Texas Border Business
By Joey Gomez
MCALLEN, Texas – The South Texas College Providing Academic Support to Students (PASS) Program was established as a program dedicated to helping single parents attend college, but over the years, it has emerged as a major resource for all students looking for a boost into in-demand jobs in the region.
Every semester, PASS assists anywhere between 200 to 500 students who are seeking assistance for child care costs and support services. The program also utilized a lending library which includes instructional supplements like textbooks, e-books and laptops.
“We are all united and we are our students’ biggest advocates,” said Maricela Silva, Ed.D., Career & Technical Education PASS Manager. “To be able to help them with that textbook or whatever it is they need for their class to be successful and to hear their success stories is probably the most rewarding part of this job. We are making a huge impact. We are changing their lives and the lives of their families.”
The PASS Program was created the same year as STC’s founding – 1993. Originally named Project HOPE, it began with the goal of assisting single mothers in completing a postsecondary education by helping them pay for child care.
However, throughout the 1990s and several name changes later, the program grew to accommodate a variety of financial, academic and emotional needs for all students.
The PASS Program is funded by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board through funds awarded from the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V).
It provides support services to Career & Technical Education (CTE) students it designates as “special populations” to assist them in completing their educational goals – this includes individuals with disabilities; students from economically disadvantaged families, low-income youth and adults; English learners; single parents; pregnant women; homeless individuals; students in the foster care system, and youth with a parent in the Armed Forces who is on active duty.
Services with PASS include intensive case management, career and academic advising, child care assistance, instructional materials and enrichment workshops.
STC alumna Terri Pinella is a former PASS recipient. Entering STC in 2007 following a divorce, Pinella said she originally sought to enter the college’s Physical Therapy Assistant program but switched her focus to American Sign Language.
Seeking assistance for books as well as child care, Pinella said she heard about PASS through a friend and stopped by in between classes for more information. The initial meeting was the start of a long relationship with staff who helped her all throughout her education, she said.
“The advisor with PASS who I met that day stayed with me throughout the five years I was in school,” Pinella said. “The advisor told me about child care services and what I needed to do. I had two little ones at the time, and I was taking a full course load ,so I was so overwhelmed, but those in the PASS program stayed with me through it all.”
Now 16 years later, Pinella’s son Sebastian Pinella, recently started STC’s Welding program and is also utilizing PASS services.
“Honestly, any help helps, no matter no matter how much,” said Sebastian. “And the fact that they were even able to help me get these books…they were on top of it, and they knew exactly what I needed. And honestly, the fact that I didn’t have to spend who knows how much money on those books, was a big load off my mind.”
Like Pinella, current PASS advisor at STC’s Mid-Valley campus Deena Espinoza is a former recipient of the program.
Espinoza said she had never been to college until 2016 when, having just lost her job at the time and recently given birth to her youngest child, she enrolled at STC that fall.
“I was 40 years old without any college hours and I knew that I had to do something to show my five children that no matter what, it was never too late to get a college degree,” said Espinoza, who would receive her associate degree in Accounting in the fall of 2018, and then a bachelor’s degree in Organizational Leadership in the fall of 2021.
Espinoza said her daughter, who is currently a student at STC, is also a recipient of PASS.
“I let my daughter know that PASS was there for me, and it will be there to support her as well,” Espinoza said. “In my case, they kept me on track through emails or calls, asking me about my schedule and just following up – they were consistent. That’s something that I am implementing as well, taking the time to reach out to the students I am working with and letting them know that we are here for them. I carry that message forward.”
The application window for PASS for the spring 2024 semester begins Oct. 2. For additional information including eligibility requirements or to apply online visit studentservices.southtexascollege.edu/pass/.