I am an educator who has uplifted hundreds of students through intensive writing and college lessons. I am an entrepreneur who founded and leads the College Scholarship Leadership Access Program (CSLAP). I am a writer who publishes stories about the Rio Grande Valley and its rich history. I am a scholar pursuing my PhD in English after becoming the first in my family to go to college.
I grew up in a single-parent household. Through many financial hardships, my mother and I persevered by believing there was a brighter future we could work toward. My mother believed the pathway out of poverty was education, so she instilled in me a passion for learning at a young age. Despite being a first-generation college student who struggled during college applications, I worked hard to get accepted into Princeton University on a full-ride financial aid package.
After graduating from Pharr-San Juan-Alamo (PSJA) North High School in 2012 as class valedictorian, I felt a strong desire to give back to my community. I didn’t want to wait until after college to make a difference. After meeting with PSJA ISD administrators, I founded CSLAP in 2013 at age 19. It all began with a group of PSJA alumni who wanted to give back to their schools – all on a volunteer basis.
CSLAP started as several weeks of workshops and seminars on the college admissions process for PSJA students. Each lesson was informed by the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards because I wanted to prove that teaching students how to go to college could be taught in the classroom, not just in the summer.
Every summer, I returned to Pharr to host institutes for high school students. These institutes inspired me to choose teaching as my first job after college, as well as my experiences interning as a teaching assistant at PSJA ISD’s Parent Engagement Program and the Princeton University Preparatory Program. From 2016-2017, I created and taught the University Scholars Enrichment Course, an extension of CSLAP, at PSJA ISD. I designed curricula on college access, critical writing, and service learning for 9th/10th, 11th, and 12th graders.
With 7 years of teaching experience at the high school and college levels, I have now incorporated CSLAP as a 501(c)3 nonprofit to teach college access lessons at Rio Grande Valley high schools and connect students to near-peer mentors. We teach lessons on writing, applying to college, and transitioning to college. We grant scholarships. We create professional opportunities.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and virtual instruction, I stepped up as a public servant for students, families, and educators. Through CSLAP, I taught students at schools in-person and online. I dedicated hundreds of hours to mentoring students on college admissions one-on-one. I fundraised for students’ much-needed technology and school supplies. I sponsored scholarships for our graduates.
Beyond CSLAP, I am committed to advancing educational causes wherever I am. As an undergraduate, I co-founded the Princeton Hidden Minority Council, an award-winning organization servicing first-generation and low-income students. Our advocacy work won us the Martin Luther King Jr. Journey Award in 2016. I also wrote student blogs for the Office of Undergraduate Admission. Telling stories about the first-generation and low-income student experience to prospective students affirmed my purpose as a writer.
At Princeton University, I received the Ward Mathis Short Story Prize for my U.S.-Mexico borderlands fiction. I also co-authored a self-published children’s picture book, Speechless, to empower young Latinos to practice public speaking. I am also the co-author of an upcoming historical memoir tentatively titled, The Course: The Education of Aurelio Manuel Montemayor, from Texas A&M University Press.
A Gates Millennium Scholar, Teach For America Rising Leaders Fellow, and Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow, I have combined my experiences in academic research with hands-on pedagogy. At Princeton, I majored in English with interests in creative writing, literary criticism, and post-secondary education studies. I am currently completing my dissertation for my PhD in English from UCLA, where I received my master’s degree. I will also be earning a Graduate Certificate in Writing Pedagogy with emphases in First-Year Composition and Writing in the Disciplines.
While at UCLA, I taught courses in critical reading and writing, rhetoric and composition, creative writing, and service learning. I was also a member of the Excellence in Pedagogy and Innovative Classrooms initiative, where I enrolled in the “Community Learning” Seminar in Teaching and Excellence and produced instructional materials for the university’s service learning courses. I was also a proud member of and organizer in UAW 2865, where I filed grievances on behalf of the English Department’s academic student employees.
Today, I am expanding CSLAP’s programming to impact even more RGV students, writing more undertold histories of the RGV, and completing my English PhD. I have done all this because I want to make a difference. After the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges of virtual instruction, I want to bring people together. Now, I am running for the SBOE to move us forward together.
Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by educator Thomas R. Garcia. The video was provided by his campaign. Garcia is running for the open District 2 seat on the Texas State Board of Education. Garcia can be reached by email via: [email protected]
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