Following His Dreams

Stuart’s Dreams Take Flight

Once, a boy who lived near an airfield woke up every morning at 6 a.m. so he could watch out his bedroom window while Osprey aircraft flew overhead and shook the house.

Today, thanks to Boys Ranch donors, that boy is a college graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering. He’s one step closer to making his dream of working on aircraft come true.

“As a kid, my favorite thing to do was to take something apart and put it back together again from memory,” Stuart said. “And my mom would tell me stories of being an engineer, working on these huge boats in the Merchant Marines.”

As Stuart grew older, his expertise in math became apparent. His dream grew wings as he was placed in gifted classes. But then a family member’s illness sent Stuart to Boys Ranch.

He Thought the Dream Was Over

Once at Boys Ranch, Stuart was homesick. He missed his family, and he was worried about the health situation. He was concerned that being in regular classes instead of gifted classes would put him behind in his schoolwork. He thought his dream was over.

“I remember one day, I went out fishing,” Stuart said. “I would throw bait out, and within five seconds, I would have a fish. I would reel it in and then let it go and throw the hook back out and catch another fish. I was just doing that for about 30 minutes. It was fun.”

That happy afternoon and the encouragement of teachers and staff helped Stuart decide to make the best of the sad situation.

“(Ray and Julie Ortega) were my houseparents, and every other night, the older kids in the home would cook either breakfast or dinner,” he said. “I love to cook because of that. I’m so thankful that they were helpful and able to teach me how to cook and take care of myself.”

After graduating from Boys Ranch High School in three years, Stuart moved to the Alumni Support Center and attended classes at Amarillo College while working full-time.

‘Graduation Was a Hard-Fought Victory’

He graduated from Amarillo College with an associate’s degree in mechanical engineering, then began studying at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas.

“I loved those types of classes (that explain the secrets of the universe),” Stuart said. “My favorite class was thermodynamics 2.” 

Stuart graduated from the grueling program in December 2021, combining full-time work at a pizza parlor with a full load of demanding classes. It didn’t come easily.

“Graduation was a hard-fought victory,” Stuart said. “The average student in this field takes about six years to graduate because they fail a couple of classes and have to retake a couple of classes. I did it in about 4.5 years.”

Mechanical engineering degree in hand, Stuart is free to pursue his dream of working on aircraft.

“I want to tell the donors that your help – you don’t know how much it has helped,” Stuart said. “I can personally say that without Boys Ranch, I’d be a different person than I am today.”

A graduate wears the regalia of Texas Tech University
Thanks to Boys Ranch donors, Stuart was able to graduate from Texas Tech University with a degree in mechanical engineering.
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