Spring 2024 Great Grads: Walter Benitez | College of Science
May 10, 2024

Spring 2024 Great Grads: Walter Benitez

As a single father, Walter Benitez brings his 6-year-old son, Joseph, with him nearly everywhere.

The youngster will be in the audience when Walter, a first-generation student, crosses the commencement stage and graduates from UNT with a bachelor's degree in biology.

This summer, the pair will relocate to Pennsylvania, where Walter was accepted at Drexel University's Pennsylvania College of Optometry. It's the next step toward achieving his career goal of becoming an optometrist.

From 2010 to 2016, the Dallas native served in the U.S. Navy. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks prompted him to enlist in the military after high school. "Growing up, one of the biggest things I wanted to do was serve my country," he says.

Walter spent the bulk of his military career in Italy where he was a hospital corpsman before later serving in Japan. "I got to help out with surgeries and many different procedures. It was great," he recalls of working in hospitals.

Although he briefly considered pursuing a career in behavioral health, he decided that optometry was his calling after spending several months assisting a family whose daughter underwent a corrective strabismus surgery for her crossed-eye condition.

"Seeing and interacting with the patient in that kind of atmosphere is what made me choose optometry," he says. "That's when I said, 'This is what I want to do. This is who I want to be.'"

After earning an associate degree in general studies from the University of Maryland Global Campus, Walter began at UNT in 2021 as a pre-medical student.

Juggling fatherhood with his course load, involvement with student organizations -- including UNT's Pre-Optometry Association -- and his work tutoring other biology students wasn't easy, especially since it was frequently a challenge to secure reliable childcare.

"My son has been with me this whole time, throughout this whole process," he says -- including occasions when Walter was unable to find a babysitter, so the boy accompanied his father to classes.

One of the biggest lessons the harried dad says he learned at UNT was to ask others for help when needed. When he struggled with time management, he turned to Dr. Jessica Moore, senior lecturer and undergraduate advising coordinator for the Department of Biological Sciences, for guidance.

"She connected me with other students who weren't necessarily in the same situation as me but who she had witnessed do extremely well with time management. Some of them were grad students. They sat down with me and kind of made a schedule for me. They didn't have to, but they did, and they were amazing," he says.

Walter also relied on UNT's Student Veterans Center for support. "It's given me a space to come in and breathe," he says. "I go there, and I'm able to sit down and have a coffee. Somebody tells me, 'Hey, hope your day is going well.' That little notion pulls me back up, and I'm able to keep going."

He spent a year serving as secretary of the Student Veterans Association and also was sergeant at arms for the university's chapter of the Omega Delta Sigma military fraternity. In both roles, Walter helped coordinate programs and initiatives, including an Adopt-A-Block cleanup effort on campus.

"We try our best to assist people coming out of the service, or even someone who's worked for 30 years and still has their military benefits and now they want to go to college," says Walter, who credits the UNT Student Veterans Services staff, including Director of Student Affairs James Davenport, for "helping me out with any little thing that I needed."

As a first-generation student, Walter says he's proud of the example he's set for his son despite the challenges they faced together. "He walks around saying, 'My dad's going to be a doctor.' That makes me super happy and excited."

The College of Science's commencement ceremony will be taking place in the UNT Coliseum at noon on Friday, May 10, 2024.

For more information about UNT Commencement, please visit https://www.unt.edu/commencement/

Learn more about UNT's Great Grads