What’s stopping you? When the hits kept coming, graduate and mom of four stayed focused on her goal

The pathway to TCC’s 2017 commencement ceremony was not easy for Ashley Calvillo. The mother of four children under the age of seven, Calvillo juggled family life along with school—and family life was anything but simple.
 
In fall 2015, Calvillo says she discovered toxic mold in her rental home. Her husband worked out of town, so Calvillo was solely responsible for their emergency move. Just when they were getting settled in with family, she found herself facing another crisis.
 
“My two-year-old son became very ill,” she recalled. “He was diagnosed with pneumonia and now has asthma as a result. He had several ER trips, an ambulance ride and a night in the hospital.”
 
While her son Dominic recovered, medical bills lingered, and at precisely the wrong time.
 
“As hospital bills started rolling in, the amount of work at my husband’s job decreased dramatically. He received only one paycheck in a three-month period,” Calvillo said.
 
Her husband found a new job closer to home, but took a significant pay cut in the process. The family is still recovering financially, staying with relatives to save money.
 
“It’s very difficult,” she admitted. “I have to remind myself that I’m not defined by my circumstances. I am taking care of my children, meeting all of their needs and investing in my education to better our future.”
 
Calvillo took a big step toward that better future this month when she received her Associate of Arts in Teaching for grades 6-12. It’s Calvillo’s second degree; she completed an Associate of Arts at TCC in 2013. And that one wasn’t easy to earn either.
 
“At one point I was nursing my firstborn, working full time and going to school full time,” said Calvillo. “It was a lot, but TCC was there for me. When I felt the call to teaching, I decided that TCC would be the best place to start because it was a wonderful experience the first time around.”
 
Surprised that this busy mom was able to complete her studies? Don’t be. Calvillo has been overcoming challenges since she was a little girl. At nine years old, she was in a rollover accident.
 
“Our vehicle lost a tire and flipped multiple times,” she remembered. “My mother was not wearing a seatbelt as far as I know.”
 
Calvillo lost her mother that day.
 
“Since I witnessed the accident, I suffer PTSD when driving. It is very hard for me to drive past car accidents as well,” Calvillo said.
 
But she manages to channel her grief and anxiety into something more positive: “It has encouraged me to always drive defensively, advocate for seatbelt usage and pass on the importance of vehicle safety to my children.”
 
Calvillo is honoring her mother in another way; teaching was her mother’s career goal. And those around Calvillo say she’s made for the profession.
 
“Ashley is passionate about her decision to become a teacher and motivated to succeed. She is very focused and driven, even in the face of adversity,” said Shereah Taylor, Ed.D., associate professor and coordinator of the teacher education program.
 
Taylor asked Calvillo to get involved with the South Campus chapter of Kappa Delta Pi, the international honor society for education. Calvillo immediately began taking part in the organization, attending meetings, literacy night at a local elementary school and professional development opportunities. This spring she helped organize the induction ceremony for new members. Involvement in Kappa Delta Pi had double benefits for Calvillo—she grew professionally and had something to think about besides the challenges at home. On campus and in the field, those challenges could be set aside.
 
“Whether she’s engaged in class dialogues or tutoring one-on-one with K-12 students, Ashley is entirely sincere and attached,” said Jeff Herr, Ed.D., adjunct professor of philosophy and education. “She has a knack for tuning in wholly and respectfully with all whom she encounters. This characteristic enables Ashley to understand the struggles of others so as to better aid in working toward solutions.”
 
Herr did not let Calvillo give up when circumstances started to feel like too much to handle.
 
“His class was more than a class,” Calvillo said. “It was an escape from the defeat I was feeling. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have applied to walk at graduation. He made me realize I needed to walk because I worked so hard and deserve this.”
 
And walk she did on May 16 at the Fort Worth Convention Center, accepting her diploma with happy tears.
 
“I’m so relieved that it is done,” she said. “I’m going to look back on all those late nights, all the times my kids said, ‘Are you done with homework yet?’ and ‘I don’t want you to go to class’—I’m going to look back at all the obstacles and be so thankful that I finished.”
 
And while she finished her Associate of Arts in Teaching, Calvillo isn’t finished with her education. This fall, she will transfer to Texas Wesleyan University—on full scholarship—to work toward her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. Her professors have no doubt that she will continue to succeed. It’s just part of who she is.
 
