Author Archives: Amanda Sotelo Sotelo

TSTC first nursing graduate: “It’s never too late.”

(HARLINGEN) – The last time Texas State Technical College featured student Sylvia Cleary she was studying biology at TSTC with two of her children and waiting for the inaugural Registered Nursing courses to start.

Now one year later she is part of the first graduating cohort of the program and its first valedictorian with a perfect 4.0 GPA.

Last night, the 50-year-old and 29 of her classmates earned their associate degrees during TSTC’s Commencement Ceremonies at the Harlingen Municipal Auditorium, joining the nearly 300 other students who earned a certificate or associate degree from the college.

“It’s still so surreal. I can’t believe that I can check this off my bucket list,” said Cleary. “My personal goal was to become a registered nurse by the time I turned 50. And here I am.”

The Rio Hondo native, who worked two decades as a licensed vocational nurse before returning to school, said she thought being accepted into the program was a long shot, especially at her age.

“It was scary returning to school and being the oldest in all of my classes,” said Cleary. “But I had a goal and wanted to prove to myself and my children that success is possible at any age.”

So in 2015, Cleary quit her job and devoted 100 percent of her time to school.Sylvia Cleary

And although her family was supportive of her decision and desire to apply to TSTC’s first registered nursing program, she still kept the application process a secret.

“I secretly applied last year in case I didn’t get in. I didn’t want to have to disappoint anyone,” she said. “But fortunately I was one of 30 students to get accepted. It was a competitive bunch.”

Throughout the program, graduating was a distant and sometimes impossible goal for Cleary who struggled and was close to giving up on several occasions.

“This was a huge sacrifice, like for many, for my family and me,” she said. “And things got tough. At times I was torn between my two loves: family and nursing.”

Cleary is a mother of four and also her husband’s full-time caregiver. He is a decorated army veteran who earned a purple heart for his service, but suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I didn’t want to falter as a wife or a mother, so I pushed myself at home and at school and it eventually takes a toll,” she said. “Most of the time I did my homework while my 15-year-old did his just so we could spend time together.”

Cleary said she credits the support and care she received from her instructors in the program for her will to continue pushing forward.

Shirley Byrd, Registered Nursing program director, said she is proud of Cleary and all she has accomplished in the past few years and months.

“She is an inspiration to me and everyone in our program,” said Byrd. “It takes a lot to come back to school after being away for so long, but she really devoted herself and made it through.”

Byrd added, “She was one of our best students and I can’t wait to see her succeed like I know she will. She is definitely going to be a leader in the nursing profession.”

Clearly has a few ideas of where she wants to work now that she has graduated, but is waiting to pass her National Council Licensure Examination, which she will take in the next few days.

Her journey with school is also not stopping with TSTC. She hopes to pursue her bachelor’s degree in nursing and eventually a master’s degree so she can return to TSTC as a nursing instructor.

“It is my family that keeps me going. Everything I do, I do for them,” said Cleary. “My son John who is legally blind has overcome so much and is my biggest inspiration. If he can do it, so can I.”

Her son John is studying Education and Training at TSTC, and her daughter Logan who also received her associate degree in Biology from TSTC and has recently been accepted to medical school at the island of Antigua, were last featured with Cleary.

Cleary will officially be sworn into the nursing profession on August 4, during TSTC’s Registered Nursing Pinning Ceremony at the TSTC Cultural Arts Center.

For more information on TSTC’s Registered Nursing program, visit


Gun violence survivor graduates with degree from TSTC

(HARLINGEN) – Left for dead during an armed robbery, Leonel Garza Jr. believes he was given a second chance at life for a reason and, with the help of Texas State Technical College, he has set out to make it the best life he can.

Tonight, the 33-year-old McAllen native will put on his cap and gown and walk the Harlingen Municipal Auditorium stage to receive his associate degree in Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) from Texas State Technical College.

“The fact that I’m graduating hasn’t sunk in yet,” said Garza. “I’m excited and proud, but it’s all still so surreal.”

Surreal because Garza almost didn’t make it to see this graduation day.

On April 28, 2016 at 6:45 a.m., Garza still remembers every detail of the day, an armed robber entered his apartment in Irving, Texas.

“My roommate, who I called ‘Abuelo,’ or grandfather, and I were getting ready for work and throwing out trash, when we forgot to lock our front door,” said Garza. “A simple mistake nearly cost us our lives.”

