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Equipping Students for Both College and Career

Last Wednesday I was honored to join CAST STEM Principal Jacque Rodriguez, members of the Southwest ISD Board, Southwest ISD Superintendent Jeanette Ball, along with educators, parents, and importantly, top-ranking seniors from the three Southwest ISD high schools: Southwest High School, Southwest Legacy High School, and CAST STEM High School.


At the dinner honoring the district’s top students, I shared a table with this year’s Valedictorian, Alicia Maribel Lopez, and her family.



Like a significant number of her CAST STEM peers, Alicia will graduate with an associate’s degree from Palo Alto College this May, even before she earns her high school diploma.


Last summer, she had an opportunity to do a hands-on internship at the Toyota Manufacturing Plant, and she fell in love with the work there. Alicia applied for and was accepted to a competitive apprenticeship program, TX FAME, where an employer hires and sponsors students to complete a 2-year training program, while working, so that they will earn a guaranteed wage and a degree at the same time.


Alicia will get a second associate’s degree and plans to continue on subsequently to a bachelor’s degree in math, while continuing to work for Toyota, where graduates of TX FAME can expect to earn salaries between $50-60,000 upon graduation. Alicia is an outstanding high school student, with a love of math, and she invited CAST STEM math teacher Melisa Walters as her special guest. After she completes her second associate’s, while working, she plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, because she loves the subject, but she wants to work while she is in school.


One of the core ideas of CAST Schools is that if we equip students for both college AND careers, and give them information about prospective opportunities, they will make the best decision for their unique circumstances. It is because of CAST’s work with apprenticeships that we were selected as part of the national Catalyze Challenge.


We recognize that many students work through college, and see value in a computer science student, for example, working in quality assurance at an IT firm. Even so, as educators and as parents, we are often conditioned to expect the school’s top student to head to a 4-year-university, possibly a prestigious one. At CAST, we are very proud of our graduates who have gone on to win full-ride scholarships to schools like Rice, Cal Tech, NYU and more. But we are equally proud of those who chart a different course.


The first year of CAST Tech, valedictorian Hezron Perez was a high achiever with a prestigious internship at Plus One Robotics and strong exam scores. Many assumed he would leave San Antonio for college.


Instead, he entered UTSA with a full 1.5 years of college credits, worked half-time at Plus One, graduated in 2.5 years summa cum laude in computer science, and continued to work at Plus One while beginning a master’s degree at UTSA.


We believe in arming young people with all the information they need, equipping them with tools, skills, experiences, and surrounding them with care and support. Letting go of the belief that adults know what is best for young people requires us to shift our mindsets, and yet at CAST, we have seen time and time again, having faith in young people is the very best bet we can place.


Jeanne Russell

Executive Director

CAST Schools

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Copyright © 2021 CAST Schools


The Centers for Applied Science and Technology (CAST) Network is a tax-exempt organization as described in Section 501 (c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Service code. CAST Schools are partnership schools with a focus on STEM careers, project based learning and work-based learning. Key partners include public school districts, higher education institutions, and local employers from target industries.