“Ashley sees the best in others. This mindset has helped to keep Ashley positive through the struggles and hardships that life has thrown her way,” Herr explained. “Her faith in a higher power and in the goodness of humanity drives her forward. Ashley knows what joy is and that she is a big part of making that joy come to fruition.”
 
This story is the latest in a series celebrating members of the TCC community who don’t let challenges stop them. Follow these links to read previous features: Salma Alvarez, Celia Mwakutuya, Jessica Caudle, Ken Moak, Melora Werlwas, Kevin Douglas, Marine Creek Collegiate High School students, students in atypical careers, Tre’Zjon Cothran , Karmin Ramosand Anthony Smith.
 

TCC to Graduate Record Number of ECHS Students

FORT WORTH, Texas (May 15, 2017) Tarrant County College will graduate its largest number of Early College High School graduates during its 49th Annual Spring Commencement on Tuesday, May 16. Two ceremonies will be held at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. in the Fort Worth Convention Center, 1201 Houston Street.
 
One hundred-eleven students are receiving their associate degrees from two TCC Early College High Schools prior to receiving their high school diplomas. Students are graduating from Marine Creek Collegiate High School (MCCHS) located at TCC Northwest Campus and the Texas Academy of Biomedical Sciences (TABS) at TCC’s Trinity River Campus. TCC conferred its first associate degrees to Early College High School students in 2014 to 11 students from MCCHS.
 
A total of 7,566 TCC graduates are expected to receive 8,887 degrees and certificates for the summer and fall 2016 and spring 2017. The total is nearly 15 percent more than the actual 6,590 students who graduated in spring 2016. Of the number of degrees and certificates expected to be awarded this spring, more than 6,000 are being awarded because of TCC’s special outreach efforts to eligible graduates to ensure they know when they have met graduation requirements. An additional 225 are reverse-transfer graduates, meaning they have already graduated from four-year institutions.
 

TCC Commencement Celebrates Largest Graduating Class, Including First Class of Weekend College Graduates

Commencement speaker Kozhi Makai addresses TCC's Class of 2016

Commencement speaker Kozhi Makai addresses TCC’s Class of 2016

FORT WORTH, Texas (May 17, 2016) Tarrant County College celebrated its 48th Commencement ceremonies May 16 in the Fort Worth Convention Center, closing out another academic year of accomplishments and college firsts. More than 2,000 students participated during Monday’s two ceremonies, the first time in school history two ceremonies were held on the same day.

 

In total this spring, 7,135 students were eligible to receive associate degrees and certificates. Of those, 35 students became the first graduates of TCC’s Weekend College. This group includes 10 students from the original cohort that began on 2014 when the Weekend College was launched by TCC Connect.

 

In addition, 92 students attending TCC’s Early College High Schools at TCC’s Northwest and Trinity River campuses received their associate degrees, putting them on the fast-track to earn their baccalaureates within two years at a four-year institution.

 

Prior to the conferring of degrees, commencement speaker Kozhi Sidney Makai, author and CEO of Kozhi Makai Worldwide, told the graduates life would be different from this point forward.

 

“The degrees and certificates you receive, they will mean nothing if you do not represent this school well,” he said. “Everywhere you go, people should be able to say ‘that person went to TCC and I can tell because they’re of the highest levels of integrity.’”

 

Makai also shared the importance of helping others, especially the less fortunate. “It’s wonderful to receive, but it’s even more blessed to give,” he said. “We can talk about all the education that all of us in the room have, but ultimately if we don’t use it to benefit other people, it’s a wasted education.”

 

Acting Chancellor Angela Robinson shared her own tales of perseverance, overcoming several setbacks throughout her academic career to become the first person in her family to earn a college degree. “At every obstacle, someone stepped in to help,” she said. “The lesson I learned and which you already have learned is simply this: do not quit five minutes before the miracle.”

 

Graduates receiving associate degrees and certificates of completion include those eligible for degree from summer and fall 2015 and spring 2016. The total number of students expected to complete requirements during this period was a three percent increase from the number expected last spring. Of the number of expected graduates this spring, 36 percent more are graduating because of TCC’s special outreach efforts to eligible graduates to ensure they know when they have met graduation requirements.

