TSTC, Project Link Help Seniors Make Higher Education Decisions

(WACO) – DeMarcus Mason, a spring graduate of La Vega High School, is ready to turn the mixer on high starting this fall.

Mason, 18, plans to study Culinary Arts at Texas State Technical College.

“I love to cook a lot,” he said. “It’s inspiring to show others how to make something beyond noodles in a microwave. My favorite dish to cook is chicken Alfredo casserole.”

Mason and several other La Vega students took part in Prosper Waco’s Project Link, a partnership between the nonprofit organization, TSTC, McLennan Community College, the La Vega Independent School District and the Waco Independent School District to promote a college-going culture among the city’s high school students and their families.

This year’s 198 Project Link seniors at La Vega, University and Waco high schools made up Project Link’s second cohort.

“Ultimately, I feel like the second year was 10 times easier because it was the second year,” said Project Link Coordinator Natalie James of McLennan Community College. “We had a year behind our backs. We were able to look over the summer at what worked and didn’t work and what to do to make the program better for year two.”

More than 40 graduating Project Link seniors plan to attend TSTC this fall. The figure is an increase from the more than 20 students who graduated in 2016 and started at TSTC last fall.

“Some of our students are telling their teachers more about TSTC, so we can tell our Project Link outreach is helping,” TSTC Project Link Outreach Specialist Brandon Chappell said. “We want to encourage more people to visit and tour TSTC.”

Erick Carrillo, 18, a La Vega graduating senior in Project Link, plans to study Electrical Lineworker Technology at TSTC this fall.

“I want to do hands-on work,” he said.

Not all students in Project Link have to go to college in Waco.

Sierra Jackson, 18, a graduating senior from Waco High School, plans to attend Texas Southern University this fall to study psychology.

“Project Link was helpful,” she said. “The program made you care about going to college. Once you get to know Mr. (Cory) Gropp, he will make it easier for you. College was in the plans, but he gave me the push to apply.”

Gropp, the Waco High School Project Link liaison, said more than 50 of his seniors are committed to going to college and one student plans to join the military.

“If you are genuine with the kids, I believe they will do anything for you,” Gropp said.

The Project Link graduates from the three high schools wore black and white cords with their graduation gowns.

Project Link began in fall 2015 at La Vega and University high schools, with Waco High School being added for the 2016-17 academic year. The initiative is supported with a grant from the Bernard & Audre Rapoport Foundation in Waco. More than 180 seniors were in the first cohort for the 2015-16 academic year.

For more information on Prosper Waco’s Project Link, go to prosperwaco.org/project-link.

For more information on TSTC, go to tstc.edu.

_DSC0523 La Vega Project Link resized

_DSC0510 Waco High Project Link resized