A few students graduating this fall moved to the head of the class in the University of Houston-Victoria School of Education & Human Development.
Bachelor’s candidates Nikki Garcia of El Campo and Sara Madrazo of Houston will be recognized along with master’s candidate Kisha Smith of Houston at the fall graduation ceremony Saturday.
Every semester, professors from each of the four UHV schools select at least one outstanding graduate from both their bachelor’s and master’s degree programs to be honored during commencement.
“Wow,” said Madrazo, who plans to teach junior high school students. “I thought it was very kind of my professors. I appreciate them thinking so highly of me. I have had wonderful, dedicated professors, and I have learned so much from them.”
Madrazo has worked for 18 years as a paraprofessional at West Memorial Junior High in Katy. While she always dreamed of getting her bachelor’s degree, marriage, family and full-time work always required most of her time.
But once her children were grown, and with the support of her husband, she decided it was time to earn her degree.
But achieving her dream wouldn’t have been possible without the Access to Success program, which provides scholarships, tuition and books to area school district employees who want to become teachers. UHV received an almost $500,000 grant earlier this year from the Greater Texas Foundation to continue funding the program.
“Frankly, I probably wouldn’t have spent the money on myself,” Madrazo said.
It still wasn’t easy earning her degree. She had to find time to work, study and spend time with her nine grandchildren. She offered one bit of advice to her fellow students.
“Don’t feel overwhelmed or scared. Don’t give up. I have found persistence is a better predictor of success than talent,” she said.
Professors praised her determination and character.
“When most other students would have been satisfied that they were giving the professor what they wanted, Sara wanted to truly understand and internalize the procedure or concept,” assistant professor Amy Barnhill said. “To me, Sara loved to learn and savored every moment of it.”
Another professor expressed similar sentiments.
“She helps her classmates whenever they express any learning difficulty. Sara has a very mature and humble attitude. It was a great honor to have her in my class,” assistant professor Hsin-Hui Lin said.
Fellow student Nikki Garcia drew similar praise from her professors and offered some kind words for them as well.
“The professors were great. They were always there and always ready to help,” she said.
Garcia originally planned to go away to a larger school but stayed to take care of her family. In the end, it all worked out for the best, she said. UHV turned out to be a wonderful experience.
For others wanting to find excellence in education, she had one piece of advice.
“I’d say going to UHV is a good start. I had a great experience there,” she said. Garcia plans to teach reading at El Campo Middle School in the spring and eventually wants to come back to UHV for her master’s degree.
“By all accounts, Ms. Garcia was a very diligent and meticulous student who worked very hard to achieve excellence in the classroom,” Dean John Stansell said. “These qualities will make her a wonderful classroom teacher.”
Smith will earn her master’s degree in counseling. While she was unavailable for comment, several professors praised her academic and classroom performance.
“Not only is Kisha Smith an excellent counseling student, she is also an excellent colleague for her fellow students,” professor Mary Natividad said. “She will make valuable contributions to the profession and to the lives of those she counsels and guides toward their own goals.”
Another professor agreed with Natividad’s evaluation.
“I believe she is an outstanding student,” assistant professor Jeffrey Moe said. “She turns in exceptional work that far exceeds the expectations of the assignment. She’s thoughtful. She’s an enthusiastic classroom participant.”
Such students represent the School of Education & Human Development well, Stansell said.
“I have every faith these students will go on to do great things that will continue to bring honor to this institution,” he said.
Graduation will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Leonard E. Merrell Center in Katy. For more information, contact Nancy Gresham in UHV Special Events at 361-570-4351.