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TexPREP Students Tour UTPA Coastal Lab on SPI

Monday, July 29, 2013
By Eladio Jaimez

TexPREP SPILyford High School incoming freshman Sam Rocha is unsure what he wants to study in college. One thing is for sure though; it’s going to involve science or math.

Rocha is one of over 150 students taking part in this summer’s Texas PreFreshman Engineering Program (TexPREP) at Texas State Technical College. The students are eligible for the camp when they enter middle school and can participate for four years. Students must write an essay why they want to take part in the camp and their teachers then recommend the students to be accepted to TexPREP. This year, 69 of those students participating in the camp are from Willacy County.

Rocha is in his third year with TexPREP and on Monday he, along with nearly 20 other third-year students, made their way to the UTPA Coastal Studies Laboratory on South Padre Island for a tour of the lab and a closer look at Marine Biology.

“TexPREP has really helped me focus my attention on science and math,” Rocha said. “It’s given me that extra push I need.”

Students are invited back to participate in TexPREP every year depending on their academic standing at their schools. Students take math and science classes with an emphasis on engineering. All students are bused from their school districts and attend classes from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. over a seven-week period Monday through Thursday. For every year completed, the student gets one high school elective credit.

TexPREP students also take educational field trips, like the recent trek to South Padre Island. The students started off the day with a dolphin watch boat ride where they dredged up and handled sea life from the sea floor, academic advisor John Ortega said.

The group later took part in the dissection of a shark, a small scavenger hunt within the lab and then learned about and handled sea urchins, sea stars and hermit crabs.

“They learned about the importance of these creatures to the ecosystem,” Ortega said.

Lyford incoming freshman Allegra Cantu is leaning toward a career in science and said TexPREP has allowed her to see what college life in general will be like.

“We’ve visited different colleges and I’ve learned a lot about the admissions and scholarships applications process,” Cantu said.

Lasara incoming freshman Shane Kiefer loves engineering but was excited to take part in the dissection of the shark.

“I loved learning how about the shark and how it lives by dissecting it,” Kiefer said.

This year, first-year TexPREP students visited United Launch Alliance in Harlingen. ULA provides launch services for the Department of Defense and NASA. Year-two students took a behind-the-scenes tour of Gladys Porter Zoo and fourth-year students will focus on water science and visit Harlingen Water Works.

Raymondville High School teacherConnie Garcia has been serving as a monitor, or chaperone, for TexPREP students for six summers and has seen the benefits of the math, science and engineering camp first-hand.

“These kids are the cream of the crop,” said Garcia, an 18-year teaching veteran. “These students are picked by their teachers and they sacrifice their summers to be here. And a lot of these kids come from humble backgrounds so for them, this is the first time they take trips like this. They get good exposure and it’s very good for them in the long run.”

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