After funding for College Tech Prep of Texas was cut by the federal government in 2011, RGV LEAD continues to function in the Rio Grande Valley. For 20 years, it has given high school students the resources and experience needed to take on higher education after graduation.
Formally known as Tech Prep, RGV LEAD is a nonprofit organization that works with 28 school districts across the RGV region. Texas Tech Prep Scholars is a familiar program in the Valley, it is a title given to high school graduates who have taken dual-enrollment courses or concurrent classes. In spring 2013, 7,392 students adorned the red, white and blue cord around their neck and graduated as Tech Prep Texas Scholars.
Norma Solaiz, the newly appointed director of RGV LEAD had retired from her role as superintendent at La Villa ISD and did not expect to return to a leading role in education. But, with her reputation and three decades of experience in education, the board thinks she will become an asset to the organization. Soliaz regards the Tech Prep programs will continue to uphold the same standards.
“There are pros and cons to starting the RGV LEAD program in high school,” Solaiz said. “But because of the program, students like Olga are focused and know what they are able to maximize the college opportunities while in high school at a low cost.”
TECH PREP STUDENTS
After high school graduation from Palmview High School, Olga Cortes carried 67 college hours under her belt through dual-enrollment classes with South Texas College. That saves her about $17,934, an equivalent to about three semesters at the University of Texas-Pan American, according to estimated costs from the 2011-2012 registration bulletin.
Cortes, an 18-year-old junior at UTPA, was ranked 11 in her class. She gives much thanks to the program for allowing her to test different majors.
“The Tech Prep programs prepared me to enter UTPA,” Cortes said. “Professors aren’t after you to succeed, it is not like high school, and taking classes at the community college helped me learn that.”
Taking an interest in mechanical engineering, her passion for solving problems has pushed her closer to her dream. She wishes to become a role model for women who take interest in the engineering field.
“Ten years from now, I would like to make a movement for women engineers,” Cortes said. “There are not a lot of women engineers, but I know that companies are willing to hire us. I would like for women to be more exposed to the field.”
She hopes to work for petroleum companies such as, Chevron, Exxon Mobil or Pemex. At a young age, she feels ready to compete against individuals at the University level and thinks she has formed better study habits and skills because of the programs she was exposed to.
“Olga is an example of what we want for our Tech Prep scholars,” Soliaz said. “Educated students will become an educated workforce. Investing in human capital of this region is important to making or breaking the future of the Rio Grande Valley.”
Business and industry requires good communication skills and Selena Ramirez, a 19-year-old UTPA student, acknowledges her fate depends on striving for an ‘A’. She is a nursing major who studied under the health science program in high school provided by RGV LEAD.
“All it takes it time and effort,” Ramirez said. “My study skills and focus allow me to multitask. You have to get a bunch of ‘A’s for the best GPA. Since many people want to get into it, you have to really challenge yourself.”
Her next goal is to enter a program where she shadows a registered nurse and wishes to gain employment at the Doctors Hospital at Renaissance. She is very thankful to her teacher Lisa Rocha and counselor Debrah Zamora for pushing her to to never give up.
RGV LEAD charges participating districts two dollars per student and is funded by contributions from the University of Texas-Pan American, South Texas College, Texas State Technical College Harlingen.
When the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act expired, a reconstruction process of the organization began. Valley leaders including the economic development corporations (EDC) of Brownsville, Harlingen and Mission saw an importance to fund and “implement community-focused initiatives designed to maximize opportunities for students and families,” according to the 2013-2014 RGV LEAD Annual Report.
“It starts with the dream of making a difference,” Solaiz said. “One initiative that is most important is compiling the Labor Market Information Report.”
The organization analyzes what the labor market looks like in the Valley and bases educational programs on the labor market. The data is shared freely with school institutions, EDCs and potential business/industries, according to Solaiz.
Since the now defunct College Tech Prep of Texas has stopped providing RGV LEAD with data last year, the organization partnered with the University of Texas at Austin’s Education Research Center (UT ERC) to continue.
“Business and industry is saying that our students need to be able to work as a team, collaborate, communicate, be able to problem solve and think,” she said. “We are continuing to provide students with those 21st century skills because that will make or break their opportunity into the workforce.”
Total funding for the 2013 year, reached $718,980. Additional funding was acquired through grants contracts, and employers who support the cause of educating the RGV. The programs created are ideas created by people “who care and give their time by serving on our board,” Solaiz said.
Programs included are: a scholarship program; GenTx, a three-step program to fill out a college application, take a college tour and be a college mentor; RGV Mentor, a program which students learn from community professionals in places such as health, finance, construction, etc.; the Academic Leadership Alliance, a summer educator externship where teachers from school districts work with different companies for “first-hand experience.”
To volunteer or donate, call 956-364-4509. Or, email firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more visit www.rgvlead.com.