Student Voice Tip #6: Roadblocks, Potholes, and Brick Walls… Oh my!

“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

Selena Portillo, Texas A&M Junior

Selena Portillo, Texas A&M Junior

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.

Student Voice Tip #5: Higher education as a door to opportunity

About Christina Delgado

Christina Delgado of Lubbock, Texas was appointed in June 2015 to a one-year term as the student representative to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board by Governor Greg Abbott. She serves as a non-voting member for each of the board committees.

Ms. Delgado received a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary. Her studies focused on the Biblical languages. She was on staff at Prestonwood Baptist Church as the Spanish Ministry Intern. Ms. Delgado received a Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies with a concentration in Linguistics and English Composition with a minor in Spanish from North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina. As an undergraduate student, she served as a chaplain for the student body and was a founding leader in a campus wide prayer ministry. Internationally, she taught English in Russia and China, and she was involved in humanitarian work in Swaziland, Africa. She studied Spanish and Latin American issues in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama.

Ms. Delgado is currently a second year speech pathology student at Texas Tech University Health Science Center in Lubbock, Texas. In addition to her role on the Coordinating Board, she currently sits on the Student Government Association as a class senator. She is a member of the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association (NSSLHA). She works for Lubbock Independent School District as a speech pathology assistant.

Student Voice Tip #4: Preparing for college exploration and discovery

Polo Cantu, Veterans ECHS Senior

Polo Cantu, Veterans ECHS Senior

College is the first time we all truly venture out on our own and begin the work on deciding who we will become. It is an exciting time of exploration and discovery. During my last few years at Veterans Memorial Early College High School in the Brownsville Independent School District, in south Texas, I made it a point to be on a fact-searching mission to interview “current and college graduates” that might position me with valuable information and tips towards success during my college years. Many of those I spoke to had the usual tips on scholarships, financial aid, advising, admissions, even meal plans. However, while this information will prove to be most valuable, the following short list was inspirational advice that I found encouraging.

  • College Years: Ups and Downs – It was amazing how many people shared with me that they felt confused and purposeless at least at some point during their college years. It’s evident by the number of people that shared with me, that change is both necessary and expected, so I know that I must try to embrace it as best as I can. Progress is a wonderful, incredibly wholehearted process and there is (I was told) nothing to fear from it. When all is said and done, that’s why I decided to attend college: to learn, to thrive, and to develop into a successful citizen in my community. Part of that process though, is making mistakes; so I will be sympathetic to myself, I won’t blame, forgive myself and keep going.
  • Try to Do It All – With Moderation – I was told that the only thing I will feel disappointment on over these next four years are the things that I don’t attempt to be part of. It was recommended that I make every effort to do everything I can, wear themed clothing for campus parties, attend as many college sporting events as I can, join clubs and fellowships, volunteer, learn a new language and find groups and people that share my aspirations and career pathways. I’ll give myself the liberty and make the time to do things that I couldn’t do while I was in high school – study abroad, celebrate in my newfound independence in whatever way I see fit, spend at least one summer on campus, and, perhaps most importantly, when I do finally find my voice – I will not be afraid to use it. No one’s college experience will be the the same. It’s really what I make of it.
  • A Time for Change – College is not high school. I will take a long, hard look at myself and then let go of the person I was in high school.  People are made to change and adapt. I’m just starting college; it is evident that I have barely experienced a fraction of life.  College will be so much fun and from what I have learned from all the interviews, is that I should embrace my college years, not waste them.

The classes I enrolled in during the course of my high school years were challenging and rigorous. My teachers were excellent and well prepared in their discipline to assure that I would excel, for this I am most grateful.  It’s be fitting that I also give a note of gratitude to my mother for her support and for always instilling the importance of an education.

The fall is around the corner and I look forward to my freshman year at the University of Texas San Antonio. My plans are to major in biology and fulfilling my dreams by continuing to study in the medical field. The best is yet to come!

About Polo Cantu

Polo Cantu is a current senior at Veterans Memorial Early College High School in Brownsville, Texas, and will be graduating in the top 15% of his class.  During his high school years Polo participated in various sports – football, basketball and cross country.  Off the field and in the classroom Polo took advantage of several dual credit and Advanced Placement courses that earned him college credit and a head start in his college pathway. These classes–along with clinical rotations at Valley Regional Medical Center and working with physical and orthopedic therapists at Brownsville Rehabilitation Services–will help him as he pursues his dreams of becoming a physician assistant.  Polo will begin his degree at the University of Texas San Antonio in the fall.

Student Voice Tip #3: Step out of your comfort zone

James Rivera, UTSA Sophomore

Coming from a small town in East Texas, I was taking huge step by coming to UTSA. From the day of my graduation to my move-in day, I had my mind on one thing; college. Growing up in a digital age, you get this idea in your head on what to expect. I can honestly say that it was not what I was expecting. For the first two weeks of my freshman year, I was alone. I was the saddest little freshman you ever saw. I went to class alone, ate alone, and even went to some events alone hoping to meet new people. I was always an introvert. I kept to myself and never stepped out of my comfort zone. I learned the hard way that I had to do something if I wanted to make this college experience one to remember.

