Engineering a path to success: TCC student builds on experiences in College’s youth programs

henry_kevin_3059Some people take a long time to decide on a career. For Tarrant County College student Kevin Henry, his future profession was clear from the beginning.
“When I was in daycare, I would always be the first one to the blocks and Lego bricks,” he says. “I would create roads, highways, buildings and houses.”
Henry’s interest in how things are designed and built got a big boost in 2008, as he prepared to enter seventh grade. TCC Southeast Campus Vice President for Community & Industry Education Services Carrie Tunson, a family friend, told Henry’s mother about TexPREP (Texas Prefreshman Engineering Program). The summer program, offered at colleges and universities throughout the state, provides middle and high school students a foundation for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. It was a perfect fit for Henry.
“Being a part of TCC at a young age really encouraged me to do better in middle and high school so that I could get into the college I wanted,” Henry said. “Not only did it benefit me in school, it also gave me something to look forward to in the summer and helped keep me out of trouble.”
Through labs, lectures, field trips and guest speakers, TexPREP gave Henry real-world, hands-on experiences and knowledge. He and his fellow students learned about the education an engineer needs as well as different career options.
“Some of our TexPREP participants were the first in their families to explore engineering; others would go on to become the very first in their families to enroll in college,” notes Rachel Zhang, Southeast Campus professor of engineering. “It is so important to build a strong workforce for STEM professions, and that’s exactly what programs like TexPREP do.”
Zhang and the other TexPREP instructors quickly saw Henry’s potential.
“Kevin is determined and knows what he wants,” she said. “He makes every effort in whatever he does – exactly what is needed to be successful.”
final3-group1Henry returned to TexPREP for each of the summers it was offered at TCC, developing a strong interest in civil engineering. As he transitioned to high school, the Southeast Campus engineering faculty recruited him for another pre-college program, called FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). TCC formed a team to participate in FRC, the FIRST Robotics Competition, and Henry served as the team captain.
“FRC allowed me to see a whole other form of engineering,” he recalls. “I enjoyed learning how to build, program and control robots. Even though I’m not majoring in industrial engineering, where robotics are highly used, whenever I’m designing a building, street or highway, I try to think of ways to incorporate robotics.”
After spending six years alongside the College’s engineering faculty, Henry knew he would get a great education as a TCC student. He enrolled following graduation from Arlington’s Martin High School in 2014. The instructors who first met Henry just after elementary school were now his college professors. He thrived as a civil engineering major.
“The faculty members have played a major role in my life, encouraging me and helping me become the student I am today,” he says. “I am very thankful for that.”
Henry’s accomplishments come as no surprise to Joy Gates Black, TCC’s vice chancellor for Academic Affairs and Student Success. She says that the College’s youth programs help pave the way to achievement in higher education.
“We’re creating the next generation of college students,” Gates Black explains. “We hope they eventually come here, like Kevin did. Even if they choose another college or university, we’ve created that college-going culture in our community. And that’s really what it’s all about.”
While TCC has long offered pre-college programs, Gates Black says more stakeholders in the community are realizing the value of connecting youth to the college experience.
“What you are seeing now is everyone getting in sync,” she says. “Parents are seeing the benefits, and school districts are partnering with us to create connected pathways for students. And it’s working. I hear even the youngest kids in our programs say, ‘I’m going to TCC.’ They feel like they are a part of the College. It teaches them to be responsible and have a commitment to getting a degree or certificate long before they graduate from high school.”
Henry is now halfway to his Associate of Science in Civil Engineering and will apply the credits he has earned toward a bachelor’s degree when he transfers next year. He plans to attend the University of Texas at Arlington, Texas A&M University or Prairie View A&M University.
Those who watched Henry grow up on TCC campuses – such as Vice President Tunson, who first introduced him to TexPREP – say his participation in the College’s youth programs honed and nurtured his natural talents.
“To achieve greatness, young people must believe in themselves and make it happen,” she says. “Kevin Henry made it happen.”
TCC offers a variety of opportunities for pre-college students at its five campuses across Tarrant County. Learn more about current offerings and start planning for summer 2016 on the youth programs webpage.
The Henry 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:
Rachelle Wanser, Stephanie Davenport,  Lee Graham, Sammie Sheppard, Sultan Karriem, and Erin Casey.
Kevin at Compuer