“I made some bad choices while I was in my senior year in high school. It wasn’t peer pressure. It’s all on me,” explained Heriberto Aviles. “Thankfully though, I was only out of high school for half a year.”
Then he got a call from his Gear Up counselor.
“Even after I dropped out he was always calling me and trying to get me to come back. He didn’t give up on me. He called to tell me about the Gateway to College Program at South Texas College and that’s when it all started,” he explained. “When I heard about the program, I thought it was another opportunity for me to get things back on track.”
At just 19 years old and a few hours shy of earning his high school diploma, he finally saw a light at the end of the tunnel.
“The problem was that I let myself get distracted, and I think it happens to a lot of students,” Aviles said. “College was never a big thing for my friends, but I had thought about it. Coming to STC’s Gateway Program was a fresh start. I wanted to come back and get into a career. The environment here is a lot better. The distractions were removed. I felt like an adult and I felt responsible for myself.”
STC’s Gateway to College Program is targeted at young adults aged 16 to 21 who have dropped out of high school or are significantly behind in credits and unlikely to graduate. It is a free program that enables participants to earn their high school diploma requirements while simultaneously earning college credit toward an associate degree or certificate. Classes are taken at STC’s Technology Campus in McAllen.
“I don’t think if it were run at the high school I would have made it,” Aviles said of the program’s environment. “On a daily basis it was a great experience. I came to the campus and it was better than a high school routine. You get space and opportunity to study during your free time. There are computers to use. Everything was self-paced and I wasn’t stuck in a classroom all day. I was able to get through my studies quickly and that was motivating. This program was a second chance. It gave me the motivation to finish.”
From August to December of 2011 he made up six credits including U.S. history, physics and pre-calculus and is now a Veteran’s Memorial High School Graduate, having officially been granted his high school diploma in May 2012.
“In high school I was a decent student, but my performance through the program was better because I am motivated now; I just don’t think I was mature enough and that’s why I dropped out,” he said. “The program staff helped me transition out of the program and enroll at STC. Now I am in the college’s Automotive Technology Program.”
Aviles feels he has set a good example for his friends that didn’t choose to finish high school.
“My friends that didn’t go to college, or even finish high school, are proud and motivating me to continue on. And a couple of them are asking about the Gateway Program and they see me in college. It might get them back on track too,” he said. “The program is very important in changing lives in the community. It gives students the chance to get their lives straight and make something of themselves.
“I don’t even know where I would be without going through the program. I probably would have been just sitting at home,” he continued. “It’s never too late. Opportunities are there for you, you just have to be willing to do the work. It has to come from you, the motivation. When I took my last test and I passed it, I felt happy and relieved. It was a good feeling. And the program did help my transition into college. I am focused, patient and willing to work. I am doing something I really like now and that’s the opportunity college gives you – to do something you really like.”
And he feels his future, which was once uncertain is now very bright and full of opportunity.
“I am a full-time college student now and I plan to earn my certificate and then eventually get my associate’s degree. It will give me good earning potential,” he said. “In the future I want to do custom automotive work and I would also like to take business courses so I can open my own shop. I also plan to travel, but I want to work here in the long-term and give back to my community because it gave me a better chance for the future. Even when you think you can’t do something, you can. You can accomplish what you want if you are willing.”
For additional information about STC’s Gateway to College Program visit www.stcgateway.info, or call 956-872-6169 or 956-872-6301.