TCC Trustees Laude College’s Benefits for 2015 Graduates to Record Overflow Crowd

Chancellor and Board

TCC Chancellor Erma Johnson Hadley, second from right, with current TCC Board of Trustees.

FORT WORTH, Texas (May 15, 2015) A record-overflow crowd of graduates of Tarrant County College, their families and friends learned more about the resources TCC provides them and the community from the people who ensure that TCC continues to meet its mission.
 

Each member of the Board of Trustees shared his or her reflections about what has made TCC special since its inception 50 years ago by Tarrant County voters, with more than 1,610 attendees within the arena, and hundreds more viewing on large-screen monitors.
 

Board President Louise Appleman lauded TCC’s talented faculty saying the College has always “hired motivated and student-centered faculty who go above and beyond” so students are equipped with the “tools needed to be successful in class, at work and in life.”
 

Board Vice President Kristin Vandergriff described the support students receive in their quest to achieve academic excellence.  She said resources including Supplemental Instruction and nearly 200 student clubs and organizations provide “the skills and experience necessary” for our students “to become successful future leaders – locally, nationally and globally.”
 

Board Secretary O.K. Carter applauded TCC’s investment “in our community’s future as part of the global village” describing the College’s major investment in Early College High School and flexible learning opportunities provided by TCC Connect that manages online learning, Dual Credit and Weekend College.
 

Board Member Bill Greenhill acclaimed the advances TCC is making nationally as one of only 70 Achieving the Dream Leader Colleges in the nation, which “is a prestigious testament to TCC’s commitment to student success and willingness to make changes.”
 

Board Assistant Secretary Conrad Heede extolled the benefits those attending graduation are unaware they receive from TCC graduates from specialized programs including TCC’s Public Safety and Fire Academies, Aviation Mechanics and Culinary Arts.  As an example, he said, “If you are involved in an auto accident in Tarrant County, the paramedics who are sent to your rescue were probably trained at TCC.”

 

Board Member Gwen Morrison exalted her passion about “the work the College does to create a college-going culture for our young people,” often starting as young as first grade in an effort to reach TCC’s ultimate goal to “help develop our youth for the workforce.”
 

And, Chancellor Hadley, speaking on behalf of Board Member Robyn Winnett, mentioned the College’s impact of stimulating the County’s economy stating that “for every dollar students invest in TCC, they receive a cumulative $6.50 in higher future income over the course of their working careers.”
 

TCC TRC President Fulkerson

TCC Trinity River Campus President Tahita Fulkerson

TCC’s downtown Trinity River Campus hosted the commencement, providing retiring Trinity River Campus President Tahita Fulkerson a final opportunity to preside over the commencement service before her retirement this summer.
 
“I have always loved graduation. It’s the goal that everyone at TCC has for students. I will cheer for the many students who walk across the stage,” Fulkerson said. “I will be happy that this is a good way to finish a career that started in the ‘70s when I was a part-time teacher.”
 
 
TCC graduates receiving associate degrees and certificates of completion include those eligible for degrees from summer and fall 2014 and spring 2015.  A total of 6,940 students are expected to complete requirements during this period, up 16 percent from the number expected last spring. Among the graduates are the first six graduates to receive their degree from the Texas Academy of Biomedical Sciences (TABS). The TABS graduates join another 32 Early High School Graduates from Marine Creek High School, which last year graduated the first-ever Early College High School students to earn associate degrees in Tarrant County.
 

TCC Trustees Celebrate College during Commencement

FORT WORTH, Texas (May 14, 2015) The first Tarrant County College graduates from the Texas Academy of Biomedical Sciences (TABS) will hear about the significance of TCC since its inception 50 years ago when they become the first high school students to receive their associate degrees from TABS. TABS is a collaborative educational opportunity between TCC, Fort Worth Independent School District, the University of North Texas Health Science Center and the University of North Texas.
 
Graduates will learn about the College’s historical significance since 1965 from TCC’s Board of Trustees during the 47th Annual Spring Commencement on Friday, May 15, at 6:30 p.m. in the Fort Worth Convention Center, 1201 Houston Street.
 
