Los Fresnos News

A First Step Into The STEM Field

Thirteen students from Weslaco Independent School Districts recently completed the STC-Prefreshmen Engineering Program at the South Texas College Mid-Valley campus. After four years of dedication to the six-week summer enrichment program, the students earned their Certificates of Completion and an honor cord to be worn at their high school graduation ceremony.

(Weslaco, Texas) – It was 24 weeks and four summers in the making.
Thirteen Weslaco Independent School District students were presented with certificates of completion and honor cords during the South Texas College Prefreshmen Engineering Program (STC-PREP) graduation ceremony held recently at the Mid-Valley campus in Weslaco.

The Texas Prefreshmen Engineering Program (TexPREP) is a state-wide, six-week summer enrichment program for middle and high school students that focuses on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). STC-PREP is offered in partnership with the University of Texas at San Antonio and participating school districts, said Leonardo Castañeda, director of Academies and Career Technical Pathways.

“The curriculum gives students rigorous instruction,” Castañeda said. “It’s designed to be hands-on, chock-full of activities. So, throughout the six weeks of the program, the students are engaged in a number of different projects.”

The STEM-driven curriculum is accredited by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and students can earn one-unit high school elective credits for each program year they complete. Students are introduced to new intensive courses in engineering, physics, algebra and more over the course of four summers, Castañeda said.

“The students choose to be here, and it’s because they have a lot of fun,” Castañeda said. “We have students that have built model homes and miniature rockets. They’ve done egg drops and have built a marshmallow tower. They’ve had a number of different projects that help them better understand the (engineering) concepts that the instructors are providing.”

The keynote speaker at the graduation ceremony was Menton J. “Trey” Murray III, senior vice president of Halff Associates, Inc., an award-winning firm that provides full-service engineering, architecture and other related services across the country.

“Just like you, I come from the (Rio Grande) Valley,” Murray told the students. “And with hard work, with a great education and then maximizing your opportunities, you can accomplish almost anything.”

Murray has been a practicing engineer for 22 years, and Halff Associates has been a part of numerous architectural projects in the region, including the McAllen Performing Arts Center and STC buildings.
“Each of you are only limited by the commitment you are willing to make, and the effort you extend,” Murray said. “And, I’ll say it all starts now. Your path in STEM has already started, but what you choose will chart the course for your life. What you do in the next two years (of high school) will put in place your foundation for college. It all starts now.”

Tania Cano, a junior at Weslaco East High School, said being a part of STC-PREP has strengthened her interest in pursuing engineering as a career. The graduation ceremony was bittersweet, though, as she has spent years bonding with her fellow classmates.

“During the program we got to know each other and have fun, but at the same time we were learning,” Cano said. “We also had field trips, and it was just really enjoyable for all four years.”

However, pandemic restrictions did cause the students to engage in virtual learning last summer, Castañeda said. Which was a new type of challenge.

“I think a lot of students had, at that point, virtual fatigue,” Castañeda said. “However, it really spoke to their commitment, their dedication to completing this program.”

Ashley Solis of Weslaco East High School said while she loved the challenge of the experiments and projects she completed, graduation was her favorite moment because of the sense of accomplishment she felt, knowing she earned those cords. But, she will also miss spending summers with her core group.
“We spent years trying to complete it, and it’s more fun when you celebrate with your friends next to you,” Solis said.

The original Prefreshmen Engineering Program (PREP) was started in 1979 by UTSA mathematics professor Manuel P. Berriozábal. Seven years later, PREP expanded throughout the state of Texas and became known as the Texas Prefreshmen Engineering Program, or TexPREP for short.