Made from Scratch
Never was there a more enthusiastic group of students than the one that held a celebratory pizza party March 8 at the University of St. Thomas. The 12 students with learning differences comprised the first graduating cohort from The Kolbe School’s landmark Pragmatic Studies Associate of Applied Science (AAS) Program. Such a wish-come-true accomplishment even drew the attention of the Houston Chronicle’s education writer.
Cameras flashed. Amid balloons and red streamers, the extraordinary students beamed with pride.
Pragmatic Studies Students Capture Hearts
“These students have my heart,” Pragmatic Studies Program Chair Dr. Tera Torres said. “We call them ‘the game changers’ because they have completely changed the way higher education functions. Each of them does life just a little bit differently than the rest of the world, and that makes each of them inherently creative and delightfully ambitious.”
From the Mouths of This Cohort
When asked how he felt about graduating with his two-year degree, Jason Quintanilla theatrically declared with a grin, “Finally!”
A victorious Keldon Fifer confidently predicted, “I’m going to get a job. Whatever God has for me.”
Several of the students already work. Kasem Fletcher has a job with a landscaping and sprinkler system company. Quintanilla teaches creative arts with Young Audiences of Houston. Chris Borgman runs his own pet-sitting and house-sitting business.
Emily Mannikko, an engaging conversationalist, continues working on campus in Student Activities and plans to enroll in UST’s trailblazing Pragmatic Studies Bachelor for Applied Science (BAAS) in Social Innovation and Human Services, the only program of its kind in the country.
“I’m excited and looking forward to earning my degree,” Mannikko said.
Tommy Hughes was riding the celebration excitement too, but the moment felt bittersweet for him. “I get a little sad and emotional about leaving my friends, but this is part of life, and you’ve got to move on,” he pointed out.
Independent and with a Thirst for Learning
“These students have learned more about themselves than they or we ever could have dreamed,” Torres explained. She reflected on the unforgettable moment, observing, “The Kolbe School is exceptional, doing what others only talk about in higher education. We accept them for who they are and where they are, and we help them go from their own ‘Point A’ to their own
‘Point B.’ We’re living out the mission of UST.”
On May 13, UST’s first Pragmatic Studies cohort walked across the commencement stage as college graduates with work experience.
“And their families watched these game-changers do it, and we were all crying buckets,” Dean of The Kolbe School, Dr. Nicole Walters said.