Randolph de la Garza under the mosasaur replica at MOSTHistory.

Randolph de la Garza, an Edinburg native, achieved a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – an offer to earn a doctorate’s degree at Lund University in Lund, Sweden.

De la Garza’s journey began in the spring of 2015 while finishing his second bachelor’s degree at UTPA (now UTRGV). He enrolled in a Museum Studies course where a student can choose any of the local museums and be assigned to a certain position. At the time, Tom Fort, the senior historian at MOSTHistory, asked for a Museum Studies volunteer to help research about the Rio Grande Valley during the Ice Age.

“I didn’t know [the museum] had that many fossils,” said De la Garza, who completed his first bachelor’s degree in geology at Sam Houston State University. “It shattered this misconception that [South Texas] is just a bland, flat place.”

During his research, de la Garza met with Fort and Lisa Adam, the curator of collections, frequently. Fort and Adam, who have more than 50 years of research experience, helped de la Garza hone his skills with primary sources and rigorous research.

“Part of the researching process, I wrote a paper that focuses on soft tissues being found in mosasaurs,” explained de la Garza. “With that, I contacted a professor [in Sweden] who does the same type of research.”

During that first contact, de la Garza also asked the professor if there would be any opportunities for graduate studies on the doctoral level. In fact, there was an opening. De la Garza sent his application, was picked for the first round along with 15 other applicants and then called back for a second round.

“I’m still in shock over it,” said de la Garza. In the second and last round of interviews, de la Garza was ranked number one based on his interview and resume — meaning de la Garza was granted a graduate studies position at Lund University.

After four years of studying abroad in Sweden, de la Garza has no immediate plans to return to the Valley.

“I’m hoping for [a job] in the museum,” de la Garza said. “I really like working with a museum, but a lot of times [post-doctoral individuals] end up working for universities.”

De la Garza’s achievement stems from dedication and taking a leap of faith while working at the Museum of South Texas History. His advice for South Texas students looking to achieve their dreams while being at home: If the opportunity is there, you should take it.

“I didn’t expect to get into [Lund University],” de la Garza explains. “I was in competition with people who are more qualified – or I thought were more qualified – I did it anyway it. I tried it.”