The endowed scholarship will be open to any student with a disability in any area of study.
Alex Watkins and his family moved from Amarillo to Lubbock during his sophomore year of high school. From his start at Lubbock High School, he knew he would attend Texas Tech University. In 2006, he was accepted into the Honors College and the Rawls College of Business (RCOBA) and graduated magna cum laude with a degree in marketing in 2010.
"He was very proud to be a Red Raider," said his mother, Brenda Askew. "I truly believe his four years at Texas Tech were some of the best of his life."
Today (June 29), Student Disability Services (SDS) will pay tribute to Watkins, who died last January, by unveiling a plaque honoring a new endowed scholarship. The Alex C. Watkins Memorial Scholarship will be open to any Texas Tech student with a disability.
"For us, it's a really big deal because our scholarships are usually very specific to an area of disability, like a visual or learning disability, and many of the scholarships are restricted to a specific degree, college or major," said SDS director Larry Phillippe. "This is the very first one open to any student with any disability in area of study, and it gives us something to build on in the future."
Attending college can be a challenge for any student, Phillippe said. But like Watkins, a student with hemiplegic cerebral palsy and 50 percent field vision loss in both eyes, students with disabilities face many other obstacles.
Several types of assistance are available to students enrolled with SDS. These can include services like testing accommodations, converting textbooks to accessible formats and access to notetakers, tutoring and interpreters. Still, Phillippe said students with a disability often face a bigger financial hardship than other students.
"In general, they tend to have more difficulty finding employment, especially while they're in college," Phillippe said. "Many may need special equipment or things other students don't require, so any kind of financial support they can get can be really helpful."
Askew said although Watkins did not feel a need to receive any assistance from SDS while at Texas Tech, their family still feels very strongly about helping other students with disabilities achieve their educational goals.
"We wanted to give back by establishing this scholarship," Askew said. "Alex had a big heart and truly cared about helping others. As his family, we want this legacy of love to live on by helping other students through this memorial scholarship."
In addition to volunteering with the Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Southwest and Special Olympics Texas during his time at Texas Tech, Watkins was a dedicated student and served as a marketing research assistant during his senior year. He also was a member of Beta Gamma Sigma, an international honor society which recognizes business excellence.
Aaron Hemphill, Watkins' best friend from Amarillo and a fellow 2010 Honors College and RCOBA graduate, said above all, Watkins just wanted to be treated like any other student.
"He didn't want his disability to be his excuse or to give him a leg up that others didn't get, and he wanted to be held to the same standards," said Hemphill, who roomed with Watkins all four years. "He was in the dorms like everyone else; he went to class like everyone else."
Askew said it was a trait Watkins had carried into adulthood. Growing up, he enjoyed the same things many children do – reading comic books, pretending to be superheroes and hanging out with friends.
"Alex never let his disabilities define him," Askew said. "As he got older, he was very good with technology. He loved video games and learned to play at a young age with his big brother and was quite good. Because of the limited use of his left hand, he played one handed and friends were all amazed that he could play so well using only one hand. He always found a way to accomplish what he wanted to do."
When he was 23, Watkins obtained his driver's license, another accomplishment he and his family hadn't thought possible.
"To be independent meant so much to him," Askew said. "I know he would want that for others as well, to let no obstacle, no adversity, stop them from achieving their goals. He truly did have an indomitable spirit, and he touched so many lives in just a few years."
Though he'd been friends with Watkins since elementary school, Hemphill said he'd not had a chance to spend much time with him after Watkins and his family moved to Lubbock. He's thankful he was lucky enough to live with his best friend as they both began to explore the world after high school.
"Four years living together is a long time. We both enjoyed going to Texas Tech and had a lot of great memories there. He was a fun guy, always up for a good discussion or argument, depending on how the conversation turned," Hemphill said. "On top of everything else I took away from Texas Tech, one of the things that will always be sacred to me is the time I got to spend with Alex."
Watkins is missed, Hemphill said, but his friends and family are happy the scholarship established in his memory will continue his legacy. Hemphill said he thinks he knows how his best friend would feel about being remembered in this way.
"I think he'd be annoyed, because it would draw attention to him," Hemphill said with a laugh. "But he would be very proud about helping other families in similar situations. Now they can come to a wonderful school like Texas Tech, get an education and move forward with their lives. I think he'd be happy there was something that could continue that desire of his to help."