Students receive GEDs from UTPA High School Equivalency Program
By Javier Espinoza, Intern/Writer
Posted: 05/29/2013
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Yvette Mendoza looks forward to a new beginning in her young life.

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Yvette Mendoza, pictured right, graduated as valedictorian of the High School Equivalency Program at UTPA in May 2013. Mendoza plans to attend college and pursue a degree in nursing.

Along with classmates in the High School Equivalency Program (HEP) at The University of Texas-Pan American, Mendoza graduated May 16 at a ceremony held at the Student Union Theater, where participants received their General Education Development (GED) certificates.

She was happy to have graduated as valedictorian of her class, something she attributes to her personal commitment and hard work, as well as support from the HEP staff and her family.

“It’s been a wonderful experience, but it wasn’t easy. It took work and dedication to receive my GED and the staff at HEP made it very welcoming for my classmates and me,” said Mendoza. “I am very blessed with this opportunity and, most importantly, for the support and patience from my family during this process.”

A mother of four, Mendoza decided to return to school to finish what she put on hold more than 16 years ago, for herself and her children. She has aspirations of one day becoming a registered nurse.

“My children are the main reason I enrolled in HEP and I hope that I am setting a good example for them to follow,” said Mendoza. “I have applied to South Texas College where I hope to start in the fall and major in nursing. I was inspired by a relative who works as a registered nurse for McAllen Medical Center and I want to follow in her footsteps.”

The goal of HEP is to help students enhance their life skills and knowledge while earning their GED so they may qualify for more rewarding employment or for entry into vocational or technical schools, two-year community colleges, four-year universities or military service.

This year HEP is celebrating its 40th anniversary at UTPA. Jaime D. Garza, student development specialist and recruiter for HEP, said the program began as a means for migrant farm workers wishing to obtain their GED to pursue higher education.

“HEP began in an effort to help migrant farm workers because of their working and living situations,” said Garza. “In the past 40 years we’ve served thousands of students, helping them achieve their dreams, whether it be to pursue a professional degree or simply to help them help their children with their studies.”

Mario Reyna, dean of the Division of Business and Technology at South Texas College, is a former migrant worker and a 1973 graduate of HEP.

Upon graduating from the program, Reyna served 20 years in the United States Air Force. During this time he worked on and received a bachelor’s degree in business management in 1981 from The University of La Verne and a master’s degree in public administration 1992 from Webster University through college extension programs at the air force bases where he was stationed.

“My education and career began with HEP at UTPA,” said Reyna. “Everything I experienced was a building block process – first through HEP and then through the Air Force. Both of these experiences helped me grow as an individual and professional.”

Reyna also credits the support of the HEP staff for his success and for teaching him valuable lessons in discipline and purpose.

“Regardless of your situation, you must have a disciplined lifestyle to accomplish what you want to do with your life. You must have a purpose and the discipline to carry out that purpose,” Reyna said.

Reyna sees HEP as a transformative program and a resource for the community.

“There are many people like myself who are enjoying a great life because HEP was there to guide them the right way. My hope is that they continue reaching out to the migrant community and to help them as much as they helped me.”

HEP is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Migrant Education. People interested in participating with the program must meet certain eligibility requirements that can be found at

Classes are offered daily from 8:10 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Classes and exams are conducted in English and applicants must be proficient enough in the language to pass the entrance exam and participate in activities.

The current version of the GED test, known as the 2002 Series GED Test, will be replaced with the new 2014 GED version on Jan. 2, 2014. Those who have taken the current test, but have not successfully completed the passing score requirements, have until the end of 2013 to pass or will have to start over again in 2014 with the new GED test.

Individuals who have previously taken GED exams who want to continue may visit or text GED to 58124. For more information on HEP at UTPA, contact Garza at (956) 665-2521. Information is also available online at