story info and photo submitted by the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith
One Fort Smith family has established a tradition of opportunity and success as they seek higher education, first completing programs offered by the Western Arkansas Technical Center at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith and now working toward bachelor’s degrees.
WATC is an area secondary education center located on the UAFS campus. WATC began in 1998 when UAFS, formerly Westark College, and the Western Arkansas Educational Service Cooperative partnered with the state to initiate the program.
The secondary center serves a five-county area and has grown to include programs in automotive technology, computer-aided drafting and design, criminal justice, early childhood education, electronics technology, engineering, graphic design, health sciences, information technology and welding technology.
Gabriel, 20, Lidiana, 19, and Maria, 18, are three of the seven Quezada siblings who are currently at different places in their higher education quest, but it all began with WATC.
Gabriel, the oldest, completed the WATC electronics technology program in 2009. As he graduated from high school, he chose to continue his education at UAFS and earned an associate degree in electronics technology in 2010 when he was 18. Gabriel is studying electrical engineering and plans to graduate again, this time in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree.
After receiving his A.A.S. degree, Gabriel got a job troubleshooting autopilots, where he repaired the autopilots on small aircraft.
“WATC helped me prepare for the future, not just college,” said Gabriel. “In high school, I was shy, but now I feel comfortable in social settings, and I’m able to network.”
HEALTH, COMPUTER CAREERS
Lidiana studied health during her time as a WATC student. Upon high school graduation she had passed her state exam to work as a Certified Nursing Assistant. Because of the CNA program at WATC, she was able to obtain employment as she studies to become a registered nurse.
Maria graduated from high school in May and completed the Computer-Aided Drafting and Design program while she was a WATC student. She has accumulated approximately 60 college credit hours without paying a dollar in tuition.
This sibling group also shares in common their participation in the SkillsUSA organization. The purpose of SkillsUSA is to prepare tomorrow’s workforce to be leaders and allow students an opportunity to prove their technical skills in competition.
Gabriel placed silver in the Arkansas computer maintenance competition in 2009. Lidiana received a gold medal in the Arkansas medical math competition in 2011 and then earned gold in the national competition. Maria received a gold medal as winner of the Arkansas technical drafting competition and represented Arkansas at nationals in June.
All three are Northside High School graduates. Lidiana and Maria graduated with honors. Gabriel was on the wrestling team and worked part time at a local electronics store.
Gabriel and Maria received “Outstanding WATC Student” awards during their senior year of participation in the program. Gabriel, Lidiana and Maria were on the Director’s Honor Roll. According to WATC Director Chris Rink, they each proved they were willing to go above and beyond when faced with challenging material in the classroom.
“It is always wonderful to see students excel in their studies, but having three from the same family succeeding at such a high level and at the same time is quite unique,” said Rink.
“These three students, having started their higher education careers in the WATC program, are ahead of students they graduated with who did not participate in the WATC program,” he said. “The fact that all WATC courses are free to the student is a great plus as well.”
Maria chose to follow in the footsteps of her older brother and sister because she was familiar with the program offerings and benefits.
“It helped me get a good head start on my degree,” Maria said.
Additionally, the students found that WATC helped prepare them for the upper-level college classes they take to earn a degree, according to Gabriel.
“In my electromagnetism class, I felt like I was ahead from the start because I had already been exposed to the concepts in my beginning WATC classes,” Gabriel said. “We are first generation college students. Our father believes in school and education.”
The siblings agreed the driving force behind each of them is their parents.
Maria said, “They make sure we are taking the opportunities presented to us. We hope our younger siblings come to WATC and start planning for their future, too.”
Maria believes they all have opportunities to have dreams and execute plans to achieve their goals.
She added, “Some people dream of success. Others wake up and work hard at it. That is a quote I live by. It’s one thing to have a goal, but it’s another thing to achieve it. WATC has helped me achieve some goals and help me create new ones.”
“America is called the dream land,” said Lidiana. “I watched my parents sacrifice as they brought us here to take advantage of the opportunities and to create a better life. WATC was one of those opportunities.”