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#WhatStartsHere: Jose Benitez, UT Outreach Alumnus

Image of Jose BenitezGrowing up in the Rio Grande Valley, Jose Benitez always dreamed of becoming a doctor, but he wasn’t quite sure college was an option. That all changed during his senior year at Mission High School when he joined UT Outreach, a college readiness program in the Longhorn Center for School Partnerships. While taking a tour of UT Austin, he made up his mind: He was going to become a Longhorn. Now as he’s preparing to graduate this fall with a degree in biochemistry, Benitez is ready to embark on a challenging career in medicine.

Love at first sight…While participating in UT Outreach, Benitez toured several universities, yet his heart was set on one school in particular. “When we took a field trip to UT, I just fell in love. Back then I didn’t think about programs or majors, I just knew this is where I wanted to be.”

Burnt orange bound… Driven by his mission to call UT Austin his new home, Benitez worked hard in school and attended every UT Outreach meeting. His efforts paid off when UT Outreach-Rio Grande Valley Director, Steve Chapa, recognized his true potential. “Mr. Chapa interviewed me for a $20,000 scholarship and I got it! If it wasn’t for the scholarship, I wouldn’t be here.”

Getting up to speed…Before the fall semester, Benitez took advantage of a summer program within the Longhorn Center for Academic Excellence that gave incoming students a head-start into their freshmen year. With six college credits under his belt—and a newfound circle of friends—he began the fall semester with poise and confidence. “UT is very far from home and it was hard leaving my family at first. When I came to Summer Bridge, I realized I made the right decision.”

Building his network…Since he had less experience in the lab than his fellow classmates, Benitez took advantage of another student success program within the College of Natural Sciences. After joining the TIP Scholars program, he connected with helpful professors, advisers and mentors who guided him along his undergraduate journey.  “I value my education here at UT—not just the courses I’ve taken, but also the opportunities that are offered. I feel like UT is unique because the faculty and staff here take good care of the freshmen and make sure they’re not getting lost.”

Paying it forward…Benitez often talks with UT Outreach students at campus events, offering inspiration to those who aren’t entirely convinced that college is an option. “Growing up in the Valley, there’s this perception that UT is a prestigious school where only certain people can succeed. I’m a good example that you don’t have to come from a great school and have all this experience to do well here. You just have to be passionate about what you’re studying and willing to put in a lot of work.”

Life after UT…Now more determined than ever to earn his MD, Benitez has already completed the MCAT and plans to take a gap year to get more work experience in the lab. Since home is where the heart is, he hopes to attend medical school in the Valley. Until then, he’s job shadowing with an anesthesiologist at Seton Hospital. “The more I shadow her, the more I fall in love with her job. I’m also interested in oncology. At this point, I’m keeping my options open.”

A moment’s notice…Aside from internships and schoolwork, Benitez is busy singing, playing the guitar—and various other instruments—with his band Moment’s Notice. Visit their Facebook page for updates on upcoming shows. “In addition to family and medicine, music is also a big part of my life.”