Faces of the Pack: Viktor Cruz-Calderon

A journey filled with happy mistakes and new adventures, Gilman Scholarship recipient Viktor Cruz-Calderon takes on Spain

Viktor Cruz Calderon.

Faces of the Pack: Viktor Cruz-Calderon

A journey filled with happy mistakes and new adventures, Gilman Scholarship recipient Viktor Cruz-Calderon takes on Spain

Viktor Cruz Calderon.

Out on his own for the first time, Viktor Cruz-Calderon takes on Spain after receiving the Gilman Scholarship last fall. Viktor is a double major, pursuing both neuroscience and Spanish at the University of Nevada, Reno. After almost four years of studying at the University, he is now currently studying abroad in Alicante, Spain through the University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC) for the semester in hopes to not only further his studies within his two majors, but also to step away from his comfort zone in Nevada and learn more about himself. This soul-searching journey would not have been possible without one “happy mistake” that occurred years prior. 

“I like to call the University of Nevada, Reno my happy mistake,” Viktor said. “I was recruited to play soccer at UCLA, but I ended up tearing my ACL and losing my scholarship.”

He decided instead to stay home and attend the University of Nevada, Reno, where to his surprise, he was able to maintain strong relationships with old friends as well as meet new people on campus. 

“Not being able to make new friends was my main worry,” he explained. “If I went to the University of Nevada, Reno I would know everybody, but that could not be further from the truth. It was the right fit for me and I would not trade it for anything.”

Early last fall, Viktor decided to apply for the Gilman Scholarship in hopes of receiving financial assistance for studying abroad in Spain in the spring of 2024. It was not an easy feat. It was not until Jason Ludden, Ph.D., director of the Office of Undergraduate Fellowships (OUF) at the University of Nevada, Reno, assisted Viktor in the application process that he became fully committed to applying for the scholarship.

“He was instrumental in the process,” Viktor said. “The Gilman Scholarship felt unattainable for me because I knew it was really big and very competitive. But after talking to Jason, he worked with me in writing my essays and getting towards the final product.” 

The Honors College provides countless opportunities for students, whether that be through research, study abroad, or financial assistance. It provides an immense support system and a dedicated community to those who seek it. This college can play a pivotal role in student success, and each individual staff member makes it their goal to assist and support students in their journey toward success.

“I think the most beneficial part of this program at the Honors College is that you can get out of it what you put in it,” Viktor explained. “I did not have to go to Jason for my Gilman Scholarship essay, I could have done it on my own. Would I have gotten the scholarship? I have no idea, but I can for sure attest to the fact that Jason was a huge part of it.”

Not long after submitting his application he received the scholarship award and began preparing for his semester-long adventure in Spain. 

There are several steps students must take to complete the Gilman Scholarship. On top of school, volunteering and working, it can be extremely overwhelming to apply, and that does not mean students should try to do it alone. 

“Go to as many people as you can for help,” Viktor advises. “Before I wrote anything for my essays, I talked to Jason and he asked me a lot of questions that I had not really thought of myself. Then I went to the writing center plenty of times to get my application proofread, and every time you think it is perfect, there is always something you can fix.”

Along with his schooling and before traveling to Spain, Viktor participated in undergraduate research where he contributed as a marketing and outreach coordinator. He wanted to promote the programs and research opportunities offered for undergraduates at the University as well as help students in finding faculty members to do research with. Viktor hopes to continue to contribute to this program after studying abroad. But now, his biggest goal is to focus on himself and enjoy the adventure away from home. 

“For the longest time, it felt like I was being pulled in a million different directions all the time,” he said. “I had to do well in school, keep up with my two or three jobs, I had to volunteer, and I had to be an excellent brother or friend. But [in Spain], there is a chance to really get to know myself and find out who I am as a person.” 

One of his favorite moments so far in Spain— especially being on the coast—is going to the beach and walking along trails of rocks that lead out to the sea. He also is thoroughly enjoying his Mediterranean cuisine class where he recently learned how to make a traditional Spanish dish, paella. 

“[Studying abroad] is like putting a pause on my life, stepping aside, and getting to experience something new. Then I can pick up right where I left off when I get back.”

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