A&M-Central Texas Student Finds Alternative Path to Realizing Her Dream

Jonathan Petty
January 8, 2024

A&M-Central Texas Student Finds Alternative Path to Realizing Her Dream

For Sara Melendez, dropping out of school was heartbreaking.

She always enjoyed the day-to-day challenge of education. For Sara, school was fun. As she grew, she knew reaching her goals depended on earning a degree. A deep-seeded love for dance – established at an early age – along with an interest in science and physical fitness gave rise to a personal goal to become a physical therapist.

There was never a question about desire or the ability to put in the time necessary to make the required grades … it all came down to affordability.

“I didn’t really have a plan for college,” Melendez said. “I had the dream of being a physical therapist, but I didn’t know how I was going to achieve that. I looked at schools and had ideas, but I just knew financially, I wasn’t really going to be able to afford it.”

As Melendez weighed her options and contemplated her pursuit of a college degree, life afforded her an opportunity that she didn’t see coming. Now, as a student at Texas A&M University–Central Texas, her goal is once again within reach.


Melendez discovered her passion for dance as a young girl growing up in Northern California. Like many other 3 and 4-year-old girls, she was introduced to the art of performance. But while other girls grew out of their love for dance shoes, tutus and Saturday afternoon recitals in front of adoring parents, young Sara couldn’t get enough of it.

“I ended up just falling in love with it,” she said. “That was my life. As a little girl dancing, my dream was to be on stage somewhere. I always loved the Rockettes, and I thought I could be a Rockette.”

As it turns out, however, when Melendez stopped growing, she didn’t meet the height requirement for the elite dance troupe.

“I’m an inch too short to be a Rockette,” she said. “My dreams were crushed pretty early on for that.”

Unhindered by the revelation, Melendez continued to focus on dance. Her parents enrolled her in an arts and sciences school where she was truly able to express herself.

“I got to dance my little heart out,” she said. “[I] took choreography classes, and I was involved in musical theatre and all kinds of performing arts things.”

And while she was able to focus on her performing art, the school also sparked other interests.

“I kind of started enjoying the science,” Melendez said.

The physical nature of dance, coupled with her dad’s competitive body building prompted Melendez to start weightlifting and looking into the science behind the mechanics of motion. From there, everything “just kind of started falling in place.” Now with a newfound interest, Melendez began to combine her passions.

“Once I realized that there is a science out there that could combine my physical activity with the science behind it, that’s when I figured out what I wanted to do,” she said. “I found physical therapy and was like, Wow! This is something I’m really interested in, and I could do this forever and I could help other people.”

The question then became, How?

A&M-Central Texas Student Finds Alternative Path to Realizing Her Dream


After high school, Melendez immediately enrolled in her local community college, but she knew reaching her goal wasn’t going to be easy.

“I didn’t grow up wealthy,” she said. “My parents were really supportive of me, but financially, they couldn’t support me in that way.”

Now living away from home while taking college classes, the financial responsibilities began to take their toll, and her continued interest and involvement in competitive dance, which doesn’t come cheap, only added to the pressure.

“I was trying to go to college, but I was working three different jobs, and I was still competitively dancing,” Melendez said. “I just got overwhelmed. I was working constantly, then dancing until 11 o’clock at night, waking up and working the morning shift at a gym.”

Something had to give, and for Melendez, it was the education. Her second semester in community college, she managed to complete only two classes. For a young woman who so loved going to school and learning, coming to the realization that she just couldn’t do it all was difficult.

“I was exhausted,” she said. “It was really disheartening. I knew what I wanted to do but I just felt like I was lost. I didn’t have a lot of help or guidance, so I was trying to manage all of these things by myself, and it definitely got away from me.”


As the pressures of life and pursuit of her dream to be a physical therapist reached its crescendo, Melendez’s dealt with the death of her grandparents. But as she attended funerals on two occasions, she was introduced to the military, and she took notice.

“My grandparents were in the military, but it was long before I was even born,” Melendez said. “I didn’t grow up military affiliated, but when I lost my grandparents, they had funerals with military honors, and that was my first experience at all with anything military.”

That experience, however, piqued her interest and she understood that a military career can lead to a college degree. Things began to move quickly. A week or two after her grandfather’s funeral, Melendez talked to a recruiter. A week later, she signed up for service and was scheduled to leave for the Navy.

Admittedly, the decision was a bit of a surprise. Melendez signed on the dotted line before telling her parents what she was planning.

“I remember calling them and saying, ‘Hey, take a seat,’” she said, explaining that she had joined the Navy and would be leaving for training in six months.

“Both of them were shocked. But I explained to them, I said, you know that I’m really driven, and I want to go to school, and the military is a way I can do that.”

Armed with her love of science and desire to be a physical therapist, Melendez chose to become a corpsman and excelled in her medical training. After boot camp she headed to San Antonio for her formal training. Being able to put her full attention on her studies, Melendez graduated top of her class and was allowed to select her station assignment.

“I spent four years on Oahu. It was great!” she said.

While in Hawaii, Melendez worked with under-sea medicine, carrying out corpsman duties and even spending a week on a submarine going through sea-trials in preparation for assignment. She also excelled in her personal life, marrying her husband, Edgardo. But through it all, there was something that kept tugging at her.

“There is a lot of pressure in the military to stay in and continue that as a career,” she said. “For me, it just nailed in that I wanted to be a physical therapist. I never lost that. It was still in the back of my mind. That is what I wanted to do. I felt like I had to go for it.”


A&M-Central Texas Student Finds Alternative Path to Realizing Her Dream Now, as a student at Texas A&M University–Central Texas, her goal is once again within reach.

When the time came to leave the Navy, Melendez and her husband weighed their options: move back to California to be near her family or come to Central Texas to be near his. Ultimately, they shipped out to Texas.

While in the Navy, Melendez was re-introduced to college, taking courses online from Central Texas College. Her husband’s family was familiar with the A&M system, so they looked into A&M–Central Texas. Melendez said the transfer process was easy. Not only did her college credits transfer to the university, but she also earned credit for her military service.

Melendez enrolled in the exercise physiology program where she will complete her bachelor’s degree. Her plans are to then enroll in a physical therapy school, earn her degree and eventually open her own physical therapy clinic.

Although at first, she was a little concerned about the “smaller” college campus, she says she has truly found a home at A&M–Central Texas. Not only is she enjoying her classes, working with students like herself who are enrolled in the exercise physiology program, and getting to know so many people around campus, but she has also been able to rekindle her love of dance through her job with campus recreation.

“I actually got to start a dance fitness class because of campus recreation,” she said. “So, I got to bring a little bit of my love for dance back in and bring it to the school. It’s been really fun.”

Melendez knows her path to higher education wasn’t traditional, but she also knows there are plenty of other people like her whose experiences lead them down different roads. Through it all, she has found that while some dreams may not be attainable, there are ways to follow your passions and reach your goals.

“If I could tell younger Sara, the one who was a little upset because she couldn’t be a Rockette, … if I could tell her anything, I’d let her know just because we can’t follow that dream, there is still something out there for us,” Melendez said. “One that combines our love for dance, our love for science and our love for physical fitness, and we can still achieve that dream.”
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