San Jac Certified
Meet Connie, Roy, and Troy
An educator, aspiring doctor, and future Secretary of State
and San Jac Certified
San Jacinto College is not just a school for Connie, Roy, and Troy Williams. It’s a family affair. Connie and her two sons not only started their higher education at San Jacinto College, they also found paths to better lives at the College and became San Jac Certified.
Connie Williams grew up in Robeline, a small town in northwestern Louisiana. She first visited San Jacinto College in 1997, 24 years after she finished the 10th grade, which is as far as she advanced in high school.
“I felt something special the moment I first stepped on the campus,” she recalled. “As a country girl from a small town, I was sort of overwhelmed, but everyone was helpful and nice. I sensed possibilities that I never knew existed. I had fears because I never finished high school and I was a single parent, yet I decided to enroll at the College. Counselors talked about opportunities available for a better life through education. They believed in me.They told me I could do it.”
She had struggled for years, working mostly minimum wage jobs, and she began to see that college could lead to a better future so her two sons would not have to go through the hardships she had experienced.
After earning 60 hours of credit in 2004 as an English major, Connie transferred from San Jacinto College to Our Lady of the Lake University. During that time, she applied for a custodial job at an elementary school, but quickly learned she could qualify for a better paying job as a substitute teacher, thanks to the college credit she had earned at San Jacinto College.
Taking the teaching job was a turning point in her life. She had a natural knack for teaching, and began to gain confidence in her academic abilities. For the first time, higher education began to pay off in practical benefits.
Connie went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Biblical counseling in 2007 from the College of Biblical Studies. In 2009 she began work as a fourth-grade teacher in Sheldon Independent School District, and has since come full circle back to the place where her search for opportunity began. Connie now works as a financial aid advisor at San Jacinto College, a job offer she did not have to think long about. “I can’t wait to help others attend college so they can have better careers and better lives.”
Following in their mother’s footsteps Throughout childhood, Connie’s sons, Roy and Troy, watched their mother make sacrifices and diligently apply herself as a single parent and college student. In due time, they followed her good example.
Roy, 22, earned an associate degree in math from San Jacinto College in 2010. He transferred to the University of Houston, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematical biology in May 2013. During that summer, he completed an internship in bioinformatics at Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine. He now attends the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, in pursuit of a master’s degree in public health, with a concentration in biostatistics. Through a graduate assistant position, Roy will receive a stipend that will pay for tuition. His ultimate career goal is to become a medical doctor.
Like his mother, Roy is pursing higher education to have a better life, and to help others improve their lives. “The health care field has tremendous socio-economic impact,” he commented. “My hope is to one day provide important health care services to people who are underserved. That’s where the greatest need is.”
Troy, 21, took a slightly different route in higher education. He graduated with a 3.69 GPA and an associate degree from San Jacinto College as an 18-year-old Modified Early College Academy (MECA) dual credit student, taking high school and college courses concurrently. He also happened to be salutatorian at C.E. King High School, a Texas Scholar, and a National Honor Society graduate with a 4.72 GPA (5.0 scale).
Brimming with optimism and determination, Troy has admittedly lofty career goals. He hopes to enter government service in Texas, and ultimately become Secretary of State of the United States. To prepare, he moved to Washington D.C., to attend the renowned Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service, focusing on science, technology, and international affairs. After earning a bachelor’s degree in international politics, Troy plans to pursue a master’s degree and a doctorate in international relations through an accelerated program at Georgetown.
Troy also wants to follow in his mother’s footsteps, and is pursing higher education to help others. “By involvement in the political system, there’s the possibility of making great positive change on the local, state, and national level,” he commented.
To Roy and Troy, their mother is a hero.
“She is the reason we are where we are today,” said Troy.
“She taught me to always strive for an attitude of excellence, to never be a quitter regardless of the difficulties,” commented Roy.
In her sons, Connie Williams sees the face of a brighter future. “I sacrificed for my sons because I want them to have a better life, and to make better choices than I did,” she said. “I think they are doing well. I am so proud of Roy and Troy.”
Mother of Two
Future Nurse Practitioner
and becoming San Jac Certified
For many, the choice of working in health care starts with a personal experience.
When Alejandra Lopez’s father died of pancreatic cancer three years ago, it was then that the mother of two realized how she wanted to do more to help others through life’s most difficult times.
“At the time, we had hospice care come into our home, and I just felt that it was my calling to become a nurse,” said Lopez, who had spent the last 10 years working in medical assisting. “I felt compelled to care for other patients who are going through similar experiences.”
