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PSJA ISD students receive STEM awards from Hispanic Heritage Foundation

 PHARR – Two Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD high school students received awards for their focus in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) from the Hispanic Heritage Foundation during a ceremony on Thursday, Dec. 10 at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. PSJA T. Jefferson T-STEM Early College High School Senior Jessica Zamarripa and PSJA Memorial Early College High School Senior Deyanira Verdeja were two of 18 recipients of the 2015 Rio Grande Valley Regional Hispanic Heritage Youth Award.


 For the first time in 17 years, the Hispanic Heritage Foundation expanded its program to include the South Texas region. The Youth Awards honor Latino high school seniors who excel in the classroom and focus in various categories including: Business & Entrepreneurship; Community Service; Education; Engineering & Mathematics; Healthcare; Innovation & Technology and Sports & Fitness.

Both students are happy to be selected for this honor and be able to represent minorities in STEM industries. Historically, Hispanics, especially women, represent a small percentage of professionals pursuing STEM fields, but the support for these groups to pursue degrees in STEM is increasing.


Zamarripa, who attends a STEM focused early college high school, is planning to graduate with an Associate Degree in Mathematics from South Texas College next May. She has recently been accepted into the Aerospace Engineering Program at Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at Austin. The Hispanic Heritage Foundation awarded her with a $3,000 educational grant to continue her studies.

“The grant will help me achieve my goal of obtaining a higher education,” said Zamarripa, who received the Foundation's Gold Award for her Engineering and Mathematics experience. “I am proud to represent women and Hispanics. I am thankful to have been given an opportunity to help inspire the next generation of problem solvers.”


Like Zamarripa, Verdeja will also be graduating with an Associate Degree prior to her high school graduation. She will be receiving a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies and plans to major in Biology and Kinesiology after graduation. She was awarded the Silver Award in the Healthcare category for her plans to pursue a career in the medical field.


“I am very honored to receive this award,” said Verdeja of the $1,500 grant she received for her college education. “I want to become a physical therapist.”


Grateful and proud of their achievements, both students said the PSJA ISD Early College Program has played a major role in their education and future goals.


“I feel the early college program has helped me prepare for what is coming,” said Zamarripa. "Since I was given an opportunity to take college classes, I am more prepared and ready to go to college now."


Currently, there are approximately 3,500 students taking college classes districtwide.  The number of students graduating from PSJA ISD high schools with college hours, a college certificate or Associate Degree is increasing annually, boosting the number of students completing a four-year degree, and continuing on to master level and professional degrees.
Jessica Zamarripa  
Jessica Zamarripa, PSJA T. Jefferson ECHS
Engineering & Mathematics Gold Award 2015 
Deyanira Verdeja, PSJA Memorial ECHS 
Healthcare Silver Award 2015 
Photos Courtesy of UTRGV. Photo credit: UTRGV Photographer Kristela Garza