SAN ANTONIO, Texas – PSJA’s Southwest Marketing promoted their innovative work-based learning model at a major career and technical education conference in San Antonio on Thursday and Friday of last week.

The conference was titled CareerTech VISION 2018 and was hosted at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center by the U.S. Department of Education.

Southwest Marketing’s founder Eloy Garza gave two presentations on the group’s work, one on Thursday and one on Friday, alongside its president and team leader Dioselina De La Cruz and parliamentarian and team leader Kassandra Moreno.

De La Cruz was a migrant student who has helped three business partners. She is currently team lead for a project with Rio South Texas Economic Council. Moreno came to PSJA two years ago from Mexico. She is team lead for a project with the Rio Grande Guardian.

Eloy Garza

Two Southwest Marketing alum, Monik Azuara and Carlos Rodriguez spoke at the Friday presentation. Two business partners, Jason Arms, president of FIRST RGV, and Steve Taylor, editor of the Rio Grande Guardian also spoke Thursday. Taylor spoke also at Friday’s presentation, along with another business partner, Matt Ruszczak, executive director of Rio South Texas Economic Council.

PSJA ISD’s CTE department was represented in the audience by its leaders, Griselda Quintanilla and Milly Hernandez.

Albert Palacios, an educational programmer in the Department of Education’s Office of Vocational and Adult Education, had invited Southwest Marketing to present at the conference, having first met Garza at a conference in Michigan.

In his remarks, Palacios made the case for innovative work-based learning models within the framework of Career Technical Education and cited the work of Southwest Marketing as a great example of it.

“The Perkins legislation and Career Technical Education provides for a work-based learning experience,” said Palacios, referring to the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006. 

The legislation was re-authorized through the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, which President Trump signed into law in July.

“I was a CTE student. I had my work-based learning experience in a bank. It was valuable, it helped me go into college and succeed,” Palacios recalled. “I was so far ahead of my classmates because I had the opportunity to be in a work-based learning experience in CTE. It was eye-opening experience for me.”

Palacios said he first met Southwest Marketing’s Garza at conference in Michigan.

“I thought that is a really cool work-based learning model. We understand the difficulty in getting employers engaged to get the work-based learning experience. There are hurdles, various challenges you face in getting an employer on board,” Palacios said.

In addition to founding Southwest Marketing, Garza is marketing instructor at PSJA Southwest Early College High School.

“We are a student-led marketing agency based out of my classroom in our high school. Think of any marketing agency that you could find anywhere in the country. That is what we do. The only difference is my employees, the people that run the agency, are students,” Garza told the audience. “This was developed to give my students real life experience.”

Garza also pointed out that he is a dual-enrollment adjunct marketing instructor at South Texas College. “So, at the same time my students are taking my class, they are taking courses through South Texas College,” he explained.

Garza was previously head of marketing and a corporate account executive for a technical publication based in San Antonio. And he is currently a graduate student at Georgetown University, where he is studying integrated marketing communications. 

“I started taking my master’s specifically so I can learn as much great stuff in Georgetown and then enthuse it into the classroom. So, in reality, my students are getting as Master’s graduate-level education,” Garza said, proudly.

Garza also serves as marketing advisory committee chairman for South Texas College and is a member of the Texas Education Agency’s marketing advisory committee.

He is also a shot put and discus throwing coach at PSJA Southwest Early College High School. “I enthuse a lot of what I do as a coach into the classroom. I do not make them do push-ups but I ensure they are committed and they understand those same core values,” Garza said.

Garza, assisted by De La Cruz and Moreno, explained the work of Southwest Marketing.

“We develop comprehensive marketing solutions for local business to develop a win-win situation,” Garza said. “Businesses get professional work, and they get an opportunity to give back to the community. The students are getting real, professional experience.”

Garza described the work as “problem-based” learning. “You create strong business engagement. It is developed with Capstone in mind. Every senior, in order to graduate distinguished, must have a Capstone under their belt. They apply what they learn, the theory, the skills, the techniques, the best practices in marketing, to that business and that problem.”

Garza looks to find business partners for Southwest Marketing just before the school year starts in August. He said for those educators in the audience that want to start a similar program, a good starting point is the local economic development corporation.

“When I approach a prospective business partner it is all about presenting the value proposition. We say, allow my students to develop comprehensive marketing solutions that add value to your business at no cost, in exchange for the experience.”

Garza said he could only imagine how much further he would have been in his career if something similar to Southwest Marketing had been around when he was in high school.

“Where would you have been today if, at 15 years old, you had the opportunity to conduct business with the CEO or Vice President or director of a multi-million dollar corporation? How would that have changed your trajectory? How would it have improved your learning experience?” Garza asked those in the audience.

Southwest Marketing was started in 2015, Garza said, when he asked his students to go find some local taquerias that needed help with marketing their menus or the design of a logo.

De La Garza said that in addition to her work with Rio South Texas Economic Council (RSTEC), her involvement with Southwest Marketing has included helping the Rio Grande Valley Literacy Center, the UTRGV Robert C. Vackar College of Business, and ERO Architects.

Garza noted that Brian Godinez, of ERO Architects, was so “blown away” by De La Cruz’s talents he asked if she could intern with the company. “These are the sort of opportunities that open up,” Garza said.

The work with RSTEC involves research on how many international businesses are in the community, De La Cruz said.

Moreno said her work with the Rio Grande Guardian and FIRST RGV involves developing a comprehensive marketing plan to see whether or not a student-led news media platform is viable along the South Texas border region. She said the team she leads has set up focus groups to get feedback from parents, teachers and students.

Garza said that in order to ensure full transparency, all correspondence with business partners is conducted through the school email system. 

He said the first two weeks of the school year are important for “culture building,” during which the students develop organizational values and a code of ethics. Now they are experienced, the students hold their weekly production meetings without Garza’s presence.

Garza concluded his remarks by encouraging educators in the audience to give students challenging assignments, like Southwest Marketing does. “Establish the path and get out the way. They will move mountains,” he said.

At the conclusion of Friday’s Southwest Marketing presentation, the Rio Grande Guardian interviewed Rodriguez, one of its alumni. Rodriguez joined the group in his senior year at PSJA. Having turned down the opportunity to work for Spanish La Liga team Celta Vigo as official photographer, Rodriguez is now a marketing consultant for Lewisville-based Water Technology Solutions.

“Southwest Marketing is a great program. It prepare kids for the real business world. I know I am comfortable working with my current clients because of what I learned with Southwest Marketing,” Rodriguez said.

“The program really helps because it allows students to put what they learn in the classroom into practice in a real world setting. Southwest Marketing is a great opportunity for the kids to start learning. It really helped me.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above story shows Ron Whitlock, Kassandra Moreno, Albert Palacios, Dioselina De La Cruz, and Eloy Garza outside the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio.