“A PhD was so far beyond any practical expectations”
Salvador Macias III grew up in what he recalls as being a “poor, working class neighborhood.”
When Salvador was 15, his father died of encephalitis, leaving him as the oldest son in a family of nine children. His father’s death was sudden and the family fell onto financial hard times. Only six of his siblings graduated from high school. Several of his sisters had babies out of wedlock and gangs played a role in the lives of his siblings.
Salvador says his parents had always expected him to go to college and, after his father died, he was even more intent on honoring his father’s wishes. At the same time, he said that “when I came home, I was the nearest thing to Dad.” He felt a tremendous sense of responsibility for his siblings and he wanted to do what he could to support his family. Yet he knew that education was essential to his own future.
At first, college was hard for Salvador. His anxiety about his siblings translated into poor academic performance. By the time he reached his senior year, however, he had literally doubled his grade-point average.
He received a Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF) grant in graduate school for several years running. By then, he was married and had three sons. According to Salvador, even with the income from his wife’s job, supporting himself through graduate school with three children would have been impossible without the financial support from HSF. But the HSF scholarship meant more to him than money. “The HSF scholarship gave me pride that they were recognizing me,” he said.
Even today, many years after he received his Ph.D. in psychology, he says, “A Ph.D. never entered my mind when I was growing up. It was so far beyond any practical expectations. It’s still something of a shock to me after 23 years.”
Since 1995, Salvador has held a full professorship at the University of South Carolina Sumter. In 1993, he became President of the South Carolina Psychological Association, and was the first ethnic minority to assume that office. He has won numerous awards for his work. In 2001, the South Carolina Psychological Association presented him with an award for Outstanding Lifetime Contribution to Psychology. He also volunteers as a mentor to Hispanic students on his college campus. “I want very much to provide assistance to others to allow and support their educational and professional opportunities similar to what I received as a young man,” Salvador said.
One of the first Mexican-Americans to live in his town, Salvador says that now there is a commercial sector catering primarily to Spanish speakers and that it “feels like home.”
As for his three children, they too have gone on to blaze their own trails in higher education. One is in a doctoral program in chemistry, a second holds a Bachelor of Science degree and a third completed college this year.