Garza and his 65-year-old roommate were shot by a would-be robber.  ‘Abuelo’ was shot in the chest and Garza was shot five times on his right side and back as the gunman demanded money and items.

“By the grace of God I was able to call 911,” said Garza. “I couldn’t feel my legs so I crawled to ‘Abuelo’ who was laying on the ground. This is the day I realized who I was as a person. I could have easily given up, but I didn’t.”Leonel Garza Jr.

Garza said he remembers thinking that he had to live for ‘Abuelo,’ who survived the attack, and for himself.

“At that moment I realized I wasn’t ready to die. There was more to life. I wanted a career, to be a husband and a father. That’s why I fought hard to live,” he said.

Garza had only been in Arlington a few months on that fateful day. He had recently left  a 10-year job as a security guard with the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District, was celebrating the completion of his HVAC certificate at an Irving vocational institute and was looking to start a new career.

The gunman was never arrested and Garza was left to slowly recuperate with three bullets forever lodged in his body. The incident also affected him emotionally and mentally.

“Physically I was a mess. I couldn’t walk without a walker or a cane and I was advised not to work for at least a year to allow my body to recuperate,” said Garza. “But I also wake up every day with the fear of being shot.”

Since then, Garza has returned to the Rio Grande Valley, married and now has a one-year-old son, but he struggles daily with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. But that has not stopped him from achieving his goals and living his life to the fullest.

Garza said TSTC, his instructors and classmates have helped him more than they will ever know.

“For a person like me who lives in constant fear, everyone at TSTC has given me the power to overcome it,” he said. “They have helped me move forward with my life and my education. They have helped me gain my life back.”

During his time at TSTC, Garza maintained a 3.75 grade-point average allowing him to graduate with honors, served as president for TSTC’s SkillsUSA chapter and parliamentarian for the Texas SkillsUSA chapter, even traveling to Louisville, Kentucky last month for the SkillsUSA national conference.

Garza has also already interviewed with local HVAC companies and is waiting to get a call back.  He hopes to gain experience in the field for a few years before pursuing his ultimate goal.

“Someday I plan on returning to TSTC as an HVAC instructor,” said Garza. “I hope to follow in my instructors’ footsteps and help other students the way everyone has helped me.”

Nearly 300 students will receive certificates or associate degrees during TSTC’s Commencement Ceremonies tonight at the Harlingen Municipal Auditorium at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.

For more information on HVAC Technology, visit

Maintenance mechanic celebrates three decades at TSTC

(HARLINGEN) – Joe Ramos is celebrating 30 years at Texas State Technical College and a career that was life-changing in many ways.

The 52-year-old is now the maintenance mechanic at TSTC in Harlingen, but he started as a part-timer in the custodial department in 1988 when the college was Texas State Technical Institute.

“I didn’t think I’d make it to 30 years. Time flies,” said Ramos. “I had given myself six months max when I first started, but it (TSTC) turned out to be the place where I was meant to be.”

The San Benito native grew up a migrant worker, traveling to Northwest Texas every summer with his family to work in the cotton fields and gins of Memphis, Texas.

“It wasn’t my favorite thing to do during summer vacations, but it’s what put food on our table and a roof over our heads,” said Ramos.

For Ramos, working in the fields was temporary; it was not something he wanted to do forever.

However, at 17 he got married, dropped out of high school and fouJoe Ramosnd himself at the gins working maintenance, even during off-seasons.

“At this point the cotton farm was more seasonal than now,” he said. “I was a husband and had responsibilities. It was my turn to support my wife and our future family. I had no choice but to work.”

It was then that Ramos realized he would not get far without a proper education, so he and his wife moved back to the Rio Grande Valley. Through a federally funded job training program, Ramos was able to earn his GED diploma and start working at TSTC.

“I loved TSTC, so when a full-time position in the custodial department became available, I jumped at it,” he said. “And like they say, the rest is history.”

Through the years, Ramos has grown with the college, even completing his certificate in Welding Technology and becoming a certified welding inspector.

To this day he continues to learn and is currently enrolled in TSTC’s Continuing Education National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) Electrical Level 1 course.

“TSTC prides itself on being a great place to work, and for me it truly has been,” said Ramos.

“From the opportunities I’ve been given, the benefits I receive, to the people I have met and get to work with, I can’t imagine myself anywhere else.”