I did just that. I talked to people. Instead of eating by myself, I found someone else who was alone and sat with them and had a conversation. I talked with people in the laundry room and in the community center. It paid off. I now have a group of friends that I now call my family. We are supportive of each other and we always make sure that we are all on track and doing well.

My advice to anyone in college or pursuing/thinking of going: make the college experience yours. Have fun, make mistakes, learn from them, and grow as an individual. Study and work for what you want in life but also kick back and relax when needed. And always remember where you came from and where you are going.

About James Rivera

I am James Rivera, a sophomore student at The University of Texas at San Antonio. I am majoring in Criminal Justice and Public Administration. I was raised in the City of Lufkin, Texas (2-hours north of Houston) and graduated from Lufkin High School in May of 2014. I am youngest of four boys and I am on track to become the first in my family to graduate college. I was raised with just my mother in the picture and I believe that has had a huge impact on who I am today.

Student Voice Tip #2: Positive changes during freshman year

Destiny De La Garza, USTA Freshman

Destiny De La Garza, USTA Freshman

My parents have told me that I have changed in the short year that I have attended The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). They say that they have seen me become more confident, mature, and a thinking human being. Normally, I would have looked at them like they were crazy had I not been seeing the change in myself as well. I see myself becoming more responsible in my studies, personal/business affairs, and in the way I see the world. I believe this is due to the skills I have acquired while in college and ROTC. Both have taught me to put 110% effort into everything I do, which includes studies and working out. Physically, college has changed my overall health. I can run, breathe, and see better because now I am responsible for what I eat and drink. Intellectually, college has taught me how to apply reasoning to my daily decisions and learn how to be independent instead of relying on my parents for help. Currently, I live on campus because I wanted time and space away from home to learn how to be responsible for everything I do such as cleaning, cooking, maintaining my checking account, and paying bills. In high school, I never would have dreamed of doing such a thing since I was dependent on mostly everyone. Going to college straight out of high school has been the best experience and benefit to my life. Everything that college has taught me is something that I can move forward with and benefit from for the rest of my life. I realize that learning is a lifetime commitment therefore, I will always be eager to learn to improve myself and this is the greatest change that college has instilled in my life.

About Destiny De La Garza

Destiny De La Garza is a former student of Southside High School where she graduated in the top 5%. Currently, she is a freshman at the University of Texas at San Antonio and is a part of a roadrunner tradition where her mother and father were previous attendees. She is majoring in Digital Communications with a curriculum GPA of 3.4. She is an active member of the Army ROTC program where she plans to commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S Army. At the moment she belongs to the Roadrunner Battalion Color guard where they present the American and Texas flag at UTSA sporting events and in turn shows her roadrunner pride.

Student Voice Tip #1: College as an opportunity for personal growth

Jade Williams, UTEP Senior

Jade Williams, UTEP Senior

“Ms. Jade, how old is your baby?”

My seven-year-old student looked at me with wide eyes and a frown. I was a reading tutor in a very poor and predominately African-American community in South-East Washington, D.C. The kids I worked with were more than 2 years behind in curriculum with the perception that education was a waste of time. The staff worked diligently to improve their literacy comprehension, but this particular day had turned to learning more about myself instead.

“Oh, I don’t have a baby,” I replied.

“But you said that you were 18 years old, Ms. Jade. That means you have to have a baby.”

This was the first of many college experiences that made me feel uncomfortable. My seven-year-old student inflicted these emotions because her community had conditioned her to believe that her options in life were a forgone conclusion. Volunteering as a tutor helped me step out of my own comfort zone to be able to connect to someone else’s experience, showing young students their vast possibilities. Today, changing the negative outlooks of children around the world has become my truest calling.

As a college student, my philosophy on learning is that if you’re not taking a risk, you’re not pushing yourself hard enough. How can we learn anything about who we truly are and what we can give to our communities if we’re not willing to feel uncomfortable? College has changed me by expanding my perception of our global community, teaching me what is truly valuable to a philanthropic life. We as college students are capable of invoking so much change, and coming to this realization can lead to our innovative ideas being utilized to generate action.  The world needs our youthful perspectives, and it’s our job as college students to make sure that we’ve got something valuable to bring to the table.

About Jade Williams

Jade Williams is a college senior attending The University of Texas at El Paso. A graduate from both Mission Early College High School and El Paso Community College, Jade has fueled her passion for education into a position with Region 19. She recently completed an internship with Congressman Beto O’Rourke in Washington, D.C. that allowed her to both advocate for education and tutor children in the local community. Currently, Jade is an active tutor in her hometown, as well as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for Foster Children in need. In the near future, Jade hopes to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer, teaching English to children and inspiring youth development around the globe. Upon her return, Jade will pursue a career in law, hoping to impact the direction of future educational legislation.