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Ninth Annual Noche De Gala Honors Students, Recognizes Supporters

Saturday, December 7, 2013
By Eladio Jaimez

GalaThere was a point in his young life when Jesse Saldana didn't know in which direction he was headed. It allowed for time to reflect and figure out what and who he wanted to become as he got older.

"I moved around a lot and was working two jobs to pay for college," the 2006 Los Fresnos High School graduate said. "I wasn't happy where I was in life. Then a friend who graduated from TSTC told me to look into coming here. I took his advice and the following semester I was enrolled and registered."

Saldana just completed his fifth semester in the Digital Media and Digital Technology Program and will earn an associate's degree next semester. On Saturday, he was one of the three featured Lozano-Long Promise Scholarship recipients at the Ninth Annual Noche De Gala at Texas State Technical College.

Gala is the biggest scholarship fundraising event of the year and all funds raised are matched dollar-for-dollar by the Long Foundation, a loyal and longtime financial backer of TSTC. The event raised $73,000 for scholarships and in total, the college has raised $100,000 during the fiscal year. The full amount was matched by the Long Foundation.

Saldana, along with Sandra Guerrero and Laura Martinez shared their stories and expressed their gratitude to the donors in attendance.

Martinez recently completed Vocational Nursing program and is currently pursuing her Registered Nursing degree. She spent most of her adult life in the military and credits her husband Arnoldo and sons Isaiah and Josue as her motivation to complete school.

But she was also very appreciative of the effort made by the donors and the Long Foundation to help by providing scholarships for her and other TSTC students.

"I'm grateful for all the assistance given to me and helping me become a better citizen and an asset to the community," Martinez said.

Guerrero, who's originally from Dallas but has been living in Harlingen for five years, already completed one degree. She recently graduated with an Associate's in Business Management Technology. Guerrero is now pursuing an Associate's in Building Construction Science. She hopes to get into the business of flipping (buying, fixing and reselling) residential and commercial property.

"I represent the students that these scholarships benefit," said Guerrero, a mother of three. "The scholarship has enabled me to make a difference in mine and my kids' lives. And when someone reaches out that you don't know to help you, it makes you want to do the same for others."

Director for Institutional Advancement Amy Lynch said Gala brings the donors and scholarship recipients together to celebrate education.

"This event gives the community a way to help our students," Lynch said. "It's a fun event that allows TSTC the opportunity to say thank you to our donors and supporters."

Every year, the committee chooses an honoree that gets recognized for their support of TSTC.

This year's Noche De Gala Honoree was Harlingen business woman Jo Rae Wagner. Wagner owns CTO Incorporated, a commercial plumbing company based in Harlingen, Colletti's Italian Restaurant and the Reese building, where the restaurant is housed.

Wagner was honored for her years of service as an industry partner of TSTC and as an active advocate of both education and the workforce.

"It's very humbling," Wagner said. "I'm following some people that I hold in high regard. My first reaction was that I haven't earned it."

But her resume of contributions and advocacy prove otherwise and Lynch said choosing Wagner was a no-brainer.

"She has done so much for the community through her work on committees and her personal involvement," Lynch said. "Whether it was by means of civic duty, promoting the plumbing industry and ensuring its sustainability through its future workforce, or advocating for education, she has forever changed many lives both directly and indirectly."

From 2003-04, Wagner served as president of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors (PHCC) National Association. She's also served as vice-president and a board member. When Wagner was elected to the board, she became the first woman to sit on the PHCC Board in the 125-year history of the organization.

Currently Wagner is the co-chair of the PHCC Educational Foundation and chairwoman of the Government Relations Committee.

Through her involvement with the PHCC, Wagner has traveled the country and seen firsthand the need of technical workers in the workforce. In the process, she's been a champion for TSTC touting the students, faculty and programs of the college to industry.

"TSTC is such an asset not just to Harlingen but the entire state in general," Wagner said. "They train technicians every day. And I don't see how our workforce would function without TSTC. The college is our future. Some people need to find jobs quickly and TSTC is there for them to earn a certificate or associate's degree. TSTC is dedicated to their education and they do it extremely well."

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