PHARR – A senior from Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD (PSJA) was selected as one of only seven recipients of the 19th National Youth Award by the Hispanic Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018. Luis Gonzalez, who attends PSJA T. Jefferson T-STEM Early College Early High School, was honored with the National Engineering and Mathematics Youth Award alongside Disney/Pixar's "Coco" star Anthony Gonzalez for serving as inspiration to Latino youth at a special reception on Capitol Hill.

Established in 1897, the Hispanic Heritage Foundation (HHF) is a nonprofit that inspires, prepares, and connects innovative Latino leaders in the classroom, community, and workforce to meet America’s priorities. Most recently, HHF expanded its Youth Awards program to include the South Texas region. The recognition program honors Latino high school seniors who excel in the classroom and focus in various categories including: Business & Entrepreneurship; Community Service; Education; Engineering & Mathematics; Healthcare; Innovation & Technology and Sports & Fitness.

For Gonzalez, being selected as a National Youth Awardee is an immense honor as recipients were selected from more than 10,000 applicants and 200 Regional Awardees.

"Being a first-generation college student has fueled my desire for my education to help my family and better my community," said Gonzalez who has already been accepted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with a full scholarship. "Thanks to the support of this program and my PSJA family, I hope to bring more jobs in the engineering field in the future to the Valley."

According to the senior, his passion for science and engineering was strengthened by his participation in numerous extracurricular activities like UIL Number Sense, UIL Math, UIL Science and the annual STEM Camps while at PSJA ISD. The dedicated 18-year-old will be graduating with an Associate Degree in Engineering from South Texas College in May.

"Moving to PSJA was the right choice for my future as the Early College Program has been amazing," said Gonzalez who moved from Rio Grande City to Pharr to attend PSJA ISD. "I am so grateful to my family and PSJA for all the amazing opportunities I have been given."

Currently at PSJA, there are approximately 3,500 students taking college classes districtwide. The number of students graduating from PSJA ISD high schools with college hours, a college certificate or Associate Degree is increasing annually, boosting the number of students completing a four-year degree, and continuing on to master level and professional degrees.

The seven National Youth Awardees were chosen for their leadership in the classroom, focus in their categories and their GPAs. Recipients were awarded grants for their education, flown to Washington, D.C. with a parent by Southwest Airlines and received personal styling from Macy's.

Besides enjoying the opportunity to network with HHF sponsors, members of Congress and the other recipients, the proud PSJA student shared his unique experience meeting Disney/Pixar's "Coco" star Anthony Gonzalez.

"I am a huge fan of the movie as it represented our Mexican culture," said Gonzalez. "Meeting Anthony, who plays Miguel in the film, was so inspiring. I hope to one day inspire others in my community as well."