High school students from Fort Worth ISD are: Laura Bazan, Kade Cantergiani, David Gonzalez, Kelly Jimenez, James Parsons and Rachelle Wanser.
 
The TABS graduates join another 32 Early High School Graduates from Marine Creek High School for a total of approximately 6,940 TCC graduates receiving associate degrees and certificates of completion for the summer and fall 2014 and spring 2015. The total is 16 percent more than the actual 5,969 students who graduated in spring 2014. Of the number of expected graduates this spring, 14 percent more are graduating because of TCC’s special outreach efforts to eligible graduates to ensure they know when they have met graduation requirements.
 

Outreach Increases Number of TCC Graduates

TCC's Graduate Outreach Specialist Ami Dominguez

TCC’s Graduate Outreach Specialist Ami Dominguez

The number of Tarrant County College graduates who earned certificates and degrees in spring 2014 included students receiving an additional 4,810 degrees and/or certificates who would not have done so without the efforts of TCC’s Graduate Outreach Specialist Ami Dominguez.
 
Dominguez’s work resulted in a 79 percent increase over the 2,686 degrees and/or certificates awarded to graduates she assisted so they could receive their earned credentials for the spring 2013 commencement, the first ceremony that benefitted from her efforts in TCC’s District Admissions and Records Office.
 
Her work and those of fellow team members, Robert Bauer and Daniel Lopez, earned them the Chancellor’s Employee Excellence Award for Innovation and Creativity last summer.
 
“This effort is part of our focus on student success and TCC’s various Achieving the Dream initiatives,” Dominguez said. “It helps students achieve a milestone in their academic careers and allows us as a college to get credit for their completion.”
 
The potential benefit to TCC graduates initially was noticed about two years ago by Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Student Success Joy Gates Black.
 
“During the spring of 2012, I began to research completion data at TCC. I learned that students were being required to petition in order to graduate and the number of students graduating was much lower than it should have been,” Gates Black said.
 
After the decision was made to eliminate the petition requirement and automatically award earned credentials, the number of potential completers using the new process supported the creation of a new position to identify and award earned credentials, Gates Black explained.
 
“If I didn’t do what I did, many of them wouldn’t get credit for earning a certificate or a degree,” Dominguez added. “A lot of students will be able to get a promotion once they earn a certificate or degree from us. It only helps them, not hurts them.”
 

Early College High School Students Earn College Degrees

TCC Graduation, Fort Worth Convention Center, May 2014

Toro hangs with inaugural Early College High School students prior to TCC Commencement.

When Madison White was in the eighth grade, just four years ago, she began the biggest challenge of her life. It’s one that has paid off. White made history recently by being among the first students in Tarrant County to earn her Associate of Arts from Tarrant County College before receiving her high school diploma.
 
She and other Marine Creek Collegiate High School students received their first college degrees earlier this month as members of the inaugural graduating class from TCC’s first Early College High School. TCC opened MCCHS with a freshman class from Lake Worth Independent School District in fall 2010 as part of its ongoing mission to provide “affordable and open access to quality teaching and learning.”
 
The first Fort Worth ISD students enrolled in fall 2011. The 13 graduates, three of whom actually will complete their college requirements this summer, were among the 5,734 TCC graduates who earned 6,627 degrees and certificates from the summer and fall 2013 and spring 2014.
 
“When I heard about the program, I really wanted to join because it would be free college credit hours and put me ahead of everybody else,” said White, who hopes to become a librarian. “It was important for me to be ahead so I (could) get a head start on life and start earning money and do what I want to do.”
 
ECHS programs are designed to help young people who might not otherwise attend college to earn a high school diploma and an associate degree or up to two years of credit toward a bachelor’s degree tuition-free. Targeted groups include low-income youth, first-generation college attenders, English language learners, students of color and other young people underrepresented in higher education.
 
The opportunity was one they appreciated. “It’s been an excellent experience (that allowed me to) push myself academically,” said Lalita Sundarrajan, one of two students whose home school was in FWISD.
 
Starting college at such a young age has made a difference in many of their lives. “Having college classes has changed me,” said Adelaide Boak, also a FWISD student. Boak plans to study pre-med at The University of Texas at Austin and wants to be orthopedic surgeon because her mother suffers from arthritis. “I have learned what it really takes to be successful in college,” she said.
 