With a clear goal in mind, Lopez set out to change her career. After gathering advice from friends and researching colleges in the Houston area, Lopez chose San Jacinto College. “I decided on San Jacinto College because the students come out of here professional nurses,” said Lopez. “They are known for their ethics and professionalism.”
However, with no prior college experience other than technical training for medical assisting, Lopez’s COMPASS scores placed her first in college prep math. Instead of considering this as a discouragement, Lopez embraced it as a step toward preparing for the competitive nursing program.
“My college prep math course taught me how to basically remember things that I had not used in years,” said Lopez. “I was able to get through it perfectly fine and apply the concepts to my college level math course, where I made an A.”
She, like all incoming freshmen, also completed a San Jacinto College student success (GUST) course, designed to teach students how to navigate college, research, and how to form support systems and networks. The College developed the course to improve retention rates.
“My GUST course has been the most beneficial class to date,” said Lopez. “It was a phenomenal course that gave me a lot of tips for college, how to enjoy my school, and how to set and accomplish my goals. It is extremely important for students who want to come back to school.”
Carolyn Poole, GUST coordinator and department chair of college preparatory, said Lopez “took everything she learned in the student success course to heart.”
“Ally really stands out to me because she was extremely nervous coming back to school after being out for a while,” said Poole. “It warms my heart to know that she is ‘on course’ to reach her dream and to make a better life for her family.”
Lopez was accepted into the San Jacinto College nursing program with a 4.0 GPA, and even though she no longer needs to take a student success course, she carries over the lessons learned.
“I still implement everything that Ms. Poole taught me now,” said Lopez. “Everything has to be about the goals you want for yourself. My perseverance is what got me here into the nursing program.”
Once Lopez completes her program at San Jacinto College, she will transfer to a university for a bachelor’s degree in nursing. She hopes to one-day work as a nurse practitioner.
Disappointment can be a harsh setback for many, but for some, it becomes a huge motivator. For San Jacinto College student Corinne Miller, it is just the beginning of a successful new life chapter.
“To tell you the truth, I really did not want to come to San Jacinto College,” said the 21-year-old dance student. “I wanted to go straight to a university when I finished high school. However, once all of the doors for the universities closed, I decided to look into enrolling at San Jacinto College. After I visited the dance director and looked into joining the Honors Program, I decided to give it a shot.”
In Fall 2011, Miller began her first semester at the College. Having been home-schooled through high school, and still hesitant about her decision, she began the semester with an open mind. What started out as a secondary option has since become one of the best choices she made for her future. “Now I can say that I am very grateful that I became a student here, and many doors have been opened for me,” said Miller.
One of the first involved her love for dance. That December, San Jacinto College dance students were invited to perform at the WestFest Dance Festival in New York City. Having been a dancer for 14 years, this was an incredible opportunity to showcase her talent. The following Spring she was awarded the San Jacinto College Dance Scholarship, San Jac Stars Fund Scholarship, and Honors Program Scholarship. In July, Miller also received the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce Cultural Arts Scholarship.
The San Jacinto College Honors program would also lead to several surprises as well. Miller admits to struggling with writing. Applying for scholarships almost always involves writing essays, which she dreaded. After being in the Honors program, Miller says her writing greatly improved, which was beneficial for all of her courses. “In high school I was a terrible writer. Three years ago, if someone told me that I would get a scholarship for writing a paper, I would have laughed. However, since I’ve been in the San Jacinto College Honors program, I have definitely gained more confidence in my writing abilities,” she said.
Last Spring, Miller’s writing was also noticed by members of the Great Plains Honors Conference and the East Texas Historical Association. Miller wrote a research paper on Lauren Anderson, the first female African American ballet dancer to be promoted to principal dancer in a major American company, the Houston Ballet. Miller’s writing on her in-depth, personal interview with Anderson earned her invitations to present her paper at both conferences, an opportunity few students receive.
Miller will graduate in May and plans to transfer to the University of Houston, hoping to be accepted into the entrepreneurship program. She currently runs a children’s princess party business where some of the activities include dancing. While she plans to grow her party business, she also wants to open a non-profit dance school one day. “The choreography class gave me a chance to teach my dance pieces to my classmates, which helped me become a better dance teacher. The business classes have helped me begin to network and have broadened my knowledge about business ownership. San Jacinto College has so many resources for students. The professors are always willing to help you as well. Once you take that first step, the possibilities are endless.”
Helping Spacecraft Dock at the ISS
and San Jac Certified
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) get their daily cardio workout thanks to Boeing Senior Technical Designer Craig Tyer and his design team. Tyer led the team in the successful development of the passive Vibration Isolation System for the treadmill installed in the ISS. Many shoot for the stars, but Tyer quite literally saw his efforts make it into space – a beginning that started with an associate degree from San Jacinto College.
