Wendoli Flores has a passion for connecting Texas Tech students with the kinds of opportunities that help them change their future.
When students arrive on the Texas Tech University campus, there is an accompanying expectation that their journey, no matter how long it might take, will end in success. This pathway doesn't look the same for every student, but the university anticipates this by strategically deploying caring people and helpful resources to guide them along the way.
Wendoli Flores is part of this dedicated network of university personnel who helps transform aspiration into inspiration. Flores is the director of the Office of Prestigious External Student Awards in the Texas Tech Honors College, a position she sees more as a calling for which she has spent years preparing.
In her role, she provides guidance for Texas Tech's high-achieving students, serving along the way as an encourager and cheerleader when things go well and comforter and consoler when they don't. Regardless, in every case she is working with talented and outstanding students across all disciplines to connect them with national and international awards, including Fulbright and Rhodes scholarships.
Rest assured, all of this is not as easy as she makes it look.
“There is recruiting involved,” she said, “and it's more than pulling up someone's GPA. It involves reaching out to faculty members and advisers and getting those students some great recommendations. It starts by sitting down with a student, understanding their goals and seeing which of these awards are a good match.”
Flores originally came to Texas Tech as a student, earning a bachelor's degree in business administration with an international emphasis. Soon after graduation, she went to work in the school's Office of Institutional Advancement as an administrative assistant to Elizabeth “Bess” Haley, who was serving as an associate vice chancellor at the time.
“I worked in development for several years, and then I went back to school to get my master's degree,” she said. “That meant leaving the development office, and I began teaching Spanish as a graduate part-time instructor.”
Building a Texas Tech Career
After earning her second degree – this one in Spanish literature – from Texas Tech in 2011, Flores made two decisions. First, she decided against pursuing a doctorate, and second, she wanted to build a career at the school that had given her so much since the first day she arrived on campus.
“I wanted to stay at Texas Tech,” she said, “and I found a position with the vice president for research, where I worked for several year. It was an opportunity to learn a new part of Texas Tech and also to work with faculty.”
During her time in that office, Flores worked with several people who served as the school's vice president for research, including Michael San Francisco, who had the rolein an interim capacity from 2012-13. Eventually, San Francisco was named dean of the Honors College, and when a position opened there, Flores applied.
“I knew there were good people over here,” she said. “So that's how I ended up at the Honors College.”
If the phrase “bloom where you're planted” was ever intended for a particular person, it's Flores. During her time in the office, she has become an advocate for Texas Tech's most decorated students.
A Great Resource for Students
“Wendoli is the consummate professional,” said Stacy Poteet, program director in the Honors College.” I don't know who first said, ‘character is who you are when no one is watching,' but Wendoli is the same person in a crowd as she is one on one. She's a woman of impeccable character, very professional, and a leader guided by her strong faith that resonates in everything she does.”
Her experiences as a student coupled with her varied employment background on campus eventually led her to a place where she knows she can make a difference in students' lives.
“One thing I think is so special about a career at Texas Tech is that I have been able to work in multiple areas,” she said. “In development, I learned a lot about working with donors, stewardship, and helping them see the vision of Texas Tech so they can give to those kinds of things.
“In research, I worked with faculty trying to grow our research here and helping them meet their goals as far as funding their research. Then, when I came here to the Honors College, I got to work directly with the students, which is very rewarding. That's the main entity we serve as a university.”
A Unique Point of View
Flores can remember her own path as a Texas Tech student and pull from that knowledge in building relationships with students and helping them navigate the various challenges they might face.
“I was a first-generation college student,” she said. “I didn't have a lot of guidance in terms of planning to go to college. Initially, I wanted to do fashion design, and I came to Texas Tech because they have a fashion design program, but my interest changed, and I changed my major.”
As a result of that decision, she now finds herself a resource for students, walking with them through the demands of the application process and serving as both their confidante and their champion along the way.
“I never thought I could be a good ‘salesperson,' but I truly believe I have become a good salesperson because I get to sell these awards to these students, and I truly believe in what these awards can do for them,” she said. “They will help launch them into their careers and futures, and even if they don't win, the process of applying involves so much digging deep and self-reflection that it helps them figure out what they truly want to do.”
That was the experience of Madeline Lockhart, who graduated from Texas Tech with a physics degree in 2020 and is now a third-year nuclear engineering doctoral student at North Carolina State, where she is also a Nuclear Nonproliferation and International Safeguards Fellow. During her time at Texas Tech, she was one of just more than 200 students across the country to receive a Goldwater Scholarship, earning it as a sophomore.
