SSS-Teacher Prep Program Prepares Next Generation of Educators

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Now wrapping up its fourth year of programming at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, the Student Support Services (SSS) Teacher Preparation program has assisted 114 Islander students earn their degree on their journey to become an educator. Another cohort of 23 students will graduate this spring.

SSS-Teacher Prep (SSS-TP) include academic coaching, access to computer and study labs, free printing, cultural and enrichment opportunities, career counseling, workshops and more, all to benefit future teachers. SSS-TP, which was initially funded in 2015 thanks to a U.S. Department of Education grant, provides services exclusively to first-generation college students, those with financial need, or individuals with disabilities. Only 11 schools around the nation received this grant, with the Island University as the only school in Texas to receive funding.

“SSS-Teacher Prep seeks to serve the student not just on the academic and financial level, but at the holistic level,” said Jocelyn Gutierrez, SSS-TP Director. “We provide a sense of belonging and show pre-service teachers what it really means to go into the service of education. We also provide them a safe space to learn to ask empowering questions.”

Monica Pena, an Early Childhood Education major, is one of 23 SSS-TP graduating seniors.

“My decision to pursue the education field has always been to help children however I can,” Pena said. “Even if helping them means I am tying their shoes, picking their hair up, or cleaning their spilled milk, I would do it. If it means reading words they don’t know, explaining a difficult question, or listening with a smile then I would do it. My effectiveness and success as a teacher rely on my willingness to provide what the students need, no matter what that might be.”

Pena, a single mother who is now only weeks away from earning her degree, says that graduating from A&M-Corpus Christi would have been an extremely difficult challenge had it not been for the support of SSS-TP.

“My school days have always been spent pinching pennies. The program not only provided me with free printing, but it also provided me with textbooks,” said Pena, who completed her student teaching at Welder Elementary in Sinton. “Also, tutors were always available to me. I don’t know how many times I walked in with a list of problems and walked out knowing how to solve each one.”

Housed in the Glasscock Building, the space, which includes a large common area, computer labs, and smaller study zones, will undergo a facelift this summer with new carpets, modular furniture, and a SMART board.

“The computer rooms have also always been a sanctuary to me,” said Pena. “I remember staying late waiting for my evening classes to start, and I was able to sit in a quiet space and get my work done, also knowing there were people around to help me if I needed it.”

Austin Villanueva, an English major earning a teaching certification, is another SSS-TP success story.

“Without SSS-Teacher Prep, I’d be lost,” said Villanueva, who completed his student teaching at Moody High School. “Without all the tools like tutorials, textbooks, and other materials, it’d be a challenge.”

Villanueva, who was initially a Mechanical Engineering Technology major, says changing his degree path was by far the best decision he’s ever made.

“As an aspiring teacher, I am more than just an educator: I am a mentor, a confidant, and a friend,” said Villanueva, who graduates this May. “Teaching is a grounding, humbling profession. Working with students from all over and challenging them to push beyond their limits is something I look forward to doing every day.” 

Both Villanueva and Pena aspire to eventually return to the Island University to earn master’s degrees. Villanueva’s goal is to become a school principal while Pena hopes to transition into a career in school counseling.

Jessica Barrera works as an SSS-TP Academic Success Coach and is also a product of the program.

“When I first came to A&M-Corpus Christi, I didn’t know if I was going to make it,” said Barrera, who will earn her degree in Bachelor of Business Administration in Management Information Systems in May. “Then I discovered SSS-Teacher Prep, and I earned a job as a full-time academic coach and staff member here. This is all because I had support and because I had people to talk to. Nobody else in my family went to college, and I needed help navigating college life.”

Recent SSS-TP enrichment events have included stress management workshops and an information panel featuring Islander faculty members who have a combined total of 90 years in the field of education.

“I was blown away by not only the turnout at the panel, but the participation and dialogue,” said Gutierrez, who balances her duties as SSS-TP director while also working towards a doctorate in Educational Leadership at A&M-Corpus Christi.

Overall GPA for the current cohort of SSS-TP students is a 3.0 and 97 percent of the students are in good academic standing with the University.

“Our students are highly motivated and dedicated to their soon-to-be professions,” said Renita Newton, SSS-TP Intervention Specialist, who will graduate with a Master of Science in Counseling this May. “Because our assistance is tailored to the student, we see so much personal growth in the students. We get to hear stories about their celebration of being the first in their family to graduate and we get to talk to them about what applying to a master’s program is like. We equip them with the tools to navigate their educational journey.” 

While the U.S. Department of Education has recently released startling figures that nearly half of all teachers leave the profession by the fifth year, SSS-Teacher Prep students and staff continue to find hope and joy in the field of education.

“I have made long-lasting friendships with the SSS-Teacher Prep staff, and I will forever be grateful for one particular coach, Jessica Barrera,” said Villanueva. “I want to thank her for all the tutorial sessions, but most importantly, to thank her for never giving up on me.”

Pena echoes those sentiments.

“I wish I could give out a thousand hugs and say thank you to all the people who have helped me on this journey,” she said. “I would not have been able to enjoy it as much if it weren’t for them and I am just so deeply thankful.”

For more information

The Student Support Services (SSS) Teacher Preparation program is federally funded by the U.S. Department of Education and is aimed at serving first-generational, low-income, and needs based college students. At SSS-Teacher Prep Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi (TAMU-CC), students can expect SSS-Teacher Prep staff to be proficient in understanding the needs of underrepresented populations in their journey to becoming a Texas state certified educator. SSS-Teacher Prep at TAMU-CC also provides the academic and social support that students need to accomplish their educational goals. For additional questions or more information, please contact: 361.825.4571 or visit