Stafford students earn college degree, high school diploma simultaneously in a first through HCC dual-credit program

Feb 19, 2020

HCC Southwest President Madeline Burillo-Hopkins, Ed.D., far right, and Deborah Nordt, director of Stafford High School College and Career Center, far left, celebrate the academic achievement of Stafford High School students, from left, Samantha Sadeghi, Miriam Santacruz and Kevin Nguyen, who will graduate in May 2020 with an associate degree along with a high school diploma. (Photo courtesy of Houston Community College Southwest)


The Stafford High School Class of 2020 has much to be proud of when they stroll across the stage to collect their high school diplomas this May.

For three of the students, the pomp and circumstance will have special significance. Graduates Samantha Sadeghi, Miriam Santacruz and Kevin Nguyen will not only receive their diplomas but also associate degrees from Houston Community College (HCC) Southwest at the same time.

The achievement comes on the heels of completing an HCC dual-credit program over the past three years at no cost to them while they attended high school – a cost savings of about $30,000 in college tuition. They soon will transfer to four-year universities as sophomores or juniors.

On Feb. 11, the trio received the coveted President’s Award at the school district Board of Trustees meeting from Christopher Caldwell, Ed.D., board president.

“I’m very proud of these three graduating seniors,” said Deborah Nordt, director of Stafford High School’s College and Career Center. “They are the first in the history of the school district to achieve an academic recognition that no one else has ever received.”

For Sadeghi, 18, pursuing her associate degree while in high school was a no-brainer.

“I’ve earned my AA (Associate of Arts) degree in multidisciplinary studies, so now I won’t have to take the prerequisite classes when I go to college, which saves a lot money,” she said.

Sadeghi plans to attend the University of Houston and major in biology before pursuing a bachelor’s degree in optometry. “I hope to do that within four years to save as much money as possible,” she said.

Nguyen, 17, said the magnitude of his accomplishments is still sinking in.

“It feels amazing because I never thought that at Stafford I would be successful like this,” he said. “They gave us the opportunity and told us we have the chance. It was very hard, even though I still managed to have a social life. But now I really like being exposed to college.”

For Santacruz, 17, getting the associate degree sets an example for her two younger siblings who both plan to attend college. Her next move is applying to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center School of Health Professions to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in diagnostic medical sonography, she said.

“I’m so proud of her,” said Santacruz’s mother, Sonia. “She’s very hard-working and loves what she’s doing. Her older brother is in HCC right now, studying computer science. My third child is a freshman at Stafford High School and he’s wants to start his HCC dual-credit program next year.”

HCC Southwest President Madeline Burillo-Hopkins, Ed.D., encouraged the graduates to continue their stellar work.

“You believed in yourselves and you have the dedication to complete your program,” she said at the school board meeting. “That in itself is a great accomplishment, and it tells all of us that you’re going to accomplish great things in your life. This is the reason we work in education and the reason we get up every day – it’s because of you.”

HCC’s dual-credit program in partnership with Stafford High School offers a wide array of academic and career-oriented classes, said Athena Walker, HCC director of P-16 Initiatives. Dual-credit program students have the option to pursue an associate degree or a level 1 certificate as a fast track to landing a job.

Academic courses offered include arts, economics, history, math, English and Spanish. In career-oriented programs, students can learn business technology, culinary arts, filmmaking and welding.

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