Eight PSJA ISD graduates earn high school diploma and associate’s degree in nursing

Two-and-a-half years ago, approximately 54 high school students in PSJA ISD applied and were accepted into the district’s first cohort for their new Nursing Career Pathway Program. In a partnership that included nursing instructors from South Texas College, clinical rotations and additional on-site support at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, and assistance from the Region One Education Service Center, eight of those students persevered, sacrificed, and earned an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). Just to be accepted into the program, they had to meet STC’s School of Nursing standards, have a record of academic success, and pass Health Education Systems Incorporated (HESI) entrance exams. After that, it was sacrificing the normal life of a high school student in exchange for studying long hours, attending weekend sessions, and completing an incredible amount of rigorous coursework.

The students received their South Texas College diplomas during commencement exercises May 13. Thursday, May 18, they were honored by Doctors Hospital at Renaissance during a special pinning ceremony at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance.

To celebrate these first-in-the-country nursing graduates, the Valley Town Crier would like to share some highlights of the DHR pinning ceremony with you.

Each graduate was asked by DHR partnership staff to write a couple of lines about themselves they wanted the audience to know. This is what they wrote, along with the name of the institution of higher education they have selected:

I consider myself to be extremely lucky to be part of, and to be a graduate of, this program. I'm proud to say I will be able to show my brothers how an education can change a person's life. Coming from a family where no one has a college education, I know this will be a huge impact in their young minds.

Guadalupe Mendoza, UTRGV

I'd like to thank PSJA, STC, and DHR for providing me with this opportunity. Most importantly, thank you mom and dad for motivating me to reach my goals and to become a strong, independent young lady. I love you guys.

Abby Villarreal, UTRGV

Graduating with an associate’s degree in nursing has more than motivated me to continue my studies. It has taught me that anything is possible, with determination and dedication.

Guadalupe Salinas, UTRGV

Despite the obstacles I have faced in life, with support and encouragement from my loved ones, I was able to achieve what I set in my mind.

Luis Silos, UTRGV BSN, cardio thoracic surgeon in the making

This program has taught me a lot of important life lessons through the rigor of the program, the inspiring instructors, and the fascinating experiences. I would not have shaped my perspective and intelligence into the place where they are now without this program. I would like to extend my gratitude to PSJA, STC, and DHR for allowing me this opportunity to prove to the community, and to my family, that education is an opportunity for all. I would also like to thank my family, especially my beautiful and strong mom, for always supporting me and encouraging me throughout my life.

Iris Garcia – UT-Austin

It's a beautiful thing when a career and passion come together. Because of the motivation and perseverance I bestowed upon myself with the support of my friends and family, I was able to accomplish that.

Alexia Marez, Texas A&M University-College Station

I want to thank all of my family, friends, and teachers for believing in me and allowing me to be where I am today. I would not have been able to do any of this without you. Being a part of a program like this is truly a blessing. Within these two years of hard work and sacrifice, I have also built bonds and friendships that will last a lifetime. I'm honored to say I have graduated with my associate’s degree in nursing despite any of the criticism that was directed toward us.

Liesel Aranda, Our Lady of the Lake University.

Itati Perez, the eighth graduate, will be continuing her education with the University of Texas at Arlington and will join the DHR team. She hopes to further her career by pursing her DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice), specializing in critical care. She would like to thank PSJA, DHR, and STC for supporting this wonderful program!

There were other notable quotations from partnership members and from the graduates before, during, and after the pinning ceremony:

Dr. R. Armour Force, chief academic officer at DHR: Today we celebrate the innovation and creativity of the Rio Grande Valley.

Eliza Alvarado, PhD, director of government relations, grants, and programs at DHR and PSJA ISD graduate: Your purpose is what motivates you. Later in the program, a tearful Alvardo told the graduates she, too, went through PSJA schools and I’m very, very proud of you!

Dr. Shirley Reed, president of South Texas College, describing when she was first approached about starting this program: “You want to do WHAT? Are you CRAZY? We’re going to have 18-year-olds taking care of our loved ones? Well, I’m a convert!

Dr. Daniel King, PSJA ISD superintendent: We can’t solve shortages of employees if we’re meeting in separate rooms…We need to take this to every high-wage, high-skilled job in our economy…the public-private partnership is the way to go. And to the graduates: Dream big! Go far!

Ambrosio Hernandez, executive vice president and chief medical compliance officer at DHR and mayor of Pharr: When faced with obstacles, you go through the wall, under it, or over it, because that’s how you get it done!

Luis Silos, PSJA North ECHS nursing graduate about his favorite part of the program: Having the ability to go to the hospital and work directly with the patients. It’s no more practice. It’s REAL!

Abigail Villarreal, PSJA Memorial ECHS nursing graduate: We gave up family events—birthdays, weddings, movie nights, because we were studying, going to Saturday sessions…Now I can say, ‘Look! This is what I’ve been doing those nights and weekends. It’s all dedicated to them. I’m making them (her parents) proud!

Guadalupe Salinas, PSJA Memorial ECHS nursing graduate: This program has made us a family…to Dr. King, ‘Thank you for believing in us and making this program possible.’ Miss Shartle (Cynthia Shartle, MS, nurse practitioner, nursing instructor at South Texas College), You taught us to love nursing as much as you do…And to our bus driver (Noel Gonzalez, who sacrificed many things for the graduates), Sorry you missed your wife’s birthday.

Iris Garcia, PSJA Memorial ECHS nursing graduate: I always wanted to do something in the medical field. My mom (Elizabeth Garcia) and I would stay up late at night watching shows about medicine. My mom would get squeamish, but not me. I wanted to be a doctor, so I was not interested in the program at first, but my mom told me, ‘Don’t you DARE pass up this opportunity!’ I am very proud of myself and the rest of the students.

Dr. Melinda Rodriguez, vice president of nursing education at DHR: The pin you will be receiving today has the emblem of the Renaissance man; this is the emblem that has represented our hospital since its inception. The term ‘Renaissance’ stands for a highly well-rounded person, one who is talented , skilled, and knowledgeable in many fields of study. The pin is the first of its kind. It represents your accomplishment. Wear it with pride.