Rediscovering her ambition
Student of the Week: Sandra C. Gutierrez
“STC gave me back my ambition,. I'm able to set goals and get them done. It's given me hope and a future along with an education. It’s given me a sense that I’m somebody."
For Sandra C. Gutierrez, re-enrolling at South Texas College after nearly two decades was a way for her to reclaim her ambition.
Gutierrez, 37, said she initially entered STC’s Culinary Arts program after she graduated from high school. But, Gutierrez was two classes shy from earning her associate degree when she realized it wasn’t the right career choice for her. She then settled into married life and became a mother to three children.
After experiencing a difficult moment in her personal life, Gutierrez knew she wanted to return to school.
"The spring after I went through a divorce, I picked up the phone and I called the college,” Gutierrez said. “While I was going through one of the most challenging times of my life, I called STC. I knew this would be my only hope to get ahead in life. No one can take away my degree.”
As Gutierrez’s academic journey continued, she explored career options, like business administration due to her work experience in leadership and management positions, but soon realized her future was in the educational field.
“I’ve always been a teacher in some capacity, I just didn't really pick up on it,” Gutierrez said. “I’ve always worked at schools and everyone around me, my best friends and mentors, have all been teachers. I just thought, ‘Wow, that's the awesome realization. I've gained all this knowledge and experience and it’s led me to teaching.’”
Gutierrez is expecting to earn her associate degree in Education from STC by December 2023. She then intends to enroll at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley to pursue a bachelor’s degree, also in education. Gutierrez said she intends to teach secondary education at a local middle school or high school.
“I just have a heart for youth,” Gutierrez said. “I even want to be a youth teacher at my church. My ultimate goal is to become a vice principal or maybe even a principal, one day.”
Gutierrez said she has a natural instinct to help people, and even takes notes for fellow STC classmates who need assistance.
“There was a veteran in my class who had suffered from hearing damage, so I helped write notes for him every day,” she said. “I’m also a mom, so I’m always super involved with my kids and their academics. I guess it’s just who I am; it’s how I was raised. I see myself helping classmates, and think, ‘I need to be a teacher.’”
From exploring the new campus facilities to watching high school students being shuttled to their Dual Credit classes, Gutierrez said she has enjoyed reconnecting with the Mid-Valley campus.
“It's amazing at STC,” said the Mercedes native. “Especially seeing how everything has changed through the years. I'm really proud of this school and it’s right here at your fingertips. I don’t have to leave the (Rio Grande) Valley to earn a quality education, and I want to see this campus grow even more.”
And while returning to college after years away was intimidating, Gutierrez’s commitment to achieving her goal was larger than her fear.
"Thankfully, my dad and older sister also encouraged me to return,” Gutierrez said. “My sister went back to school and became a nurse. She told me, ‘Make something of yourself to be proud of and to sustain yourself with.’ Seeing how many hours I’d already completed and how little I had remaining, I felt a sense of urgency. I've never felt this inspired.”
Gutierrez now encourages other non-traditional students to follow their dreams of earning a degree.
“STC gave me back my ambition,” Gutierrez said. “I'm able to set goals and get them done. It's given me hope and a future along with an education. It’s given me a sense that I’m somebody. Don’t ever feel like you have to stay stuck, you’re not stuck.”
Gutierrez is especially proud to be setting an example for her children.
“When my 10-year-old daughter sees that I’m doing my homework, she works on hers too," she said. “I’m studying science and she’s learning it in her elementary school, so we sit together and help each other."
Gutierrez said while she’s looking forward to her graduation ceremony, she’s focused on completing her ultimate goal of earning her teaching certification.
“I put in the time and used all the tools that were given to me,” Gutierrez said. “I can’t imagine what I would’ve done if STC wasn’t here. I'm going to look back one day and be able to share this story with my high school students, or maybe even as an instructor here. I love this college and I love the Mid-Valley campus.”