Outstanding Islander Graduate Ricardo Longoria ’23 Earns Communication Degree

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Ricardo Longoria ’23 is the first to admit the Island University took a chance on him. The first-generation college student from Falfurrias applied with a not-quite-competitive ACT score but a strong class rank and GPA and an even stronger will to succeed. 

Based on his grades and rank, TAMU-CC offered him the Achieve Scholarship, an offer that would change his life.

Now, four years later, Longoria is crossing the stage on May 20 with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies as the College of Liberal Arts Outstanding Islander Graduate for Spring 2023. He is taking part in a record-breaking ceremony that includes 1,319 graduates, the most Islanders to ever graduate in a single semester in the history of the university.

For Longoria, the road to the Island University was bumpy. One of six children, instability in his family life led him to live with grandparents. He eventually found a permanent home with his aunt and uncle, Edna and Tino.

“Growing up was hard not having both of my parents by my side,” Longoria said. “I was often envious of my classmates who went home to the perfect family, one that had a mom and dad. But I was very optimistic and ambitious; I wasn’t going to let my challenges hold me back from achieving success. I used this as motivation to strive for the life I wanted.”

Longoria said his interest in politics and communication started in elementary school, guided by his aunt. 

“I was always outspoken,” he said. “In the fourth grade, I became intrigued by the political realm thanks to my aunt Edna, who raised me since the sixth grade. At that age, I knew I wanted to be a leader and help those in need. I was supposed to be a political science major, but changed to communication studies, which allows me to intertwine my love for politics and communication into one.”

When he applied to the TAMU-CC and learned he was awarded the Achieve Scholarship, Longoria was overjoyed. 

“It was the sole reason I chose to come to the Island,” Longoria said. “I was humbled and ecstatic at the same time. Being a recipient of this scholarship changed my journey because without it, I don’t think I would have been able to pursue higher education. Having this scholarship challenged me to achieve excellence.”

 At the Island, he got involved, both on campus and in the community. He served as a senator for the College of Liberal Arts in the Student Government Association. He helped register Islanders to vote. He loved cheering on the Islanders during Homecoming Week. He got a job as a field organizer for a presidential campaign.

His progress was stymied when COVID-19 arrived. Hit hard financially by the effects of the pandemic, Longoria moved back home for virtual learning and ultimately returned as a commuter to save money.

“I was very stressed at times and thought about dropping out and working full time, but then I remembered my younger siblings,” he said. “They were looking up to me and counting on me to graduate.”

In fall 2021, his perseverance paid off when he got accepted into the McNair Scholars Program, a program that supports underrepresented students by providing them with the tools to be successful researchers and candidates for graduate school. 

 Paired with his mentor, Dr. Michelle Maresh-Fuehrer, Department Chair and Professor of Public Relations, Longoria conducted original research about the relationships between people’s news sources and their perceptions of the pandemic. Working with Maresh-Fuehrer, he not only received academic advice but also the encouragement he needed to stay the course. 

“​​Dr. Maresh-Fuehrer has been a driving factor in my success. She is not only a mentor — she is a friend, a shoulder to cry on, and is always there,” Longoria said. “Her words always steered me back on track as she reassured me that everything would be okay.”

And it really was. He completed his study and was able to showcase and present his research, preparing him for his next steps in his education.

“Being a part of this program has allowed me to travel and visit multiple graduate schools and present my research at different symposiums,” Longoria said. “As a McNair Scholar, I have been given many opportunities to thrive in the world of academia. This program gave me a new outlook on life and taught me that anything is possible.”

 Maresh-Fuehrer noted that Longoria gained a great deal of confidence, both professionally and personally, during his time at TAMU-CC.

Ricky embodies the work of the public relations professional by using his communication to bring people together,” Maresh-Fuehrer said. “He is a model for being an engaged citizen; he is heavily involved in his campus and local communities and encourages other students to do the same. Whether it be trying to generate positive change on campus or mobilizing the public to exercise their right to vote, he leads by empowering others.”

The way he seized opportunities presented by the McNair program also impressed McNair program staff. 

“Some students do not take advantage of the opportunities that are available, perhaps because they do not believe they are deserving or do not believe in fate,” said Dr. Peggy Valdes, McNair Scholars Program Director. “But Ricky took advantage of all the opportunities that come across his path. He came to every seminar we held, though not for credit, because he knew what he learned — the strategies and the hidden curriculum — would be to his benefit.”

Just days away from graduating debt free, Longoria looks to the future with the tools the Island University has given him.

“My time at TAMU-CC has taught me many lessons and because of that, I am grateful to the person I have become,” he said. “The 18-year-old first-generation kid from a small town is following his dream to walk across the graduation stage to receive a college degree.”

He plans to use his degree to work at a public policy advocacy group where he can bring social change. He is also looking at graduate programs.

“My main focus with this degree is to find a job that is focused on political communication and political public relations,” Longoria said. “Further down the road, I hope to make a bid for U.S. Congress to be a voice for the underdog and an advocate for our public schools and universities.”