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Harker Heights Evening Star
Harker Heights Evening Star

A&M-Central Texas marketing campaign features local graduates

Killeen – A week before they graduated from A&M-Central Texas this past May, five friends posed for a picture and posted it on Facebook.

Alexandra Askland, 22, from Belton, Ana Shed, 26, from Lampasas, Lauren Bautista, 25, and Erika Hernandez, 25, from Copperas Cove and Sara LaComb, 24, from Evant, began their undergraduate degrees in the teacher preparation program.

Courtesy Photo
Five local women who graduated in May will be featured in an upcoming marketing campaign. The graduates are from Lampasas, Evant, Belton and Copperas Cove.

When they began the Teacher Preparation Program at A&M-Central Texas, only two of the women knew each other; but within weeks, and over the next two years, they had become and would remain a full-fledged support network.

So, on that day of celebration, they dressed in their graduation regalia, self-decorated mortar boards paying a colorful tribute to their accomplishment.

And, standing side by side on the tree lined walkway in front of Warrior Hall, they laced their arms around each other’s waist, and waited for Lauren’s mother to snap a photo.

Unbeknown to them, their story wasn’t destined to end there. Far from it.

The photo they took and quickly posted on Facebook caught the eye of the university’s communications officer who thought it might just be the perfect image for a series of billboards scheduled for use throughout the Central Texas region.

Within days of having first seen it, the artwork was complete – with just one hitch.

The photograph, as perfect as it was, could not be enlarged to billboard scale without a high resolution camera.

So the students – now alumni – would have to reassemble, recreate the moment and use equipment slightly more sophisticated than a commercial camera so that the original 3×5 image could be enlarged to its new and somewhat mammoth proportions: now 20×40 feet.

Alexandra Askland, now a teacher at Oveta Culp Hobby Elementary School on Ft. Hood, the photo’s originator, was the first to agree, quickly rounding up her four friends – some of whom who were not in the area – and scheduling their return.

Within hours, everyone was on board. It was a reunion of a sort, albeit a lot earlier than any of them thought they’d again be together. But a welcome opportunity to re-celebrate the day and a friendship that blossomed as a result of their common degree goals.

“We became so close in our program,” she explained. “We did everything together. We were in the library until all hours. We ate together. We took naps together. We pulled all-nighters together.”

Ana Shed, mom of two children, ages 6 and 9, made the commute to classes from Lampasas, and recalled one of their first classes after having been accepted into the program. They had each just transferred from Central Texas College, and only two, Erika and Sara, knew each other.

“We had a special education class,” she began. “It was a small group of us. At first, nobody talked. We were all just trying to get adjusted to the difference between college and university classes. Especially inside a rigorous program. We were all a little nervous.

“Then, one day, we were like family. We were yelling at each other from across the room or running into each other in the library, and we just clicked. We took almost all of our classes together, and before we knew it, the original two who knew each other grew into this family of five women who were there for each other the whole way through.”

Sara LaComb, confirmed not just the tight knit nature of their group, but the overall closeness students experience in the Teacher Preparation Program in A&M-Central Texas College of Education.

“My ex was in a horrible car accident and was hospitalized for two weeks. This group knew our life inside out. The faculty encouraged us to stay together and support each other.”

All five of the recent graduates praised the personal connection they found among the program faculty, especially Dr. Agnes Tang, Dr. Amanda Allen, and Dr. Amber Diaz, who provided more than curricular preparation.

These five women, and likely every other student in the program, learns that any obstacle can be overcome with enough effort – and a lot of tissues and chocolate.

“The Educator Preparation Department was home,” stressed Alexandra. “Any student in the program can go to Dr. Allen with anything.”

“So we would sit with her, and pour our hearts out. We did the work asked of us, but when things got rocky – and they sometimes did – the faculty were always there with a Kleenex or a piece of chocolate.”

“What we didn’t realize back then is that we all face obstacles. Not one of the faculty in the department would let us give up on ourselves.”

Perhaps the faculty knew, based on years of experience, is what the students, now graduates, would come to learn. So, once again, as they posed for a camera and re-created their graduation photo, it was a little clearer how it all was meant to be.

Beginning this fall, all of them will find themselves in the classroom in communities both near and far. Alex, Lauren, and Erika will teach for Killeen ISD. Ana has signed up teach in Lampasas, and Sara will be teaching in Suzhou China.

One has already begun the graduate program in educational leadership at A&M-Central Texas.

Encouraged by her family to value education, Erika decided she can teach and do graduate work at the same time.

Chalk it up to her military family, and a father who spent 30 years in service to the country, she prides herself on discipline and always facing the future forward to the flag. And, while she admits that she loves her students and the classroom, she was inspired by the A&M-Central Texas faculty.

“I want to serve in a leadership role as a vice principal or principal someday,” she said. “I want to do for other teachers what the A&M-Central Texas faculty did for us.”


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