Gisela Greco-Llamas

Rene Mendoza, an Edinburg High School senior, spent most of his mornings and afternoons cleaning sugar beets and working in fields.

At night, he returned home to finish a day’s worth of schoolwork in a few hours.

Mendoza was one of 40 students from across Texas that the University honored at a ceremony Monday. The ceremony celebrated the students in UT’s Migrant Student Graduation Enhancement Program for their outstanding grades and community service while facing the difficulties of the migrant life.

Program leaders selected Mendoza as one of the students of the year because of his extensive involvement in community service. He received a $2,000 scholarship and plans to pursue biomedical or civil engineering at UT.

“Migrating back and forth was tough,” Mendoza said. “This is why [the] migrant program was helpful, because it helps us catch up [with schoolwork].”

About 2,000 high school students in Texas enroll every year in distance learning courses through the program, said K-16 Education Center Director Gisela Greco-Llamas. The program helps students who travel during the school year to other states with their parents for occupational reasons.

More than 300 guests attended the 24th annual ceremony and the recognized students represented 19 school districts in Texas.

Migrant program educators nominate students statewide every year for this ceremony based on their grades and involvement in community services and extracurricular activities despite the hardships they face, Greco-Llamas said.

She said the program helps students get accredited for high school courses and enables them to graduate on time. UT offers the classes, which are approved by the Texas Education Agency, through print and online services, Greco-Llamas said.

The program shows that UT is engaged in efforts to enhance education beyond the realm of higher learning, said Greco-Llamas. She said it also helps migrant students consider college as an option after they graduate from high school.

“It’s about UT being more than just about graduate and undergraduate studies,” Greco-Llamas said.

Linda Glessner, associate dean of continuing and innovative education, said some of these students are the first ones from their families to graduate from high school.

“It means that we are breaking new ground at UT,” Glessner said. “What better story to tell than transforming lives for the benefit of our society?”

Glessner said she commends migrant students for facing the hardships they did and still distinguishing themselves academically.