Ginger Garza was skeptical about staying close to home for her college education. But upon the advice of her high school chemistry teacher, she applied and was accepted into The University of Texas-Pan American's Cooperative Pharmacy Program (CPP) with The University of Texas at Austin.
This six-year program, which begins and ends at The University of Texas-Pan American, has allowed Garza to combine her passion for serving the community with her strong leadership skills and offered her an affordable way to pay for school.
"The CPP came as a blessing to my family from a financial standpoint," said Garza, who was raised in a single-parent home and earned scholarships to pay for her education.
She also attributes her success to Dr. Lydia Aguilera, the CPP's interim director and clinical assistant professor, as well as other faculty, with challenging her and guiding her through the program.
"I feel my life would have turned out differently without the program to mold my future," she said. "I was given the opportunity to work with faculty who made my success their priority."
Excelencia in Education recently named the CPP as America's top program for increasing achievement for Latino students at the graduate level. UT Pan American was selected from among 165 programs from 22 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, nominated at three academic levels: associate, bachelor, and graduate.
Conceived and run by Excelencia in Education, this is the only national initiative to systematically identify, recognize, and catalogue evidence-based programs that improve Latino college success.
"This award is confirmation that the CPP is fulfilling its mission," Aguilera said. "That mission is to provide opportunities for students from this area to pursue a Doctor of Pharmacy degree and to provide training and retention for proficient pharmacists who understand the language and culture of the largely Hispanic South Texas community. To me, it is confirmation that I am in the right place, doing the right thing."
Currently there are 66 students enrolled in the program, from pre-pharmacy to the fourth-year residency, she said.
To further help her students pay for the cost of college and the Pharmacy College Admissions Test, Aguilera set up two endowed scholarships last year, including the Stepping Stones Endowment-Standing on the Shoulders of Pan Am.
Like Garza, many other students expressed their gratitude to Aguilera and staff in letters to Excelencia.
Daniela Bazan, now a pharmacist at Knapp Medical Center, said the program allowed her to become the first college graduate and break the cycle of poverty in her family.
"Accomplishments like these are not possible without strong support from my family and the faculty at the CPP," Bazan said. "It was the mentorship and guidance from the faculty that inspired me to pay it forward. I am now a part-time faculty member of the CPP mentoring students who share my background."
To download "What Works for Latino Student Success in Higher Education," which includes detailed information about all of the programs recognized today, visit www.EdExcelencia.org.