“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.” -Randy Pausch
As a first generation, Hispanic female to attend a university, I have faced many brick walls in my life. Growing up, I lived on the East side of San Antonio, which is notorious for having the highest crime rate, streets riddled with trash, where gun shots and sirens can be heard on a daily basis, and just steps away from poverty-stricken government housing that is overflowing with drug activity. I have always attended public schools with at-risk students and limited resources. I chose to break down the brick walls created by the stereotypes associated with individuals who live in this environment by attending Travis Early College High School (TECHS).
TECHS is a bold approach to blend high school and college together in a rigorous program that reduces the time it takes to complete the first two years of college, while earning a high school diploma. It allows for a smoother transition and jumpstarts the students’ path to higher education, which a traditional high school does not offer. By participating in this unique program, I experienced the advantages of a small, supportive learning environment. It provided me with individualized attention from the professors and a willingness to participate in class. The opportunity of attending TECHS gave me insight of what a college atmosphere may entail. It exposed me to an array of teaching styles, encouraged me to be a better steward of my time, and enriched my organizational skills.
Despite the many benefits of attending an early college high school, there are some downsides to it. For example, I was accustomed to a small environment, yet as a Texas A&M freshman I had 11,000 students in my class. I was accustomed to receiving individualized attention from my professors, yet my freshman intro classes consisted of over 200 students. I was accustomed to the heavy workload of a community college, yet I was blindsided by an even more rigorous workload of a university. Some other brick walls that an early college student may face are being the only freshman in a junior-level class, coming in with too many hours and the concern of paying out of state tuition, and trying to coordinate with advisors on what classes to take in order to stay on track.
In addition to these obstacles, there are other challenges that many freshmen may face. For example, the student will have to adjust to dorm life and possible roommate conflicts. Students can often become homesick and miss an occasional home-cooked meal. They must learn to budget their finances, in order to pay for tuition and purchase books. They will have to clean after themselves and do their own laundry. They have to learn to balance social life and their studies, in order that they do not burn out but also do not fail. They should keep in mind that it is okay to drop a class if necessary.
With that all being said, at Texas A&M University some of these challenges are met through the services they offer. For example, to assist with academic challenges, they offer services such as the Writing Center or the Career Center. Although the students may not receive individualized attention in the classroom, the professors at Texas A&M are caring, understanding, and will work with the students when circumstances arise. To assist students learning to budget their finances, Texas A&M offers workshops through a program called Money Wise Aggie. Students who may be feeling homesick can participate in any of the over 1000 student organizations. Although Texas A&M has a student body of over 60,000 students, it still feels like a small-knit community because we are all part of the Aggie family: a family that cares for its own and remains unified in the face of adversity.
In life we are always going to face obstacles, but we cannot give up on our hopes and dreams. An individual should not simply wave the white flag and surrender when faced with unwavering challenges. A small bump in the road should not deter him or her from his or her path. These little bricks are only small snippets of the fight; there are still many more rounds in the ring. There will be missed exits, roadblocks, potholes, and even brick walls.
Selena Portillo is a Forensic and Investigative Sciences major, with a minor in Psychology, from San Antonio, TX but more importantly, she is the loudest and proudest member of the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Class of 2018!! A-A-A-Whoop! She graduated valedictorian from Travis Early College High School and as a distinguished graduate from San Antonio College, with an Associate’s Degree in Liberal Arts. As a college student, she was a member of the Beta Nu chapter of Phi Theta Kappa National Honor Society. She is the first in the history of TECHS to receive the Gates Millennium Scholarship, which is renewable through the doctoral level. She is currently a member of A&M Fellowship Church, the Gates Millennium Scholarship Organization, the Aggie Forensic Investigative Science Organization, Kappa Phi, and serves as a mentor for the Greater Texas Foundation. During the summer of 2016, she will intern with the Randall County Sheriff’s Office with the crime scene investigation unit in the laboratory. In addition, she will intern with the San Antonio Police Department, performing ride-alongs while on patrol and observing the workings of detectives in specialty units. She is expected to graduate early from Texas A&M University in the spring of 2017.