After graduating from J. Frank Dobie High School in 1984, Tyer enrolled at San Jacinto College as a full-time student taking drafting design classes. One year later, at just 19 years old, he entered the NASA contractor workforce with GE Government Services. Later he began working full time while still taking classes and graduated with an associate degree in preengineering design drafting in 1987.
“I had great teachers that were willing to invest in me,” said Tyer. “Getting an associate degree allowed me to get my foot in the door which then allowed me to demonstrate my value through hard work.”
As the mechanical design lead, Tyer and his team were given the task to develop the isolation system for the treadmill being used on ISS today. According to NASA’s website, in microgravity, astronauts do not exert as much force on their muscles as on Earth; therefore, without exercise, these muscles begin to atrophy. This can lead to bone density loss with symptoms similar to osteoporosis. A treadmill aboard the ISS gives astronauts a way to exercise and to maintain muscle and bone health. Because exercise causes vibrations and microacceleration, the treadmill has stabilizing systems to minimize their transfer to the ISS structure and to keep the exercise surface relatively stable.
“I had the privilege of working with some of the best engineers in the country,” said Tyer. “Having the opportunity to be on a project like this from the initial conceptual phase, through the design, manufacturing, assembly, and finally overseeing the installation and operations on the ISS was truly amazing. It is very satisfying to see hardware that you have designed being used in space. I also had the privilege to meet and talk with the first astronaut to experience running on the treadmill.”
Tyer’s work ethic and willing attitude toward continuing education has afforded him many more opportunities to work on unique projects in the space industry.
His most recent project has taken him to Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., working on the NASA Docking System. This year, Tyer received the NASA/ Boeing Space Flight Awareness Award in recognition for design leadership on the ISS Docking Adapter (IDA) project, was named a Rotary National Award for Space Achievement (RNASA) Stellar Award Nominee for the successful IDA design reviews with RSC-Energia and NASA, and earned the Boeing Pride award for technical checking leadership.
With the intense national focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, Tyer believes it all starts with your passion. “It is important to focus and complete a higher education, but being passionate about what you enjoy doing is critical to your career success. A higher education is needed for opening doors in the STEM fields, but how far you can go is determined by how well you work and build relationships with others.” That passion helped make Craig San Jac Certified.
and helping students become
San Jac Certified
Nate Wiggins’ goal as a mathematics instructor at San Jacinto College is to get students engaged, involved, and excited about learning. He also wants students to be San Jac Certified. Which is why he is so passionate about hands-on learning, saying it is “critical” for the classroom.
Wiggins got his start as an educator when he began working as a parttime tutor at Sylvan Learning Center. After tutoring students in just about every subject, he realized he had a knack for teaching and really enjoyed it. The rest, as they say, is history.
Wiggins – who holds bachelor’s degrees in math, Russian, and astrophysics; and Master’s degrees in math sciences, along with a graduate certificate in systems engineering – began teaching at San Jacinto College in 2009. He uses robotics to teach engineering and math, and was a catalyst for the opening of a new robotics lab.
Having a designated well-equipped lab will allow students to focus attention on a career field with tremendous potential for innovation and growth.
“Robotics is expanding exponentially, with recent advancements in accessibility of sensors through open-source microcontrollers,” Wiggins said. “This allows devices to be created with amazing capability in small spaces, such as cell phone technology where gyros and accelerometers are now standard.” Wiggins said 3-D printing technology, which is becoming more pervasive, is revolutionizing the robotics industry, allowing manufacturing to go from a “blue collar” to a “white collar” profession since automation and production have been simplified.
As the faculty advisor for the robotics club, Wiggins has the pleasure of watching students who study robotics embrace a new frontier of exploration and learning. “They take on a ‘creator’ role within the world, instead of being passive, so they become more aware of how things are created,” he said. He also finds it rewarding to help a student, such as Gustavo Martinez, turn a D in math to an A and get hired as a math tutor.
Wiggins took hands-on learning to a new level – literally – when he led a student-faculty team from San Jacinto College and the University of Houston – Clear Lake aboard NASA’s Zero Gravity aircraft to see how well acoustic flame suppression equipment performs in a weightless environment. The goal was to uncover alternate ways to put out a fire on an aircraft, since a standard fire extinguisher can clog the air filtration system and potentially be detrimental to a flight.
When asked if education might be his true calling, Wiggins said, “Yes, I believe it is. As a young child, I was always doing research. I was a natural bookworm, and even today I still take college courses when my schedule allows.” So much so that last summer he took a software for robotics course not for academic credit for a degree, but because he has a love for learning… something he passes on to his students en route to helping them become San Jac Certified.