Ramos’ son, Danny, is enrolled at TSTC in the Agricultural Technology program and is currently interning with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“TSTC really has given my entire family opportunities and has changed our lives,” said Joe Ramos.

TSTC Building Maintenance Supervisor and Interim Physical Plant Director Roberto Chapa has worked with Ramos for 10 years and said he is a great asset to the TSTC family and is proud to have him on his team.

“I want to congratulate him on his 30 years, and I want him to know we appreciate everything he does,” said Chapa. “He is dependable, a problem solver and everyone’s helping hand.”

Chapa added with a laugh, “I hope he doesn’t retire anytime soon, at least not before me. He saves me a lot of headaches.”

Ramos said he hopes to be at TSTC for another 30 years — as long as he is still able to work and TSTC will have him.

“I was a youngster when I started, and I can’t believe I’ve made it this far,” he said. “Thank you, TSTC. It’s been a pleasure.”

Student Success Profile

(HARLINGEN) – Ailina Rojas Student Success ProfileAilina Rojas, 26, of San Benito expects to graduate in August 2019 with an associate degree in Surgical Technology. She currently holds a 3.6 grade-point average and aspires to attend medical school and eventually become a surgeon following her graduation from Texas State Technical College.

What are your plans after graduation?

I plan on finding a job in the Houston area, the “medical mecca” of Texas. Houston is a growing area in both medicine and technology, which would benefit me as a prospective employee. There are plenty of opportunities there that I am excited to pursue.

What’s your dream job?

My dream job is to become a surgeon. Graduating with my associate degree in Surgical Technology is the first step in that process. I have always known that I wanted to venture into the medical field, and while I was exploring the different programs at TSTC, Surgical Technology caught my eye. After observing a surgery, I immediately knew it was the right fit for me.

What has been your greatest accomplishment while at TSTC?

Going back to school has been a challenge for my family since I have four kids. We have had to make many sacrifices, especially since my recent separation. I have had to assume the role of mom and dad and still pass my classes. Amidst this, I still made the dean’s list, so that’s something I definitely consider an accomplishment.

What greatest lesson have you learned about yourself or life?

I have learned recently about perseverance. Life can be tough at times, but never give up when it gets hard. That is when I learned the most about my own strength. Getting through school while supporting my kids on my own is a challenge, but it will pay off in the end. That is how I motivate myself.

Name a TSTC person who most influenced your success.

I have had great teachers across the board; no one in particular is better than the other. They are all helpful, and their various teaching styles are effective. Their hands-on approach is what I enjoy most.

What is your advice for future TSTC students?

My advice is to be ready when you enroll. School is a huge commitment, and if you’re not willing to put your all in it, then what’s the point? But, if you are mentally ready for this commitment, then go for it. And remember, it is never too late to pursue your education. I am 26 years old and came back after having kids. If I can do it, so can you!

TSTC alum and local pharmacist to serve as TSTC commencement speaker

(HARLINGEN) – It was in 1996 when Michael Muniz first stepped foot in Texas State Technical College as a computer maintenance major, but after some soul-searching, Muniz grew up to be a pharmacist. He will share his wisdom and experiences with TSTC graduates next Friday as the Summer 2018 commencement speaker.

“I was surprised when I received the invitation to be speaker,” he said. “I never even thought this was something I would be considered for, and now that the initial shock is over, I’m excited and honored.”

Muniz was selected as commencement speaker because of his alumni status and the success he has found since he graduated from the college — even though his life took him in a different direction from his initial plan.

At age 13, Muniz started building computers, but when he enrolled in computer maintenance classes at TSTC, the subject was no longer exciting to him. So he changed majors and chose chemical technology, but it still did not give him joy.

“I could not find my passion, so I concentrated on working instead,” said Muniz. “I needed some time, but it took longer than expected to return to school.”Pharmacist Dr. Michael Muniz

After six years, a job at FedEx and working as a medical billing clerk for a local surgeon, Muniz decided to pursue surgical technology at TSTC, earning a certificate in 2004.

“After observing the doctor I worked for and sitting in on surgeries, I knew surgical technology was for me,” said Muniz. “It was exciting, but I wasn’t done — I wanted to be the surgeon.”

Of course, for Muniz, life happened. And with a wife and three children, he knew medical school was not an option.

So after tutoring students from the pre-pharmacy program at the University of Texas at Brownsville (now University of Texas Rio Grande Valley), where he also graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry, he decided to pursue pharmacy school.