White agreed, saying she has learned to set her priorities. “Now, I’m just a more hard- working student. I know what I need to do and don’t worry about what else is going on around (me).”
 
Because of the small cohort size, the the students developed a special bond. “The best part for me was being with them,” said Dennis Ralon, who will transfer to the University of North Texas. “We got close. They are like a second family.”
 

trejo_robert_2736

Robert Trejo
 “It’s kind of like being a celebrity.”

It also has instilled pride for many of the students including Ralon’s friend from elementary school, Robert Trejo. “It feels good being in the first graduating class because everybody looks up to us. It’s kind of like being a celebrity,” said LWISD student Trejo, who wants to be a software engineer. Trejo said he knows his parents also are proud of him and brag about him to their friends. He knows because when he meets some of his parents’ friends they say, “Oh, so you are the famous Robert!”
 
LaLita Sundarrajan, the second graduate from FWISD, plans to study accounting at TCU and wants to work for one of the four top auditing firms before earning her doctorate. She believes her participation in the historic class was an “excellent experience that she definitely would do again” because it caused her to push herself academically.
 
Parents are thrilled by their children’s accomplishment, especially since they have watched the sacrifices they have made to succeed.
 
“I am excited. It’s a chance – a good opportunity for students,” said Ricardo Aleman, a proud father who observed his twin daughters ignore his concerns as they kept late hours studying and finishing projects.
 
His wife, Elena Aleman, recognizes what it means to their future. “The opportunity to transfer to the other college is good.”
 
Their daughters offer this advice for students considering ECHS.

Twins Alondro and Andrea Aleman are all smiles before receiving their associate degrees

Twins Alondro and Andrea Aleman are all smiles before receiving their associate degrees


 
“I would tell them to see their instructor during office hours. I would tell them that is when you build relationships with your instructor,” Andrea Aleman said. “When they see you have an interest in the course, they’ll do anything to help you.”
 
Her twin, Alondra added: “I would tell (them) you have to push yourself. No one is going to hold your hand.”
 
It’s important to know that the challenges are real.
 
“You are going to get lost and maybe cry. But it’s part of the whole experience. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s exciting,” Andrea said. “Looking back, it’s funny and something you’ll always have with you.” 

TCC Graduates Receive Pointers for Their Final Exam – Life

Luis Ponjuan, Ph.D., associate professor at Texas A&M University, delivers TCC 2014 commencement address.

Luis Ponjuan, Ph.D., associate professor at Texas A&M University, delivers TCC 2014 commencement address.

FORT WORTH, Texas (May 10, 2014) – If Tarrant County College graduates thought their test-taking days were over, they found out Saturday that they were wrong when commencement speaker Luis Ponjuan, Ph.D., gave them three tips for their “final exam called LIFE.”
 
Ponjuan, nationally known as an advocate for programs that help male students of color achieve academic success and college completion, is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Administration and Human Resource Development in the College of Education and Human Development at Texas A&M University in College Station.
 
Ponjuan told graduates their lives are like books and while their college degree is one chapter, it is not their last chapter. He told them they would make a difference in their communities in a variety of careers, including nurses, teachers, welders, public safety servants and business leaders, which will be new chapters in their books.
 
In his role as their “professor for the day,” Ponjuan said, would share three ideas that will be on their final exam.
 
“We have to remember that being the author of your life book requires us to make a daily choice to continue writing your life book,” he said. “Each day, we have to make a choice about how we will write our new chapters.”
 
As he encouraged graduates to “Think Bigger,” “Go Further” and “Do Greater,” Ponjuan provided insights on each:

  • “Thinking bigger means you have to believe in yourself. . . and never give up. Thinking bigger ultimately means you need to choose to act. You need to wake up every day and act and behave differently to achieve different results.
  • “To go further, you have to know your limits and do not over train and hurt yourself. You need to seek wise counsel and talk to people in your profession or degree program for advice to achieve success.”
  • “Doing greater is leaving a lasting and positive legacy to others in your personal and professional lives. To create a legacy, you need to think of others, you need to have compassion for others and you need to serve others.”

