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First the Associate Degree, Then High School Diploma


Joeann Lozano and Cynthia Garcia are not your typical high school seniors. On Saturday, they graduated high school a month after receiving their associate degrees.

A month ago, Lozano and  Garcia of Harlingen Senior High School become the first high school seniors in their school district to earn their associates while in high school. However, they are second and third in the history of the Rio Grande Valley area.

Lozano and Garcia received their degrees through the free four-year college preparatory Upward Bound Math and Science Program (UBMSP), sponsored by the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College.

The UBMSP was created in 1990 by the U.S. Department of Education, under the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act, part of two other college access programs — Talent Search and Student Support Services, also known as TRIO, for low-income students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The degrees give Lozano and Garcia two years worth of college credits, giving them an  academic advantage over their peers, not to mention saving their families money. In fact, their associate degrees were worth approximately $9,000.

“Hearing about the program through my friend’s sister [and the benefits] was all the motivation I needed,” says Lozano. “My mother came to the U.S. [from Mexico] in search of a future and I wanted to show her that coming to America was not a mistake.”

Lozano is the third of four children, and will be the first in her family to go to college.

“My father, the main provider of my family, was never around  because he is always out of town or state working,” says Garcia. “I would see him three times out of the month, and he motivated me to pursue a college career.”

Garcia, the youngest of two, will also be the first in her family to go to college.

To participate in UBMS students must be a freshman, sophomore or junior; be a first-generation college student and/or come from a low-income family; be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and be interested pursuing math and science in college.

Benefits of the UBMS program included THEA/SAT/ACT prep courses, assistance with college applications, financial aid, and scholarships — all extremely helpful but the path to achieving them was not easy.

“They were very persistent, nothing was going to stop them, especially Cynthia,” says Ray Martinez, director of UBMS. “There were times she was like it’s too much but she kept, on. She is not graduating in the top 10 [percent of her high school class] but she tackled every obstacle and got her associate while in high school.”

While enrolled in the program, both Lozano and Garcia worked part-time and were involved in extracurricular activities.

The biggest lesson, the two say UBMS has taught them is time management, but mostly that self determination will help you accomplish any goal.

Lozano, who is the class valedictorian, graduated from UBMSP with 67 college hours and a 4.0 GPA. She will be attending the University of Texas at Austin in the fall.

Garcia graduated in the top 16 percent of her high school class and graduated from UBMSP with 63 college hours with a 3.6 GPA. She will be attending UT-Brownsville.

Both will be continuing their studies in business administration.

–Margaret Kamara


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