He earned a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Texas A&M University-Kingsville in 2012 and completed a metabolic and nutritional medicine fellowship through George Washington University.

“I am no different than most of the students out there right now,” he said. “I was undecided, and it took me time to find what I wanted to do. But TSTC helped me find my passion and set my foundation.”

Muniz added, “It’s been a good ride. I’ve had wonderful experiences, great mentors, and the Lord has guided me. For me it’s all about helping people, and my profession allows me to do that in different ways.”

Muniz, who also has been a guest speaker for surgical technology pinning ceremonies, said he hopes to pass a message of hope and encouragement that will invigorate TSTC graduates and current students to keep pursuing their goals and dreams.

“It doesn’t matter where you go to school; it’s what you make of your situation,” Muniz said. “TSTC provides a quality education that leads to great careers. Plus, for many, it’s affordable and close to home, and I hope many of the college’s graduates realize how lucky they are to be part of such a wonderful institution.”

While Muniz still practices as a pharmacist at his uncle’s pharmacy, Muniz Rio Grande Pharmacy in Harlingen, he is also opening his own shop: Krave Market, a one-stop health-food market for people living on ketogenic, paleo, gluten-free or Whole30 diets.

“This is an exciting time for me. I get to serve the community I grew up in by helping them stay healthy and fuel their body through nutrition — all thanks to the education and experiences I had at TSTC and thereafter.”

Muniz said he hopes to continue serving TSTC students through guest lectures and speaking engagements.

Los Fresnos Superintendent gets his start at TSTC

(HARLINGEN) – It all started in 1987 at Texas State Technical Institute, now Texas State Technical College, for Los Fresnos Consolidated Independent School District Superintendent Gonzalo Salazar.

Fresh out of high school, the Brownsville native enrolled in what is now Architectural Design and Engineering Graphics, to pursue a lifelong dream of becoming an architect.

“For as long as I can remember I wanted to be an architect,” said Salazar. “And I was finally in college, I felt accomplished. This is was my shot to pull my family out of poverty.”

Growing up one of eight siblings, Salazar helped his parents pay bills and put food on the table, so while enrolled at TSTC he worked fulltime at a service station in Brownsville.

“I was in a position many of our students are in,” he said. “I was a disadvantaged student, with an unreliable car that made it difficult some days to get to class.”

So when a customer, who was a border patrol agent suggested he join the force, Salazar took it to heart and withdrew from TSTC.

“I thought the border patrol was a great idea, but getting in turned out to be a long, drawn out process. A lot of waiting,” said Salazar. “And I had to do something while I waited.”Gonzalo Salazar

That’s when Salazar, through encouragement from his parents, enrolled at the University of Texas at Brownsville, now the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV), and earned a bachelor’s degree in 1996 in Bilingual Education and Spanish and in 1999 a master’s degree in Educational Administration.

It’s safe to say, Salazar never got to the border patrol, but instead found a different career path that was fulfilling and rewarding.

Immediately after earning his bachelor’s degree he accepted a job as a fourth grade teacher at Dr. Cash Elementary School in San Benito, later joining the Los Fresnos CISD family.

“There was guilt about leaving TSTC that’s why I never went back,” he said. “But I feel that everything that has happened was God’s plan for me. Education was my calling, it just took me time and some failures to realize it.”

With more than 20 years of experience in education and 18 years with the district having served as an assistant principal and principal for Los Fresnos CISD, the district’s Board of Trustees appointed Salazar superintendent in 2006.

“I’ve really had a fantastic and very rewarding career, and it all started at TSTC,” said Salazar. “I may have abandoned one dream to find a new one and although I’m not designing buildings, I’m still designing.” Salazar added, “We’re designing futures here at Los Fresnos CISD. And what we do shapes the world.”

Salazar said as superintendent he works to maintain a partnership with TSTC and other higher educational institutes because of the impact college has on lives.

Not only did TSTC kickstart Salazar’s college career, but it also touched his son’s life when he graduated from the college with an Academic Core certificate before even graduating from high school.

“It’s amazing how life comes full circle,” said Salazar. “This was a proud moment for me. TSTC and all higher education creates pathways for our students and gives them the chance to forge a brighter future.”

Salazar said the advice he shares with his children and his students about education is the same thing his late grandfather and father shared with him.

