Del Mar Community College in Corpus Christi. With the help of the Texas A&M Veteran Resource and Support Center (VRSC), Rios was able to focus his energy on the courses that would help him transfer into a program he would be interested in. “A year and a half out, there was no guarantee that I was going to continue school or make it to A&M, but the VRSC was persistent in its support of my goal to get here someday.”
Eventually, after taking all the classes that he could transfer, Rios decided it was time to apply to Texas A&M. “My wife and I decided that next semester it was not worth using my veterans benefits to take classes that wouldn’t transfer, so it was time to start submitting applications.” With Texas A&M at the top of his list, Rios submitted the application to Texas A&M first.
In almost no time, Rios’ hard work had paid off. The steady march through community college after more than a decade without school had led to this moment.
“Before I had the chance to start on the applications to other schools, I received my acceptance to A&M.” Rios started at Texas A&M in the spring of 2017.
Veteran support at Texas A&M made all the difference
Rios’ experience as a radioman and an information systems technician in the Navy led him to major in GIST. The major provided him with the opportunity to combine the skills he learned in the military with a field that he is now passionate about.
“I love this stuff,” Rios said. “I can be a part of producing quality products that others can use.”
In addition to focusing on his studies, Rios has been a member of the Corps of Cadets while at Texas A&M, and served as the 2018-19 Deputy Corps Commander. He has also been a member of the prestigious Ross Volunteer Company.
He began his time at Texas A&M as a member of Delta Company, an outfit in the Corps specifically organized for combat veterans. “The Corps has been really rewarding, and I have met a lot of great people through my position in the Corps,” Rios said. “When I look at what I got to do while I’ve been here, the bonds I have been able to make through the Corps, the Ross Volunteers, and the Deputy Corps Commander position, it has been really rewarding.”
Rios credits his success as a student veteran to his experiences in Delta Company. The group provides support for individuals from different backgrounds, but with shared life experiences.
Since veterans often have lower graduation rates compared to other students, Delta Company provides combat veterans with a community that understands the challenges they face.
“One of the things that came out of the quick research I did was that what does make veterans successful in college is finding a team similar to what they had in the military,” he said. “Getting here, I tried to surround myself with a good team of people so that we could move through the mission of school together.”
Looking back over the years since he left the military, there are a few things that Rios wishes he could pass on to the people who are in a similar position to the one he was in, in 2015.
“As I approach graduation, I have thought a lot about how I wish I could tell my friends that are still in the military, or just got out, ‘Hey, I know you talked about going to college or mentioned it in chats here and there, but man, you can do it. I am about to graduate.’”
Looking to the future, Rios has been accepted into the master’s program in the Texas A&M Department of Geography. He hopes to focus his graduate studies at the confluence between hydrology and human-environment interactions.