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Successful alumni encourage current students to persevere

By Armando R. Padilla | Pulse Staff Reporter

Acquiring a college degree may be the beginning of a prosperous career. Attaining a degree is a journey taken by those who have stepped forward and made up their minds that nothing is going to stop them.

Here are some methods, principles and ways that helped some of Palo Alto’s most successful students achieve their dreams.

Alumni AqueroKristabel Aguero started her core courses at PAC in 1997. She is now attending the University of Texas at San Antonio’s 1604 campus to work on her master’s degree. She is presently working as a student’s success coach, a Science tutor, at PAC.

While teaching one semester at Dilley High School in Dilley, Texas, she learned that she would rather teach at the college level.  Aguero’s parents were very supportive and were very helpful with her son.

Transportation was a large issue. At times, she borrowed her grandmother’s Nova. She worked full-time job as a manager at Ingram Park Mall and South Park Mall, and had to manage her courses around her work schedule.

“As your workload increases, there will be more on you. It’s a matter of adjusting, getting used to it.  It’s not a deterrent, just a challenge,” Aguero said.

Ed Gildemeister, Science skills specialist at PAC, said, “Her future is upward and spiraling, and she’s going to have a very successful career.”

Aguero recommended that student use the free tutoring centers on campus.

Alumni GarciaMichael A. Garcia received an associate’s degree in Applied Science, Horticulture and Landscape. Garcia is the Horticulture supervisor at the San Antonio Zoological Society. He is on the PAC Horticulture Advisory Committee and has been employed at the San Antonio Zoo since 1985.

Garcia applied his gardening-enhanced skills acquired through the school of hard knocks and gained knowledge that only benefited his journey through PAC’s Horticulture program. The zoo’s landscape and gardens are Garcia’s pride and joy. Every plant has its season, and Garcia’s manicured gardens will captivate your mind and eyes.

“I didn’t know PAC had a Horticulture program. I knew the material -- put the books together in the four or five years I was there,” said Garcia.

Garcia was determined and ambitious, and he knew he could do it. The zoo worked with him by making his schedule more flexible. His advice is to study hard and find out what you want to do. Horticulture opportunities are plentiful, and there are a lot of contractors looking for knowledgeable people.

Supervising six gardeners and one greenhouse technician, Garcia oversees the zoo’s landscaping: lawn areas, flowerbeds, perennials, shrubs and trees. He makes sure the zoo is presentable to the public.

“Some people wake up dreading going to work. I wake up ready to go first thing in the morning. It’s hard to explain,” said Garcia.

Alumni ValdezAndrew Valdez, is senior multimedia specialist and Public Relations officer for Palo Alto College. He started his core courses in Digital Arts at PAC before transferring to Texas State University at San Marcos, where he received his bachelor’s degree. TSU has more than 30,000 students.

Presently, Valdez is working on his master’s at the University of the Incarnate Word.

His advice to students is “to develop good study habits, always be present, be disciplined and manage your time. Don’t give up. Eventually you’ll finish.”

He represents himself as a role model to his two brothers at home and to students at school. Encouragement from home he received was, “Go to school. Don’t wind up like us."

In terms of gratification, Valdez likes to finish what he starts.

“It takes time to complete college,” said Valdez. “You’re down to three years, two, one. And then you’re one of them, the ‘I did it.’ The results will be more confidence and accomplishments, and you can serve as an example."

Alumni CastilloElizabeth “Libby” Castillo is the marketing coordinator of the San Antonio Zoo. Castillo started at Palo Alto College in 1997. Not really knowing what she wanted to do led to a journey to Philadelphia. Reviewing some of her friend’s classes introduced her to the world of public relations, which she liked.

Her father always said, “Find something you like, and you’ll never get tired of it.”

Set a goal and stick to it, Castillo said. Never lose sight of your goal. Get your degree, and be the first in your family to graduate.

Castillo’s parents were a huge influence. She said to surround yourself with people who support you. Working full time meant being a part-time student and sometimes full.

“Take only what you can handle,” Castillo said. “Don’t be afraid to take chances. Opportunities led me to a much greater path.”

Castillo travelled to Spain and France in 2004 with Palo Alto College. “Don’t sell yourself short,” she said.

Dr. Theresa Howell Williams, MD, is a staff psychiatrist at BAMC. She enjoys working with the Wounded Warriors Project.

After having a son, a stroke, and struggles with memory loss, Williams started at  PAC in 1993. With two children, a recent divorce and her fragile state of health, she was very ambivalent about attending school at 27 years old.

Williams recommends that short-term, medium-term and long-terms goals be set. You have to believe in yourself. Be persistent. At times, you may have to convince people not what you say you can do but through your actions.

“Having a supportive circle helps. Some people don’t discourage, but they don’t encourage. When you give up your studies, welcome to the rest of your life. Acquiring a degree gives you options,” said Williams.

“Community college is the smartest path to take. It’s more efficient. The classes are smaller, and the instructors have office hours. Learn the basics and build a solid foundation. Work hard. The pace is slower and the teachers care. You are your own manager,” said Williams.

Williams considers family first. “My job was to be a Mom. Pick up the children. Every day I had homework. If I didn’t do it?  No one was going to do it for me. Always keep in mind what makes you happy.”