“My grandfather always said, ‘You must work hard to get out of poverty and, although life will give you challenges, education holds a promise,’” said Salazar. “And like my dad always said, ‘The years will go by anyways, have something to show for it.’”

With that being said, it took Salazar nearly seven years to complete his doctoral degree in Educational Leadership from UTRGV, but he finally crossed the finish line this summer officially becoming Dr. Gonzalo Salazar.

“My goal is to continue modeling lifelong learning and to continue making a difference in the young lives that cross my path,” he said.

Student Success Profile – Hugo Gamboa

By Emily Swartz

(HARLINGEN) – Hugo GamboaHugo Gamboa of Los Fresnos is a Mechatronics Technology student at Texas State Technical College. He expects to graduate with an Associate of Applied Science degree in Spring 2019.

What are your plans after graduation?

After I graduate I hope to work for a company like Toyota. I want to get a few years of work experience under my belt and then go back to school.

What’s your dream job?

My dream job is to become a mechatronics engineer for Toyota. I first became interested in the company when my family purchased their first Toyota, plus I have heard that they offer great benefits and opportunities to grow.

What has been your greatest accomplishment while at TSTC?

My greatest accomplishment so far is a project that I am working on: Creating a do-it-yourself vending machine. It’s amazing to see something you build come to life. And I am also extremely proud of the work I’ve done around TSTC repairing other vending machines.

What greatest lesson have you learned about yourself or life?

The greatest lesson I have learned is not to procrastinate. I was guilty of this in high school and had to learn the hard way when I enrolled at TSTC. TSTC has been a pleasant surprise and has helped me with my study habits. I have also learned to never take opportunities for granted and to never give up on my dreams.

Name a TSTC person who most influenced your success.

It’s difficult to pick just one person because all of my instructors at TSTC have been great and accommodating. They calm me down when I am stressed and tell me not to worry and that I will get through it. They show that they have faith in me, which further motivates me.

What is your advice for future TSTC students?

Trust your teachers. You may not know them well at first, but they are more than willing to run a mile for you if you show them that you are willing to put in the effort. Also, take your education seriously, but do not let it stress you out too much. Learning is like a dance. In order to perform it seamlessly, you have to know the steps and the beat first. Lastly, always pick yourself back up when you fall.

Student Success Profile – Dalila Martinez

(HARLINGEN) – Texas State Technical College student Dalila Martinez, 20, is currently working hard on completing her pre-requisites for the Registered Nursing program. The San Benito native is a hard-working student and has achieved a 4.0 grade-point average. She expects to graduate in Spring 2020 with her associate’s degree in Biology.Dalila Martinez

What are your plans after graduation?

I plan on pursuing a Bachelor of Science in nursing and get a job in my field to serve the Valley.

What’s your dream job?

I consider myself a compassionate person and one of the things I enjoy is helping as a volunteer at the hospital in the emergency room, which is why I hope to become a registered nurse and specialize in pediatrics.

What has been your greatest accomplishment while at TSTC?

I enjoy helping tutor other students. Achieving a high grade-point average was a great accomplishment especially because I struggle with math. But with the support of my instructors, it was possible and has allowed me to help other students.

What greatest lesson have you learned about yourself or life?

Before TSTC, I attended Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi but was unable to finish due to a back injury. Fortunately, I was able to overcome all odds and enroll at TSTC to return to college.

Name a TSTC person who most influenced your success.

I have too many wonderful instructors to list one in particular. They are all invested in my success and they motivate me to become a better student and maintain good grades.

What is your advice for future TSTC students?

My advice would definitely be to use your resources. TSTC provides the help that students need to be successful.

TSTC’s annual MAARS program is building opportunities

(HARLINGEN) – There has been extra sawing, cutting and sanding going on at the Texas State Technical College Building Construction Technology workshop with students from the Migrant Academic Achievement Residential Summer (MAARS) program completing their projects.

For Kimberly Muniz these sights and sounds bring back memories, yet represent her present.

The Raymondville native was part of the MAARS program, a six-week camp designed to meet the needs of high school migrant and seasonal farm workers in pursuing higher education, in 2015 and 2016 as a student at Lyford High School and is now a student in the Building Construction Technology program at TSTC.

“The MAARS program played a huge role in why I enrolled at TSTC,” said Muniz. “It introduced me to career options I never considered before and taught me so much about college and myself.”

Before MAARS, the 19-year-old had plans to attend a four-year university to pursue a degree in kinesiology and now she hopes to find a good paying job in the construction industry and opening a cabinet and furniture business.