“When we met, she really wanted to get an idea of what I had done, what I was doing and what I was planning to do,” Lockhart recalled. “It went beyond a basic conversation about accomplishments and awards. She was interested in me personally and wanted to know how things were going in my life.”
Cultivating Long-Term Relationships
Since Lockhart's graduation from Texas Tech, the two have remained in touch. Lockhart now serves on the advisory board of the College of Arts & Sciences.
“As you get older, sometimes people kind of move on with their lives,” she said. “But that wasn't the case with her. She doesn't only keep track of school and professional accomplishments, but she also pays attention to personal things because sometimes those need to be celebrated just as much. They're equally important and … we both have a thing for purses so we're always talking about what purses we found on sale.”
Becoming personally invested in the lives of students is something that has long appealed to Flores. It played a part in her decision to switch majors and leave behind those early thoughts of becoming a fashion designer.
“I knew if I wanted to be successful in fashion design I was going to have to go elsewhere,” she said. “Maybe try to go to New York and compete there, and I felt like, if I did that, I would possibly lose a little bit of who I am. It was probably going to be a little too cut-throat for me, and I didn't want to become someone I wasn't just to try to move up and succeed.”
From there, she concluded working in higher education could offer her pathways to serve others that were not necessarily focused on teaching.
“I thought about possibly going into nursing,” she said. “But that wasn't something I was passionate about. After my degree in Spanish, I thought about maybe going into academia. Finally, I decided I don't necessarily want to be in the classroom, but I do like being in higher ed. So that's how I got where I am now.”
That couldn't be better news for the Texas Tech community, where Flores continues to have a consistent and steady impact on first-gen students.
Matching Students and Awards
“She does a great job marketing various prestigious awards and fellowships,” Poteet said. “She takes students who are upperclassmen and works with them to match them with these prestigious awards they might qualify for, and she also loves to work with first-year students, see where their strengths are, and match them with an award that will help them succeed later.”
Available opportunities for graduate studies include Truman Scholarships, Knight-Hennessy Scholarships and Hertz Fellowships. For undergraduate funding, students can pursue Goldwater Scholarships, Udall Undergraduate Scholarships and other similar awards. Texas Tech broke a school record last year with six Fulbright Award winners.
“She cares so much about learning not just who a student is as a high achiever, but who they are as a person,” Poteet said. “She wants to see how they have applied themselves, not only academically, but in giving back to their community in campus and civic engagement. She cares about the whole person. She's not just keeping tally of how many Fulbrights Texas Tech has received, although that is important. She maintains relationships with these students.”
Lockhart can attest to that as someone who came to Texas Tech from Los Alamos, New Mexico, in large part because of what the Honors College offers.
“She wants the best for you, but she also wants the best for Texas Tech,” she said. “If this student is succeeding, it's not only good for them, but it's good for the school too. She does a really good job of taking the success of previous students and using that to inform and guide the next generation.”
While there have been plenty of mountaintop moments to celebrate with students, Flores has also had to be the bearer of bad news on occasion.
“I have heard her comforting students when maybe the process didn't go the way they planned,” Poteet said. “She has the personality and nature to serve in both roles. She can cheer a student on, and she can comfort them when they think it may be the end of the world and help them see this is really just a roadblock and there are great things ahead.”
Looking Toward a Bright Future
Flores enjoys the best of all worlds. She has a great job in which she thrives, and she is someone who gives her all to the institution, her coworkers and students.
“Bess Haley is a huge inspiration for me,” she said. “She taught me my work ethic. She loved her job so much, she kept doing it part-time even after she retired. Being dedicated to what you do and always doing your best at it are things I learned watching her. San Francisco was also very supportive. His passion was always students, and he made it a point to always be able to teach, no matter what role he was in.
“Having people around you who are inspiring like that helps you stay true to yourself and to what you're passionate about and everything else just kind of falls into place.”
She also has reached a point where she can share her insights and learnings with students, who like her years ago, are discovering who they are and considering who they want to become.
“I tell students to get involved in the university and make sure you ask a lot of questions,” she said. “For me as a first-gen student, I didn't know much, and I didn't get a lot of guidance. It was asking questions and figuring it out on your own. Now we have services that specifically serve first-gen students and I encourage them to take advantage of those.”
As for her personal aspirations, Flores wants to continue devoting her considerable talents to Texas Tech, doing her part to help Red Raiders soar to new heights and discover previously untapped potential within themselves.
“I want to be here and continue to grow,” she said. “We are seeing a lot of growth in different areas of the university and so keeping up with that growth through prestigious awards and continuing to reach our goals would be so exciting for us.”
For Flores … and for Texas Tech.