Student loan debt is a greater burden than during any other period in U.S. history. Forty-four million people in the United States collectively owe $1.4 trillion in student loan debt. Strapped with debt, new graduates are postponing purchasing homes, buying cars or settling down.
But, not Temple University senior Pablo Reyes. He owes nothing.
Like Pablo, an increased number of college students are re-evaluating their path to higher education; making smarter, more informed decisions as they lay the framework for their future. During his senior year in high school, a partnership with Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology afforded Pablo an excellent opportunity; attend high school and college at the same time. This meant the 2015 graduate of J.P. McCaskey High School received his high school diploma and started his sophomore year in college just a few months later.
Pablo’s connection with Advantage Lancaster introduced him to this opportunity. “I was introduced to Advantage Lancaster the summer before 7th grade. I was sitting on my porch eating an ice cream cone when Mr. Meadows and Mr. Bair approached me and asked if I wanted to join. Many years later Pablo contends that joining was one the best decisions he could have made. In middle school, he remained actively involved in the year-round academic enrichment program. However, when entering high school, Pablo decided to get a job instead of continuing with the program. He acknowledges that the Advantage Lancaster staff encouraged him to remain active, that the reward would be worth the sacrifice, but his desire to earn money and socialize won. “My transition from middle school to high school was rough. I guess I wanted to fit in with the cool kids and I didn’t take it seriously. So, when the marking period ended I had a 1.9 GPA.”
Although Pablo was no longer attending Advantage Lancaster, Mrs. Meadows, was his 9th-grade geometry teacher. “She pulled me to the side and talked to me about how high school is important for your future. She said I needed to take advantage of all of the resources and make sure that I put in the work so when it was time for me graduate and apply to college I’d have a better chance of getting into school and getting scholarships.” Jennifer Meadows, who affectionately refers to Pablo as “like a son” recalls the disappointment and defeat in Pablo’s face after receiving his 9th grade first marking period grades and the work it took for him to succeed.
“I was Pablo’s 9th & 10th grade (Honors Geometry & Honors Precalculus) Math teacher. During the summer of his 9th-grade year, I taught Advanced Algebra for advanced credit to Advantage Lancaster students and Pablo was a student in that class. Oh, my goodness! He was so unorganized. Papers were just stuffed in his backpack! would constantly tell him to get organized –organization is a key to success.” Her words were exactly what Pablo needed to refocus. The very next marking period, Pablo made the honor roll (3.0) followed by the distinguished honor roll (3.5) two marking periods in a row. In 11th, grade Pablo was inducted into the National Honor Society. “He asked me to pin him for the ceremony,” says Jennifer Meadows. “I was truly honored that he picked me.”
The first-generation college student credits Advantage Lancaster and Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology [TSCT] with preparing him for his current success. While in middle school, Advantage Lancaster exposed Pablo to opportunities that he didn’t know existed; in high school, Advantage Lancaster helped him obtain those opportunities. Nevertheless, Pablo wasn’t certain he was headed to college immediately after high school. “One day at Extended Day Learning, Pablo expressed to me that after he graduates from Thaddeus, he may take some time off from school and wanted to get my opinion. I expressed to him (by providing examples) that I didn’t think that was a good idea and he should continue to pursue this undergraduate degree. Pablo has always come for advice and listens to all of us[i] especially when it pertains to his educational path.” He accepted the guidance of Advantage Lancaster and enrolled at Temple University.
Being able to attend college for little to no money before transferring to Temple “helped me manage my time better because in college you get paper, projects, midterms and they are all due in the same week. It taught to prepare ahead of time. It also taught me how to organize myself better and prepare myself mentally for those things.” The experience also helped him reassess his career goals. While at TSCT, Pablo majored in architectural technology but soon realized he was most interested in a career path in Construction Management. “Even though I realized I did not want to be an architect I knew the skills that I gained in my classes at Thaddeus Stevens would benefit me down the road.” Pablo credits the job shadows he experienced at TSCT as a main influence in his decision to manage construction sites rather than design them.
During his last year at TSCT, Pablo found ways to give back to Advantage Lancaster. Amidst his busy schedule, he managed to volunteer with the after-school program on Tuesdays and Thursdays. According to Pablo, Advantage Lancaster never turned their back on him even when he made choices that weren’t in accord with the future he desires. He wanted to offer support and mentorship to younger students the way it was offered to him. “The students loved him because of his great personality and nurturing spirit. When Pablo arrived at tutoring and walked through the door, students would shout out “Julio Stacks.” Julio Stacks is the name that they made up for him because everyone knew that Pablo was serious about his money. He was truly an asset to our after school Extended Day Learning. Pablo understood Advantage Lancaster’s mentorship. He was a mentee who years later became a mentor!”
Pablo’s ability to balance work and academic life is still present. During the summer he works 70-80 a week. During the school year, he spends his weekends in Lancaster. He willingly makes this sacrifice because he wants to graduate from college debt free. “I pay for my college out of pocket. Thank God I have a good work ethic. My work ethic keeps me focused on the end goal.” A collaboration between Advantage Lancaster and the office of Pennsylvania House of Representative member Michael Sturla led to a career building internship with Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT). The opportunity was earmarked for college students; however, because of his dual enrollment with TSCT Pablo was permitted to begin the internship before graduating high school.
In May 2018, Pablo will move to Florida to start an internship as a Field Engineer with Hensel Phelps. He decided to accept the position because it is a great opportunity and it exposes him to a new environment. “I’m young. Nothing is holding me back.” He asserts that his PennDOT experiences and his Construction Management coursework have a laid an excellent foundation for this new opportunity. As a Field Engineer, Pablo will be responsible for Subcontractor Management, Submittal Review Skills, RFI Development, Layout /surveying, Daily Reports, Quality Control and Support of Safety Plan.
When reflecting on his time with Advantage Lancaster Pablo asserts, “thank God they didn’t give up on me because I could have been just another kid following the trends and not go to class and things like that.” He encourages current and future Advantage Lancaster students to take advantage of every offered opportunity. “To find your purpose and the meaning of life, you have to go through experiences. You don’t really know what you want to do until you go through some experiences. Stay focused, try new things, and just keep on going trying to gain as much knowledge as you can. Use it as a pedestal to just keep going in life.”
In December 2018, Pablo will graduate with a B.S.E.T. in Construction Management from Temple University, debt free. “I am so proud of Pablo and all of his accomplishments,” says Jennifer Meadows. “Pablo is destined for great things!”
[i] Ty Bair, Shayne Meadows, Sarourn Sen, Jennifer Meadows