Rio Hondo senior using leadership skills to prepare for college

RIO HONDO — Planning and working hard has proven to be the key to Gabriel Figueroa’s success.

His goal is to get through college debt free.

“I don’t have to worry about my first two years of college,” Figueroa said.

Figueroa, 18, is a senior at Rio Hondo High School, the cadet commander of the Air Force JROTC and a member of the track team.

And he is using his leadership skills and training to plan on ways to graduate from college with no debt.

One of those ways is by applying for scholarships.

“Out of the 10 cadets, I got a second place scholarship which offered me $2,000,” Figueroa said. “I did a trash pickup in Rio Hondo.”

He organized the community project and found some help from friends and cadets and presented it to the Way to Happiness Committee at the Harlingen Family Dentistry and they liked it.

“We’re always doing trash pickups in Harlingen and the Island and I decided to do one here,” Figueroa said.

That is not the only success he’s had.

Figueroa was accepted into UTRGV and plans to study kinesiology.

The College Assistance Migrant Program awarded him a scholarship for his first two years of school.

Figueroa decided on UTRGV to stay close to home, which is important to him.

“I will be the first one in my family to go to college,” Figueroa said.

His goal is to even earn a master’s degree and become an athletic trainer or be a physical therapist.

“I get my inspiration from my dad,” Figueroa said. “He’s had the same job in agriculture since he was 16, and that to me is dedication.”

Figueroa is doing well in all his classes and is in the top 14 percent and also doing well in JROTC.

“I’m getting ready to give up my crew commander position to an uprising senior,” Figueroa said.

He has held the position since the beginning of the school year. His position requires him to keep the cadets in order and make sure they are doing what is required.

“I have had to plan all of our events for the year,” Figueroa said. “I’m the SASI’s (Senior Aerospace Science Instructor) right hand. Anything he needs me to do, and I’m right there.”

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Cliff Moriarty, who oversees the ROTC program, praised Figueroa.

“He’s one of the 10 best cadets I have ever had,” Moriarty said. “I’ve had hundreds if not thousands and he’s one of the best.”

But that is not all for Figueroa, who also plans to walk on the college track team and earn a scholarship for running.

“He’s a great runner,” said Isis Gomez, a high school senior. “He’s the fastest on the track team.”