UTRGV graduate normalizes assistive technology

  Friday, May 13, 2022
  Around Campus

By Karen Villarreal

UTRGV Commencement - Spring 2022


EDINBURG, TEXAS – MAY 13, 2022 – When 26-year-old Alvaro Ayala walks across the UTRGV commencement stage May 14, he’ll be using a cane – a device that in no way limited his educational achievements, as doctors had predicted early in his life.  

Ayala, who grew up in Hidalgo, said he learned to live with assistive technologies a long time ago, but never felt like his leg braces and cane were a burden or anything that could impede his academic goals.  

“It doesn’t really bother me,” he said.  “It’s just the way it is, you know?” 

Ayala was born with a bone condition called arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, or AMC, which affects his mobility. Hence, the cane.  

None of that has stopped him, though. He works as a DJ at various clubs throughout the Rio Grande Valley, traveling around Texas to perform, and earned a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication in 2018 from UTRGV. Getting a Master of Arts degree in Communication was simply the next step.  

And he certainly wasn’t going to let a physical disability like AMC – or even a global pandemic – stop him.   



Ayala’s parents were a major influence in his decision to go to grad school, he said, as they always had confidence, he could achieve great things. 

Doctors often tried to lower the family’s expectations, telling them a university might not be the best option for Ayala and suggesting he would struggle less at a community college.  

“You never want to hear that,” he said. “Speaking for my mom, it always rubbed us the wrong way. So, it was already a big thing when I graduated from UTRGV with my bachelor’s in mass communication. But I always had the idea that I could do more with my education and career.”  

Then the pandemic hit. 

It changed the way many industries worked, ­and while it temporarily closed some doors, it also provided new opportunities for Ayala.  



Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Ayala worked as a master control operator with Entravision, an advertising and media agency, but he already was thinking about graduate school.  

Many establishments closed shop or stopped hosting in-person events – and that put a pause on the longtime hobby he had nurtured into a paying gig – DJ’ing.   

“Before vaccines became available, I felt it was irresponsible to continue performing,” Ayala said. “I didn’t want to risk anyone’s safety.”  

That’s when UTRGV’s enrollment incentives convinced him it was the right time to apply for graduate school and better prepare for a career that aligned with his studies.  



He already had gone through the Mass Communication program as an undergraduate, so he was prepared for graduate school in the same discipline, even though the MA program has a different focus.   

“Mass communication is about how to present ideas to people, and the master’s program explores why we communicate the way we do,” he said.  

Because he started in fall 2020, half of his graduate experience was online over Zoom.  

“It was a hard adjustment because I’m the kind of student who needs to be in the classroom to learn, but I had to get used to it,” he said. “For comprehensive exams, I had to focus on six areas, including quantitative research, which is statistics-based.” 

The anxiety of not being able to graduate if he didn’t pass those exams pushed him to study every day for a year, ­while working remotely as a content writer for the UTRGV Office for Sustainability, a graduate student position in line with his career goals.   

When Spring 2021 came around and he was able to take an in-person class with Dr. Gregory Selber, he said, he really felt the difference. His stress went down, and he could enjoy bouncing around ideas with his classmates.  

“Dr. Selber taught me so much,” Ayala said. “Every time I went to his classes, it was like going down a rabbit hole.”  

Selber became one of Ayala’s graduate advisors, along with Dr. Dora Saavedra, Dr. Young Joon Lim and Dr. Ben Wasike. 



Once UTRGV reopened, along with most of the Rio Grande Valley, Ayala felt it was safe to return to his weekly DJ gigs at new venues.  

That required developing a new skill set. Before the pandemic, he had partnered with a club that allowed him to play his choice of music – electric and house – but when trying to expand to new venues with different atmospheres, he had to expand his playlists to include other genres, like reggaeton.   

Ayala says that’s the challenge in DJ’ing – trying to put together a four-hour span of music that he and the audience both will enjoy.  

“‘Open format’ is the term for when you can play anything, but you have to figure out the audience you’re catering to,” he said.  “During this time, I was learning academically, and also how to properly DJ.”  



With a master’s degree under his belt, his next step is to find a job in which he can apply the skills and knowledge acquired over the past two years.  

“I would like to contribute to an organization that needs to improve their communication with others,” Ayala said. “Maybe helping a school district or university find the strategies to best reach their audience.” 

He is at ease now, knowing he has some experience, and is looking forward to the future. He is proud of how far he already has come, and grateful he and his family didn’t let anything or anyone limit his success.  

“It was a whole journey getting here,” he said. 

For more information on Spring 2022 Commencement or to view the complete schedule, visit the website.


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.