Local high school students earn associate degrees before high school diploma
“Growing up, we (family) talked about college and the importance of an education. When I was presented with the opportunity of dual credit, although I knew I wouldn’t have a traditional high school experience, I knew that this was the best thing for me and my family.”
This weekend, 171 high school students became college graduates as they earned associate degrees from South Texas College during commencement ceremonies held at the Bert Ogden Arena.
Dual Credit Program students from STC’s 21 partnering school districts from Hidalgo and Starr Counties celebrated the moment with family and friends as they earned college degrees before getting high school diplomas.
One of those students was Kirsten Ambuehl, a senior at Pharr-San Juan-Alamo (PSJA) Memorial Early College High School, who said this milestone has proven to her that despite a life-long illness, she can excel.
The 17-year-old earned an associate degree in Biology and said even after a lung tumor, four lung surgeries and an auto immune disease, she never doubted her ability to reach this point in her life and she wants others to believe in themselves too.
“I’ll be the first to admit, that I’m very lucky,” said Ambuehl. “I have a great family…they’re my support system, always pushing me and motivating me to keep going despite the chronic pain, and at STC I found great mentors. They truly always had my back, and I had their understanding.”
Graduating from STC with a near perfect GPA before even earning a high school diploma was a goal that she had since her freshman year. She has even currently earned the No. 1 spot of her high school class and is in the running for valedictorian.
“I’ll be the first to admit, that I’m very lucky. I have a great family…they’re my support system, always pushing me and motivating me to keep going despite the chronic pain, and at STC I found great mentors. They truly always had my back, and I had their understanding.”
“Being in high school and college at the same time, has been difficult, said the PSJA Memorial varsity cheerleader, Future Farmers of America member and Taekwondo martial artist. “But looking at it through a bigger picture proves that this is what was financially best for my family, especially with my medical care, best for my future and what ultimately has given me confidence in my knowledge and skills.”
The aspiring pediatric pulmonary specialist has already applied to more than 30 universities including Stanford, Harvard, John Hopkins, the University of Pennsylvania, among other Texas universities with top medical programs. She recently completed an interview with Stanford.
“My goals are becoming reality,” said Ambuehl. “And I want others to realize that despite illnesses, challenges and obstacles, everything is possible. You can still succeed and do what’s in your heart. And mine is to become a doctor and give back to my RGV (Rio Grande Valley) community.”
Like Ambuehl, another dual credit student who discovered the program’s benefits is Sebastian Morales, a senior at Achieve Early College High School. He also received an associate degree in Biology and said this was the best decision he could have made.
“Growing up, we (family) talked about college and the importance of an education,” said the 17-year-old. “When I was presented with the opportunity of dual credit, although I knew I wouldn’t have a traditional high school experience, I knew that this was the best thing for me and my family.”
The future marine biologist said dual credit has saved his family thousands of dollars by allowing him to complete the first two years of his college journey and said his school district and STC came to his rescue with working internet.
“I don’t have Wi-Fi at home, so with support from my school district and the resources at STC, I was able to always complete my homework and study,” said Morales. “This got me ahead of most my age and on track to begin a career earlier than others. I’m aiming for financial stability and success…and with STC and dual credit, I’m on the right track.”
He added that with finances being tight, he knew financially, dual credit programs would be a game changer, saving him and his family thousands of dollars in tuition.
With not much schoolwork left on his to-do list, Morales said he hopes to return to STC in the spring to volunteer. He would like help to tutor or mentor other students who have experiences like his.
“I have a path to follow now. I’m applying to colleges early and I have much more confidence in myself as a student and person,” said the honors graduate with a 3.7 GPA. “I want to give back, because I’ve been given the greatest gift of all – a college education and knowledge that no one can ever take away.”
Both graduates agree that they hope their stories serve as inspiration for others.
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, and this is one you don’t want to miss,” said Morales.
“Agreed,” added Ambuehl. “STC helped me see my full ability. I’m still taking everything in, but I’m grateful and I encourage everyone to take advantage of this opportunity.”
For more information on STC’s Dual Credit Programs, visit southtexascollege.edu/dual.