UTPA's HEP graduates on the road to a brighter future
By Gail Fagan, Public Affairs Representative
(956) 665-7995
Posted: 06/08/2011
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May 26 was a special day for Jose Espiricueta and his son Fernando - a day that brought excitement and hope not only for their future but for future generations of the Espiricueta family.

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Pictured at the recent HEP graduation ceremony are Jose Espiricueta (left) and his son Fernando Espiricueta, both of whom received their GED certificates upon successful completion of UTPA's HEP, a free, federally funded program that assists eligible migrant and seasonal farmworkers to obtain their GED certification.
On that day, Jose, age 52, and 31-year-old Fernando, both longtime seasonal farm workers and high school drop outs, donned cap and gown to receive their General Educational Development (GED) certificates as graduates from The University of Texas-Pan American's High School Equivalency Program (HEP).

"I felt after providing for my family and doing hard labor it was time to change my life around and do something for myself. My son had dropped out of school to get married and we worked together for many years doing harvest and hauling produce all over the country. I felt if we came in here together we could motivate each other and make it a little bit easier for both of us. It's never too late," Jose said.

Fernando said he was excited to accomplish this milestone with his father and how it might inspire his children.

"Now that my kids are seeing this they are excited about graduating from school and seeing that we are at a college," he said.

The Espiricuetas were among 70 people who graduated from 2010-2011 HEP program offered at the University. Initiated in 1967 by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Migrant Education, HEP is a free, federally funded program that assists migrant and seasonal farm workers, ranchers, fishers and others working in agriculturally-related activities, and their eligible family members, to earn their GED certificate. Since its inception in 1972 at UTPA, more than 3,200 people have graduated from the program.

HEP Director Erik Toren said HEP at UTPA is funded to serve 125 students per year. HEP's goal, he said, is to help students enhance their survival skills and knowledge so that they can qualify for more rewarding employment or entry into vocational or technical schools, two-year community colleges, four-year universities or the military services. Participants who meet the eligibility and admission requirements undergo academic instruction focusing on five subjects.

"We have two teachers and tutors at the computer lab to train in the five sections of the GED—science, social studies, reading, writing and math—and after that we have cultural tours and preparation for college or university, particularly promoting The University of Texas-Pan American as an option for furthering their education and career," Toren said.

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Erik Toren (right), HEP director, congratulates HEP valedictorian Miguel A. Estrada, who graduated May 26 with his GED certification and now plans to attend college.
After six weeks, students are tested and can receive their GED certificate if they pass. If they fail, they will have another six weeks of instruction to prepare for the next round of tests.

"Our program staffers will continue to work closely with the students to help them achieve their goal," he said.

Jose said HEP is an excellent program for people who had to leave the Valley to go to work in the fields and do other types of hard labor.

"This is a great opportunity to come back and try to get an education and move forward and change your lifestyle," said Jose, who plans to go on to college and enter the medical field, perhaps as a surgical technician.

Jose, a father of five, said he's also in a better position to encourage his 16 grandchildren to graduate from high school and go to college.

"I felt if I did not have this diploma it was going to be thrown in my face that I didn't have a diploma and they were going to say 'Grandpa, you didn't have one,'" he said. "But now, with it, I can emphasize the fact that, hey, it doesn't have to be done late in life, it can be done early in your life. I want to pursue a college education so I can continue to be an example to my grandkids and be able to stand up and say you have to do it."

HEP is one of eight programs overseen by the Department of College Access and Support Programs that assist students in preparing for higher education or provide support during their first year of college. Other CASP programs include the College Assistance Migrant Program, Educational Talent Search, Texas Pre-freshman Engineering Program, Upward Bound Program, Upward Bound Math & Science, Valley Outreach Center, and Migrant Student Success Office.

To learn more about HEP, go to the HEP website or call (956) 665-2521.