“Hard work pays off:” TCC early college high school grad earns full scholarship to Johns Hopkins

TABS valedictorian and TCC graduate Rachelle Wanser.

TABS valedictorian and TCC graduate Rachelle Wanser.

For most students, college graduation comes years after they accept their high school diploma. Rachelle Wanser did things a little differently. In May, Wanser received her associate degree from Tarrant County College – one month before she took the stage as valedictorian of the Texas Academy of Biomedical Sciences (TABS).
 
“TABS is a very unique school,” says Wanser of the early college high school, a partnership among TCC, Fort Worth ISD, the University of North Texas and the UNT Health Science Center. “I felt excited to go to school every day. It was an experience that some people can only dream about.”
 
Her dreams just got a big boost. Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore awarded Wanser a full scholarship. She will be the first person in her family to attend a four-year institution of higher education.
 
“From there I aspire to earn my M.D. at Johns Hopkins, Stanford or Dartmouth,” she said. “My ultimate professional goal is to work either as a pediatrician in my own clinic or as a neonatologist in a hospital setting.”
 
TABS focuses on preparing students for a future in biomedical sciences or another Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) field. It is one of Fort Worth ISD’s “schools of choice,” with interested students participating in a lottery to gain admission. A friend told Wanser about TABS while she was in middle school at Fort Worth ISD’s Applied Learning Academy – which, like TABS, promotes a mix of real-world and classroom experiences. Wanser put her name in for consideration and became part of the very first TABS class, simultaneously becoming a high school and college student.
 
TABS students can begin taking TCC classes as soon as their freshman year and accumulate transferable college credits. They may get enough credits to earn an associate degree in addition to their high school diploma – a feat Wanser and five of her classmates accomplished this year. TCC is working to grow that number in future graduating classes.
 
“This is not school as usual,” says Troy Langston, TABS principal. “You have to be serious about being a student. You’re expected to work hard in college.”
 
In addition to completing core studies that meet state high school graduation requirements, TABS students take health science technology classes and other STEM courses as electives. Some of their TCC classes are composed entirely of TABS participants; in other courses, their peers are adult college students.
 
“That pushed me not only academically but also socially,” reflects Wanser. “I had to learn to be comfortable working with people who were sometimes far above me in age and who had a completely different worldview.”
 
In their junior and senior years, TABS students study exclusively at TCC’s Trinity River Campus.
 
“TABS was created to enable students to take courses that challenge their recognized talents, especially in the sciences,” says Dr. Tahita Fulkerson, Trinity River Campus president. “Rachelle extraordinarily exemplifies the possibilities of the program. She raised the bar for those who follow her.”
 
TCC waives tuition for TABS students, while Fort Worth ISD covers the cost of books and materials. Students receive support and assistance from UNT undergraduate and graduate students, and TABS upperclassmen visit the UNT Health Science Center and community healthcare facilities as part of their coursework.
 
“Our students come from all backgrounds. TABS is as diverse as Fort Worth,” says Langston. “It’s not uncommon for TABS students to be the first in their family to go to college. But 100 percent of our graduates plan to continue on to a four-year university or TCC this fall. In comparison, other Fort Worth high schools see 20 to 40 percent of their graduates enroll in college. That speaks volumes about the early college experience.”
 
Wanser credits TABS’ small class size, outstanding College faculty and hands-on approach to education with propelling her to success. But her instructors say her drive and tenacity also played a big role in getting her where she is today.
Rachelle Wanser (L) and Rio Velasquez learn about the anatomy of a cadaver frpm UNT Health Science Center.

Rachelle Wanser (L) and Rio Velasquez learn about the anatomy of a cadaver from UNT Health Science Center.


 
“Rachelle entered my classroom with an early understanding of what it takes to be a successful college student,” says Candice Torres, who taught Wanser Anatomy & Physiology I and Biology II. “She is dedicated, has an eye for detail, learns material quickly and has a strong capacity for critical thinking.”
 
Wanser’s principal agrees, noting that she took advantage of the resources TCC and UNT provide to TABS students.
 
“Rachelle kept focused on her education. She studied at night and took summer school,” Langston remembers. “She advocated for herself, asked questions and didn’t shy away from challenges.”
 
Wanser’s challenges were not only at school. For the last decade, her mother has suffered debilitating strokes. The cause is unknown, and the strokes happen at random times.
 
“I had to learn how to handle caring for my mom and two younger siblings while keeping up with schoolwork,” says Wanser. “Her illness is one of the reasons I want to become a doctor.”
 
Wanser is far from the only TABS graduate following her dreams with the help of a college scholarship. Langston says the class of 2015 – composed of just 87 students – received well over a million dollars in scholarship offers, a testament to the value of the program. When asked what she would tell other students considering early college high school, Wanser does not hesitate in her reply.
 
“Keep your spirits high. Courses are far more rigorous than regular high school classes, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But when you make it through the tough times, the rewards are astounding. The hard work you put in now pays off in unimaginable ways a little further down the road.”
 
In addition to TABS, TCC’s early college high schools include Marine Creek Collegiate High School at Northwest Campus, Arlington Collegiate High School at Southeast Campus and the Grapevine-Colleyville ISD Collegiate Academy at Northeast Campus. South Campus will open the Tarrant County College South/Fort Worth ISD Collegiate High School this fall.
 
The Wanser feature is the latest in a year-long series celebrating TCC’s 50th anniversary through the lives of its students. Follow the links below to enjoy previous features:
 
Stephanie Davenport, Lee Graham, Sammie Sheppard, Sultan Karriem, and Erin Casey.