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TSTC, TAMUK and USDA Partnership Paying Dividends for Local Ag Students

Friday, March 1, 2013
By Eladio Jaimez

Left to right: Alfonso Sandoval(student), David Coy (student), Lazaro Bazaldua(student) Armando Duarte (Dept. Chair Agriculture Dept. TSTC, Lupita Gracia (USDA APHIS Supervisor), Cesar Canales(student)Agriculture Technology Chairperson Armando Duarte has been around long enough to see many great people come through one of the oldest programs at Texas State Technical College.

Around since 1972, the program was the first on campus to partner with a four-year university creating a relationship with Texas A&M-Kingsville. TSTC’s Ag Department has also partnered with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help current students work in related fields once out of school.

On March 1, Duarte celebrated 17 years at TSTC and with the ag tech program. He’s seen many positives in his years at TSTC but the Step Up Program, initiated two years ago, has been one of the best and most beneficial.

The Step Up Program is a collaboration between the USDA, TAMUK and TSTC. The program provides assistance for students in the Agriculture Program in the form of scholarships and/or paid internships with USDA agencies. Step Up allocates funds to cover travel and stipends for internships.

“There’s a lot of competition for jobs right now,” Duarte said. “it’s hard and a lot of professional industries like the USDA prefer a bachelor’s over an associates degree. The USDA has a lot of branches in which our students can go out and get hired. It’s a positive all around.”

Students in the program are required to maintain a strong grade point average, graduate with an Associates of Applied Science degree in Agriculture Technology and commit to transfer to TAMUK for completion of the Bachelor’s of Science in Agriculture.

The students in the program can receive funding for up to two years through this grant with the emphasis on an ultimate transfer to TAMUK. TSTC provides scholarships for a minimum of nine students each year.

 “Our relationship has been getting stronger and stronger,” Duarte said of TAMUK. “Of the students that graduate here with an associates degree, 85 percent go on to pursue their bachelors in ag science from Kingsville. And most of them are out of there in one and a half years.”

Duarte said the USDA has been a wonderful partner for TSTC as well. Current TSTC students serve internships with the USDA’s APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) office here in Harlingen.

“It’s close to campus and it’s convenient,” Duarte said. “They can go to work on their internship and come back to classes here. When they finish their associates, they move on to TAMUK and maintain their scholarships. And when they graduate, well hopefully they’ll get in with the USDA.”

The Step Up Program is exclusively for students in the Agricultural Technology program at TSTC Harlingen. This is the second year of the program.  As of this semester, there are eight students in the pipeline.  Four of those have already transferred to TAMUK, and the other four are completing requirements for transfer at TSTC.

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