The Office of Santa Cruz County Superintendent Alfredo Velásquez recognizes the importance of providing students in Santa Cruz County with a quality education. Therefore, Superintendent Velásquez has launched a new program “Career Readiness and Educational Opportunities” (CREO), which provides job skills and career and college readiness resources to help prepare students for higher education.
Education is crucial to one’s career and success. CREO aims to meet the needs of Santa Cruz County high school students by preparing them for careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The program is funded by a 4-year grant through the Department of Labor’s Youth Career Connect that was awarded to Innovative Frontier Arizona (IFA), a four county consortium involving Cochise, Pima, Santa Cruz, and Yuma counties. Each county has its own priorities. Santa Cruz County will use its moneys to fund CREO.
The program will focus on three main elements: academic preparedness, post-secondary education, and resilience and perseverance. Each element has its specific focus.
- Academic preparedness will further develop the student’s math skills through a methodology that breaks away from the traditional way of teaching math. It provides students with a laboratory-like environment and real-world examples of how math is applied.
- Post-Secondary education aims to prepare students to pursue a higher education or training that will help them meet their goals. Students learn about applying for college, meeting deadlines and planning careers.
- Resilience and perseverance helps overcome challenges. Students will possess life skills and have strength of character to meet those challenges.
In order to accomplish these elements, the CREO Project is partnering with two exemplary programs: Metromatemáticas and AGUILA Youth Leadership Institute. Designed in 2009 by Nahum Correa, a former Ford Plant engineer, Metromatemáticas represents a new model for teaching math that is successfully being used in schools located in Guaymas and Emplame, Sonora. It has dramatically improved math scores for participating students and prepared the youth for jobs in the high tech industries which are relocating to that area.
The AGUILA program was founded by Rosemary Ybarra-Hernandez in 2004 in Phoenix, AZ and has been successful in using a holistic approach to prepare students for post-secondary education. Since its founding, nearly 800 AGUILA youth have enrolled in college/universities across the country collectively receiving more than $45 million dollars in college scholarships beyond federal financial aid packages.
CREO will be managed by two employees of the Office of the County School Superintendent. Both Hector Gerardo, Program Director, and Adalberto Villaescusa, Career Success Coach & Counselor, will be responsible for the implementation of this new program.
According to Mr. Gerardo, “The main goal is to make young people aware of the importance of education so they understand it as being an investment in their future. Ultimately, our success will be determined by how many of our youth enroll in and complete STEM post-secondary programs and then have successful careers in the STEM industries.”
Gerardo was born and raised in Nogales, AZ. He graduated from Nogales High School in 1975. Attended the University of Arizona, where he obtained a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering. After graduating from the university, he worked for Hughes Aircraft Company in Tucson, AZ. There he held the position of Engineering Supervisor for 8 years. In 1990, he accepted a position with The Chamberlain Group a maquiladora located in Nogales Sonora, Mexico. He worked there for 16 years in engineering management.
In 2006, he embraced the prospect to become a partner for a small engineering company, SC3 Engineering. The company provided civil engineering and light construction services to the local construction sector. In 2014, he saw an opportunity to become part of the CREO Project under the Santa Cruz County School Superintendent’s Office.
“I am excited in being able to use my academic background and work experience in executing the project’s mission” said Gerardo. “Students learn through hands-on training and see how to apply the skills they’ve learned to solve problems in the real world. Young people are our future.” He enjoys giving back to the community and especially to young people. He has been married for 20 years to his wife Lourdes. They have 4 children. Gerardo resides in Rio Rico.
Adalberto Villaescusa is the Career Success Coach and Counselor for the program. His role entails recruiting and supporting participants, coordinating educational events, working with school counselors to keep students focused on their academic goals, and mentoring students so they succeed in the program.
Born and raised in Nogales, Arizona, Mr. Villaescusa graduated from Rio Rico High School. He completed a Bachelor of Science in Global Security Intelligence Studies, with a Minor in Business and holds a Masters of Science in Safety Science. Villaescusa worked for 6 years as an Admissions Counselor Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He later returned to Santa Cruz County where he held a job as a Case Manager for Pinal Hispanic Council and Corazon Behavioral Health Services for two years before moving to his current position.
Villaescusa enjoys working with students to increase their awareness of college opportunities and then help them apply for grants and scholarships so they are able to continue with their studies. “I never had anyone really guide me through this process; I enjoy being able to help students who need it.” said Villaescusa. He finds this job rewarding as it is a way to lend a helping hand to students and their families that are seeking assistance in how to apply, finance, and succeed in technical programs, colleges, and universities.
As first generation college graduates both Gerardo and Villaescusa stress that education must be a priority for our community as it opens opportunities for future generations. Villaescusa added that the program encourages students to learn critical thinking skills. Students do not just sit in the classroom and listen to lectures but learn how to connect and apply those skills. “We hope to make students aware that we are preparing them for college, this is not only a personal investment but a community investment.”
“We intend to keep this program sustainable after 4 years, when the grant ends” said Gerardo. “We will accomplish this by accomplishing our goals so our communities, non-profit organizations, government, and commercial business benefit, as they are the future employers of our workforce.”
It is planned that the CREO Project will be used as a model that can be expanded to other communities. “What we are doing is creating a skilled group of individuals prepared for the future” said Gerardo. “We will do this using STEM as the framework. The goal is to educate and help students become skilled workers. This will provide them with future academic and economic opportunities. The more prepared students are, the better our community will be.”
For further information about the CREO project or to become involved, contact either Hector Gerardo or Adalberto Villaescusa at the County Superintendent’s Office, 520-375-7940.