“I have no regrets,” she said. “MAARS and TSTC was the best decision I ever made.”

This year, more than 50 high school juniors and seniors from Cameron, Hidalgo and Willacy counties are participating in the program and living on campus.

MAARS gives students two major opportunities: to receive two academic high school credits in an attempt to prevent them from falling behind or to allow them to get ahead in school, and to receive exposure to TSTC’s technical programs and college life.

Yvette Mendoza, TSTC College Readiness coordinator, said their goal for MAARS is to show students that college is possible and to give them the information they need to make an informed decision about their secondary education.

“It’s great seeing our MAARS students take the next step in their education after high school and realize that they can get a college degree,” Mendoza said.

Irma Padilla, a San Benito High School senior, is one of this year’s MAARS students and said she has enjoyed every aspect of the program.

“I’ve enjoyed my experience of getting to meet new people, being on a diverse campus and getting to explore programs and career options,” said Padilla. “I’m trying to learn as much as I can and take advantage of the time I have here.”

The 16-year-old also said the highlight for her was making a night stand that she gets to keep during her time in Building Construction Technology.

“I’m into being creative, designing and building things so I really enjoyed this,” she said. “It was the best part for me and I hope to enroll at TSTC once I graduate.”

Students like Padilla not only experience two technical programs, three weeks each, such as building construction, Precision Machining Technology, Computer Maintenance Technology, Business Management Technology and Biomedical Equipment Technology, but they also participate in community service projects and have fun on the weekends with events and outings planned by Mendoza and her team.

“The students are really enjoying themselves; we’ve had great feedback from them,” said Mendoza. “And with nearly 30 percent of them returning to TSTC, it’s amazing watching them grow and graduate from college.”

For more information on the MAARS program, call 956-364-4464.

TSTC HEP graduate realizes long-time dream

(HARLINGEN) – Juanita Salinas was looking for a better life when she decided to enroll at Texas State Technical College’s High School Equivalency Program (HEP), and last week she, and nearly 40 other students, earned a General Education Diploma (GED) during the program’s annual graduation ceremony.

“This is something I’ve been wanting to do for a very long time,” said the 38-year-old. “It feels really great to finally be a graduate and moving on to bigger and better things.”

The HEP program at TSTC is federally funded drop-out recovery program that provides services to eligible migrant and seasonal farm workers from the mid to the lower Rio Grande Valley and prepares students to successfully pass their GED along with support services such as academic and career advisement.

The Harlingen native, who used to work the strawberry fields of Mississippi with her family as a child, said after having a baby in high school at 15 she never thought this moment would come, much less be the class speaker.TSTC HEP Graduation

As a teen mom Salinas to dropped out of school to work and support her daughter. She held various jobs in the fast food restaurant industry before holding a job as a cafeteria cook for the Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District for 11 years.

Now, her eight children and her husband celebrate her as she addresses her class with encouragement and hope for the future.

“Education is life changing,” she told her peers. “Today shows us that nothing is impossible and if you want something you can get it.”

Salinas said she decided to finally take this step in life because she wants to be a positive role model for her daughter who also had a baby in high school.

“I pushed her and supported her to finish her high school diploma,” said Salinas. “And now I want to show her the importance of a college education and that no matter what she can get one.”

TSTC HEP Placement Officer Daisy Avalos said she is excited to see Salinas and the rest of her students complete the GED program.

“It’s amazing to watch all of them graduate,” said Avalos. “As for Juanita, it was great seeing her transition and working toward her goals. She was a true leader for her class and always encouraged others to do their best work and to volunteer.”

Avalos added, “I’m so proud of our students and the changes they’re making in their lives. They’re the ones working to break a cycle.”

The HEP program prepares GED students to test in the areas of math, science, history and English and gives students the opportunity to do community service.

Those completing the program also have the flexibility to work and go to class, allowing TSTC to serve more than 100 students per year since its inception 18 years ago, many of which return to TSTC to get a degree.

“We are very proud of our students. I admire their commitment not only to their families, but to their education,” said Toni Luna, TSTC HEP director. “Our students know the true meaning of hard work. It is because of them that our HEP program has been so successful.”

Salinas is now a student at TSTC pursuing an associate degree in Education and Training. Her goal is to become a special education teacher.

For more information about TSTC’s HEP program, call 956-364-4505 or visit