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Graduating grandmother has a full-circle life experience in her final year

Crystal Esquibel takes Food Stamp Challenge to complete BS in Kinesiology 20 years after living on food stamps

Mrs. Esquibel

Twenty years ago, as a young mother, Crystal Esquibel struggled to make ends meet. She worked a low-paying job that didn’t provide enough income to cover all of her household expenses.

To make sure she and her two-year-old daughter had enough to eat, Esquibel enrolled in the federal hunger prevention initiative commonly known as the food stamps program.

“I remember trying to make a frozen pizza last for four days,” she said. “I skipped meals, and sometimes I didn’t eat for days. I learned that water could be my best friend – it made me feel full.”

This year, Esquibel again had to figure out how to feed herself using only a food stamps budget. Two decades later, she’s a grandmother raising her grandson. But that’s where the similarities end.

Because this time around, she is also a graduating college senior enrolled in an Applied Nutrition Policy course participating in a class research project called the Food Stamp Challenge – and she only had to struggle with a food stamp budget for a week.

“Crystal has been a great asset to the course,” said Dr. Daphne Hernandez who taught the course. “She knows first-hand how economic hardship can be a barrier to education and health.”

Dr. Hernandez set up the project so that each student had to purchase a week’s worth of food with only the weekly amount budgeted for food stamp recipients - $25. Each student received a gift card donated by the Texas-based H.E.B. supermarket chain.

The Applied Nutrition Policy course was one of Esquibel’s final classes. She graduates on May 9, 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology – exercise science with a minor in nutrition from the Department of Health and Human Performance.

Esquibel decided to pursue a health professions career after she became ill one day while working a big box retail store.

“I had a panic attack, which felt like a heart attack,” she said. “I was taken to the hospital where they did an echocardiogram. That experience piqued my interest in health professions.”

Esquibel started healthcare college programs but was hesitant about applying to college. She had her grandson to raise and worried her school work would interfere with her parenting obligations. But she says she realized she needed to go to college to be an even better role model for her grandson.

“I wanted to find my passion – and working in retail definitely was not it,” Esquibel said.

She enrolled at Lone Star College - Montgomery to take the core courses she needed. After two years, she transferred to the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Houston to pursue a kinesiology degree.

In addition to her classwork, Esquibel found a part time job at Memorial Hermann Hospital in The Woodlands where she prepared carts for surgery in the operating room.

“I’ve had opportunities to observe surgeries,” said Esquibel. “It’s been really great working there. They are supportive and encouraging to people who are interested in health care careers.”

In between her classwork and part time job, Esquibel decided to homeschool her grandson, now 8-years-old, after he had some negative experiences at school, including a teacher making disparaging remarks about their Native American heritage.

“We are Comanche - our family organizes and participates in activities including the Pow Wows in Wichita Falls,” she said. “So I decided to homeschool him – he learns at the zoo, local museums, and Moody Gardens. I also take him to classes at the Children’s Museum and other places – he is learning so much without even realizing it.”

After graduation, Esquibel plans to take a year off and transition her part time job at Memorial Hermann into a full time position. Then, she plans to apply to graduate school at UH.

“I’m not sure what area I would like to pursue my master’s degree in yet,” she said. “I’m considering athletic training or cardiac rehabilitation – I just know that I want to help people.”

- By Monica Byars