TCC 2014 graduates included the first Early College High School high school students in Tarrant County to earn their associate degree. Marine Creek Collegiate High School opened at TCC Northwest Campus in fall 2010 with a freshman class from Lake Worth Independent School District. The first Fort Worth ISD students enrolled in fall 2011.
 
The first MCCHS graduates consist of Lake Worth Independent School District students: Alondra Aleman, Andrea Aleman, Jesus Arreola (summer graduate), Angelica Gandara, Dulce Gallegos (summer graduate), Alex Hinojosa (summer graduate), Priscila Luna, Dennis Ralon, Candace Soto, Robert Trejo and Madison White. Fort Worth ISD graduates were Adelaide Boak and Lalita Sundarrajan.
 
TCC graduates receiving associate degrees and certificates of completion include those eligible for degrees from summer and fall 2013 and spring 2014. A total of 6,426 students are expected to complete requirements during this period, up 22 percent from the number expected last spring.
 

TCC Commencement to include First Class of ECHS Graduates in Tarrant County

Luis Ponjuan, Ph.D. TCC Commencement Speaker 2014

Luis Ponjuan, Ph.D.                             Texas A&M University
TCC Commencement Speaker 2014

When 13 high school students from two local school districts cross the stage Saturday to receive their associate degrees, they will walk into the pages of history as the first Early College High School (ECHS) students in Tarrant County to graduate from college. And, they will do so before they earn their high school diplomas.
 
The Marine Creek Collegiate High School students are among the 2,048 graduates expected to participate in the TCC’s 46th Annual Spring Commencement on Saturday, May 10, at 10:30 a.m. in the Fort Worth Convention Center, 1201 Houston Street.
 
Commencement speaker is Luis Ponjuan, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Educational Administration and Human Resource Development in the College of Education and Human Development at Texas A&M University in College Station. Ponjuan is nationally known as an advocate for programs that help male students of color achieve academic success and college completion.
 
High school students from Lake Worth Independent School District are Alondra Aleman, Andrea Aleman, Jesus Arreola (summer graduate), Angelica Gandara, Dulce Gallegos (summer graduate), Alex Hinojosa (summer graduate), Priscila Luna, Dennis Ralon, Candace Soto, Robert Trejo and Madison White. Fort Worth ISD graduates are Adelaide Boak and Lalita Sundarrajan.
 
Graduates receiving associate degrees and certificates of completion include those eligible for degrees from summer and fall 2013 and spring 2014. A total of 6,426 students are expected to complete requirements during this period, up 22 percent from the number expected last spring.

Graduation Means Much to Many

TCC graduates“I’ve worked really hard for this — to get it done in two years. I’m just really excited about graduating with all these wonderful people.”

 “Today means an opportunity to better myself, my family, and my community.”

“I love to make my parents proud. They came here from Mexico just to give my brother, my sisters and me, a better future.”

“It shows that your dreams can really come true and that’s what community college is all about.”

 Whether it took a couple of years or a few decades, graduation day was a special time for TCC graduates in 2013. TCC’s 45th Annual Spring Commencement recognized students eligible for degrees from summer and fall 2012 and spring 2013. A total of 5,256 students were projected to earn 6,041 degrees and certificates during this period.

Of that number, 85 veterans took advantage of the opportunity to be among the first TCC graduates to wear the red, white and blue honor cords in recognition of their service. After their degrees were conferred, all graduates received TCC Alumni pins as a symbol of their accomplishments and new status as alums.

 “TCC has helped me to grow as a person. and I feel I am more prepared to take the next step in my life.”

“I had a lot of different battles, but thank God that I overcame them.”

“This means moving forward with my life. Looking towards the future –setting an example for my own children.”

 gongalonsThis year’s commencement procession was led by gonfalons bearing the names of the various degrees conferred and one for certificates.  The 2013 class was the first to receive programs with the new Tarrant County College District seal that was also featured on the podium along with a new backdrop displaying images of the five campuses.

“It means most everything to me. I’m really excited about going on to the next step.”

I’m half way to getting my undergraduate degree…half way to succeeding in achieving the dreams that I really want to get.”

“It means moving up in life.  Going to school actually paid off!”

Thumbnail for graduation video

Click image to see video.