High school students Dennis Luna and Rene Mendoza, both from Edinburg, Texas, were named "Students of the Year" on Monday, April 11, by the Migrant Student Graduation Enhancement Program at The University of Texas at Austin.
Each student received a $2,000 college scholarship funded by a gift from the ExxonMobil Foundation. The Migrant Students of the Year were selected on the basis of obstacles overcome, overall academic achievements, participation and leadership in extracurricular activities, and their performance in distance learning courses offered by the university's Migrant Student Program.
Luna and Mendoza were among 40 migrant students honored at the Texas Union Ballroom for their exemplary achievements during the university's annual Exemplary Migrant Student Recognition Ceremony. The event was attended by about 300 guests, including migrant students from 19 Texas school districts. More than 1,900 Texas migrant students are completing their high school graduation requirements this year through the program, which is administered by the K16 Education Center within Continuing and Innovative Education at the university.
"The K-16 Education Center is proud to recognize these dedicated students for their outstanding contributions to their schools and communities," said Gisela Greco-Llamas, director of the K-16 Education Center. "Another important purpose of our annual ceremony is to bring promising students to a university campus where we can provide them with the opportunity to envision themselves as college students and encourage them to continue their educational pursuits beyond high school. It is inspiring to work with students who are so motivated to do what it takes to achieve their dreams."
Luna, a senior at Johnny G. Economedes High School in Edinburg, Texas, regularly migrates to Fairview, Mont., where he works cleaning sugar beets and peanut fields. Seeing his older brothers and his parents struggle without an education gave Luna the focus he needed to succeed in high school and pursue his goal of going to college. When Luna found out that he needed a science course in order to graduate under the Distinguished Achievement Plan, he earned that credit via an online physics course from the university's Migrant Student Program. He also completed the courses Business Computer Information Systems and Health Education through the Migrant Student Program.
A senior, he plays varsity football and is a member of the Sky's the Limit Migrant Club. He is also a member of the Pre-law Club and the Debate Club. This spring Luna will become the first member of his family to graduate from high school. He is optimistic about his future in college, and is contemplating going to law school to become a corporate lawyer.
Mendoza was born in McAllen, Texas, and migrates with his parents and three brothers to Minnesota and Missouri where he works in the sugar beet fields. This work experience has made Mendoza realize the importance of school. Despite the school interruptions he has experienced from attending high school in both Texas and Missouri, Mendoza has excelled with his studies. He has a 3.9 grade-point average and ranks in the top 4 percent of his class. Mendoza has earned numerous credits in concurrent enrollment courses from The University of Texas-Pan American and South Texas College.
Mendoza is also active in extracurricular and community activities. Throughout high school, he played football and ran track and cross country. As an active member of numerous school organizations, including the Science Club and the National Technical Honor Society, he has volunteered more than 100 hours of community service. After Mendoza graduates under the Distinguished Achievement Plan this spring, he plans to attend The University of Texas at Austin and major in biomedical engineering. He aspires to earn a master's degree and a doctoral degree in this field.
Scholarships were also awarded to Dulce Loera of Johnny G. Economedes High School in Edinburg, Texas, and Esmeralda Perez of Eagle Pass High School, in Eagle Pass, Texas, as the Exemplary Migrant Students who received the highest ranking from the scholarship selection committee. Hugo Sanchez of Donna High School in Donna, Texas, also received a scholarship as the recipient of the Migrant Program's Creative Award. All five scholarships were provided by a gift from the ExxonMobil Foundation, which has provided annual scholarships to the program since 2002.
Texas has the second-largest migrant education program and the largest interstate migrant student population in the nation. Students and their families migrate annually from Texas to 47 other states to work in agricultural and other seasonal jobs.
Since it began more than two decades ago, the Migrant Student Graduation Enhancement Program has enrolled more than 25,000 students in its mission to increase the graduation rate of high school migrant students in Texas. With funding from the Texas Education Agency and gifts from the ExxonMobil Foundation and the John G. and Marie Stella Kenedy Memorial Foundation, the program helps Texas migrant students earn high school credits through distance learning courses that meet Texas curriculum requirements.