• August 9, 2020

NTO’s top 2 heading for UT - Odessa American: Education

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Posted: Tuesday, May 19, 2020 3:21 pm

Valedictorian Clarissa Garcia will study biology and salutatorian Avery Vega will be going for a business degree at the McCombs School of Business at UT Austin.

Both have achieved National Hispanic Merit Scholar honors, along with Jason Zubia from Odessa High School.

“After I graduate from college, I’m hoping to attend medical school and do my residency in neurosurgery,” Garcia said.

Seventh grade science class was when Garcia decided to go into medicine. They were studying body systems and she thought the nervous system was the most interesting “because it’s one of the closest things to us and yet something that we don’t know a lot about. … We probably know more about the bottom of the ocean than we do our brains.”

Achieving valedictorian is something that Garcia said she has worked very hard for, not just in high school but in middle school.

“… That was when I really started developing the work ethic that I needed to get here. I’m really proud to be valedictorian because it’s a good representation of how my family raised me. They had to make a lot of sacrifices for me to get to where I am, so I guess this is just one of the products of that,” Garcia said.

She has three younger sisters and a brother who’s on the way as of May 15.

Her advice for younger students who want to make the top 10 is to work as hard as possible and not really to focus on their grade point average.

“I think the most important thing is just trying to learn as much as you can and have fun doing it because if you have fun learning and you’re passionate about what you’re learning then the GPA is automatically going to come with it,” Garcia said.

As for not having the traditional end-of-year events due to coronavirus, Garcia said she was actually kind of relieved.

“That meant I wasn’t going to have to give a speech in front of everyone and have to walk to the stage. But I know a bunch of my friends were upset at not getting our senior pictures together and I see that, but I think we just have to make the best of the situation we’ve been given. That’s why I’m really grateful that our administration is doing a virtual graduation for all of us,” she said.

She added that it’s exciting to go into medicine at a time when so much is unknown about COVID-19.

“There’s still a lot about viruses that we don’t understand and so hopefully whenever they develop a vaccine for this we’re able to gain more insight about how we could possibly treat other viruses that might arise in the future,” Garcia said.

Part of her summer will be spent reviewing chemistry and planning lesson plans for next year’s academic decathlon students.

“Decathlon was a really important thing for me in high school, so I still want to have some part of it even after I’ve graduated and that’s why I was planning on creating those things and giving tips to the undergraduates that are doing decathlons,” she said.

Garcia said she thought the program at NTO was useful because it offered her a chance to do hands-on projects through its project-based learning program.

“When I think back to middle school, I honestly cannot remember a lot about it because all we did were worksheets and worksheets and worksheets. But whenever I got here, not only did it open me up to speaking to people more comfortably but it also prepared me for the workload that I can plan to expect in college because we have to do projects here that kind of prepared me for learning how to deal with overwhelming situations and also it imprints the content more firmly in your brain. If you did a project over the Civil War, you’re more likely going to remember it than if you did a worksheet over the Civil War,” she said.

Vega said reaching salutatorian status was a good way to cap off high school. He added that there was no competition between him and Garcia.

“Clarissa is wonderful,” he said. “There wasn’t really any competition because we were friends and there’s no need to compete over first or second place.”

With a business degree from McCombs, Vega said he would like to go into nonprofit work that is involved in organizing businesses to help improve the arts community, like Odessa Arts does. Or, he would like to go into an organization that helps young students read or helping English as a second language students better acclimate to the language.

“But something in the nonprofit sector for sure; something I can do where I can help a lot of people and have some sort of community-based aspect,” Vega said.

He added that there are a fair amount of salutatorian scholarships and that most of the scholarships he was awarded were around ethnicity. He is Native American and Hispanic. He also was able to receive scholarships based on being in the top 10 and at the top of his class.

Like other college-bound students nationwide, Vega isn’t sure what classes are going to look like in the fall.

“UT has said they are going to have classes. It could just be online classes, or they could open up the dorms again. Austin has been one of the epicenters (of the virus). Orientation already set up to be online. It’s just whatever the way COVID takes us,” Vega said.

He went to a McCombs camp in his junior year and received a scholarship for that.

“I knew I wanted to go into business and when I was looking at colleges I was looking at what is the most economical school that I can go to. And UT for business, the starting average salary after your bachelor’s is around $76,000, which compared to a lot of other business schools is pretty good, like $20,000 more or $10,000 more because UT McCombs is actually one of the top 10 business schools in the nation. They’ve been ranked No. 1 in accounting for 20, 25 years in the whole nation. Better than the Ivy Leagues. Because I’m in Texas … I can go there for pretty cheap so tuition is going be looking at like $20,000 a year for room, board and classes and books,” Vega said.

He added that he has two years worth of dual credit so it will take him two years to get his bachelor’s degree.

“… That’s an amazing return on investment,” Vega said.

Eventually, Vega said he wants to earn his PhD.

His advice to younger students who want to reach the top 10 is to talk to their teachers and turn their work in one time.

“If you talk to your teachers and have a good relationship with your teachers and you make sure that you get all your work in on time — obviously you have to finish the work — but if you do that, you’re going to be good,” Vega said.

He is looking forward to being on a campus where he’s among a lot of students like himself.

“I’d love a challenge,” he said.

“… A class that is able to challenge me is a lot more interesting than a class that I can just pass by being in the class,” Vega added.

NTO Principal Gerardo Ramirez said it has been a pleasure being Garcia and Vega’s principal.

“I know both of these seniors will continue to work hard and achieve a tremendous amount of success in the near future. I have seen Clarissa grow from a shy ninth grader to a senior who is more confident, determined, and is always looking for the next challenge. I am not at all surprised about her accomplishments so far and I look forward to seeing her progress in the medical field. She’s going to be a great doctor one day. I am going to miss my little talks with Avery in the hallways and asking how he is doing and him ‘giving me a hard time’ about little small things. I will miss Avery’s sense of humor. I am delighted to hear that he has future plans in the business sector, I feel that will be a great profession for him and he will be able to give back to the community in big ways,” Ramirez said in an email.

“My advice to both Avery and Clarissa is for them to always hold our Core Values of Trust, Respect, and Responsibility closely, especially during the hard battles in life. It’s not if hard times will come but a matter of when. I want them to both be assured that they have a family at NTO behind them that believe in them and are hoping for the best!” he added.

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