By Madison Bailey/reporter
An assistant criminal district attorney, a history professor and former family and estate-planning lawyer, a current stay-at-home mom and adjunct instructor, are showing NW students what real-life success stories look like.
These three former students of the NW Cornerstone Honors Program have come back to teach at the school that gave them the tools to be successful. Cornerstone teaches critical thinking and analytical thinking skills, said Lynn Preston, NW biology professor and Cornerstone director.
“It is an honors program that provides opportunities for students to get scholarships both at TCC and the school students transfer to,” she said.
NW history professor Brian Cervantez didn’t originally plan on being a teacher. He was interested in radio and TV broadcasting but knew he didn’t have the college credits and didn’t want to spend the extra money and time on that degree.
He kept in contact with his former Cornerstone instructors, and they encouraged him to pursue teaching since he loved history so much. He finished his bachelor’s degree at TCU and went on to get his master’s and doctorate in history at UNT.
Vincent Giardino, the assistant DA, remembered dreading having to go through school with ten thousand strangers at a university but thought that he could handle TCC.
“It was college in bite-sized chunks,” he said. “In Cornerstone especially, you could go through something a little more intellectually stimulating, so it wasn’t just high school Part Two.”
Giardino admits he wasn’t the keenest on school, but TCC made a lasting impression on him. Like Cervantez, he was focused on getting out of school fast and starting his life.
“School’s not everything,” he said. “Just get out of school as quick as you can.”
Adjunct instructor Jordan Spray couldn’t get enough of what TCC had to offer.
“I had some of the best teachers who took the time to pour into us and make things interesting,” Spray said. “I wanted to come back and return the favor and hopefully pour into a new generation of students.”
Affordability and small class size were the driving factors for Spray to attend TCC instead of a large university.
“The idea of getting two years of college done with minimal expense was attractive to me and my family,” Spray said.
The intimacy of small classes and the presence of diverse viewpoints all contribute to the learning experience of these former TCC students.
TCC gives students the tools they need to be successful in school and in their future careers. Cervantez remembered as he graduated from TCC and went on to complete his bachelor’s at TCU that he felt he had a better handle on how to approach his classes.
“A lot of assignments involved critical thinking and looking at issues and ideas from different points of view,” Spray said, agreeing with Cervantez. “I think that helped me become a more well-rounded person, and being able to think critically is essential for law practice.”
Accessibility and intimacy lended to their appreciation for the honors program.
“You definitely get a lot more attention from professors,” Spray said. “It was easy to speak to them and ask questions because there were no huge classes of people to compete with.”
And she said the classes are more interactive since they were smaller, which isn’t something that students get at a large university with freshman classes of over 300 students.
These former Cornerstone students had advice for the current student body — Cervantez urged students to take advantage of their professors always being there and having their doors open.
“It’s not always like that when you leave TCC and it’s definitely something you just kind of take for granted,” he said.
“Put down the phones and computers and engage in the world around you,” Spray said. “The internet, which was just getting off the ground when I was in school, is not a substitute for real life.”
“Don’t linger,” Giardino urged students to get out of school and start their lives.
The Cornerstone program is the common denominator here.
Cornerstone is “wonderfully diverse and varied,” Preston said. “It’s really wonderful to see the entire families trusting our program to get their kids where they need to be.”
Cornerstone sees a lot of successful students through to getting a transfer scholarship. Her favorite time of year is during the spring semester when they start getting admission and scholarship letters in.
“Seeing these students that worked so hard for two years getting into their dream school and getting it paid for,” Preston said. “Getting full-ride scholarships to finish their last two years, doing exactly what they wanted because they chose TCC as their first-choice school.”
So, would these real-life success stories change anything when they look back at their time at TCC and everything they’ve achieved so far? The collective answer was a resounding “no.” Their answers, however, varied as to what brought them back to teach at TCC.
Cervantez said since it was a good place to be a student, it was probably a good place to work.