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“As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands. One for helping yourself, the other for helping others.” – Audrey Hepburn

Like many TIers, Jane Xin and Ruben Reyna believe we have two hands for a very good reason - one for helping ourselves and one for helping others. Last week, Jane and Ruben, along with nearly 40 TIers, extended a helping hand to more than 400 students at a College & Career Fair at the University of Texas at Dallas (UT Dallas). 

Ruben is a product of the Dallas Independent School District (Dallas ISD), so when the opportunity to mentor high school students from his own backyard came up, he knew he couldn’t turn it down.

“I mentor because I want to spark energy in kids so they are excited about pursuing a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math),” said Ruben. “I grew up in one of the most poverty-stricken neighborhoods in Dallas, near where many of these kids are from, and went on to attend the Texas A&M University. I want these kids to know that if I can do it, they can too!”

Ruben Reyna mentors high school students in college prep and career readiness.

According to the UT Dallas College Readiness Update prepared in 2013, only 33 percent of local high school students who took the ACT or SAT scored at a college-ready level.  As part of its 10-year community goals, United Way is committed to preparing at least 60% of all students to graduate high school ready for success. 

The College & Career Fair, part of United Way’s community impact series Unite for Change, was organized to address this goal and sponsored by Texas Instruments.  This event brought together volunteers from TI, the Fluor Corporation and Ricker Retirement Specialists and service providers Chideo and Ushers New Look to mentor these students and show them a way out of the continuing cycle of poverty through education. The TI volunteers led the students through activities accompanied by curriculum presented by City Year and the Princeton Review Foundation, all focused on encouraging students to pursue college and career opportunities. 

The students went from their neighborhoods to a college setting in the lecture halls of the University of Texas at Dallas, where they could visualize their future as a college student – an attainable goal with some hard work and lots of dedication.  

At a pep rally kicking off the event, students received encouragement from eight-time Grammy Award winner Usher, Dallas ISD Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa, TI Education Technology President Peter Balyta and Dr. Calvin Jamison, UT Dallas vice president of administration.

“There are no short-cuts,” said Jane. “These students are similar in age to my own children. I would tell them the same thing- you can learn from everyone around you. You can change your life for the better through education.” 

Ruben Reyna (left) and Jane Xin (right) talk to students about advice for the future at UTD.

For students like Molina High School senior Alexa Sanchez, she had always known she wanted to go to college, but wasn’t sure of the steps to get there.  

“[The event] helped me learn about college and how I can apply. I also learned practical skills, such as the SAT. I didn’t know the test had been re-designed, but after today I feel more prepared,” said Alexa.

Like Alexa, many students spent the day learning about the college application process and mentors were able to share their own successes with students. Ruben, for instance, met with a couple of students who already knew they also wanted to attend Texas A&M. He helped them prepare for the college application process - not if college happens, but when it happens.

“When we mentor we give students the necessary tools for whatever the next stage might be,” said Ruben. “We get to share not just technical knowledge, but also the ability to relate. Together, we move from ‘could this happen?’ to ‘when this happens.” 

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