When the Rusk TJC Citizens Promise scholarship program was launched in 2014, it was one of the earliest Promise programs in the nation and the first such initiative in Texas.
On Thursday, the program reached a milestone with the announcement of the 10th group of Rusk High School seniors, who are eligible to join Tyler Junior College’s freshman class of 2023.
A partnership between TJC, the TJC Foundation, Rusk ISD, Citizens 1st Bank and The Perkins Family Foundation, the Rusk Promise covers up to $4,000 per year for two years at TJC. In addition to graduating in the top half of their class with a minimum 2.5 GPA, qualifying students must also reside in Rusk ISD and must have attended Rusk High School for grades 11 and 12.
This year’s 63 eligible Rusk Promise scholars are: Joshua Arredondo, Raymond Arrington, Madelene Baldwin, Kaydance Barnett, Arianne Beathard, Keira Beck, Jazz Blankinship, Kolby Blankinship, Calyssa Boggs, Angel Briseno, Aden Burkhalter, Seth Chaffin, Lexsey Cleaver, Ciara Colston, Mason Cook, Jackson Crysup, Molly Davis, Skylar Denny, Kaylie Dotson, Jackson Dowling, Jeran Driver, Gabila Flores, Tucker Goff, Ramon Guerra Marquez, Cadence Harris, Shelby Hassell, Jeremiah Hill, Madalyn Hill, Jessica Humphries, Hope Jinkins, David Kennedy, Libby Langston, Harlie Leonard, Cassie Loden, Dylan Loden, Dianne Loredo, Kryz Martinez, Grayce McCarten, Katelyn McCarten, Aiden McCown, Madeline McDaniel, Joanna Molina, Kaylynn Morris, Skylie Myers-Watson, Hope Nimitz, Bailey Posey, Natalee Roberts, Cameron Robinson, Abraham Rosales, Cameron Sadler, Kelly Salvador, Dadiva Santiago Hernandez, Emma Simmons, La’niya Simms, Tarrant Sunday, Isabel Torres, Xavier Torres, Caroline Turney, Peighton Vargas, Isabel Vences, Elijah Ward, Madalynn Woodruff and Bailey Woods.
Since the program’s inception a decade ago, more than 350 RHS graduates have come through the Rusk Promise program.
“We are fortunate to have seen the impact that the Rusk Promise program has made on our community,” said Dr. Grey Burton, Rusk ISD superintendent. “I can’t overstate enough how it has changed the mindset of our kids as far as their ability to go to college — and when they get to TJC, our Rusk kids are performing higher than their peers.”
Rusk senior Xavier Torres is planning to attend TJC and major in visual communications and graphic design and possibly go into teaching.
“Without this program, it would be difficult,” Torres said. “I think this drives us more to get out there and get it done. I grew up in Rusk and I’ve been looking forward to this. It has been exciting to know that I could have this opportunity and thrive from it as well.”
TJC President and CEO Dr. Juan E. Mejia said, “We are carving a path that is going to transform this region for the better. You are going to help this community flourish and be the very best that it can be. We are going to make sure that these students have access to the finest education anywhere in the world, right here in beautiful Rusk.”
“We love TJC graduates who choose to come to The University of Texas at Tyler,” UT Tyler President Dr. Kirk A. Calhoun said. “They are extremely well prepared for the various courses we offer.”
Calhoun added, “We were inspired by the Promise program at TJC. They were pioneers in East Texas in making these kinds of opportunities available. Through the generosity of The University of Texas Board of Regents, we have received funding that allows us to extend the Patriot Promise program to qualified students who come out of TJC and wish to come to UT Tyler and have their tuition and fees totally paid for. This is an opportunity for you to get a college degree free of the tremendous debt that can be associated with that. Do not waste this opportunity! Go to TJC and then come to UT Tyler, and we’ll take good care of you.”
Rusk senior Lexsey Cleaver plans to do just that.
“Going to TJC and then UT Tyler is the perfect plan for me to achieve my dreams,” she said. “My future goal is to be a child psychologist, but right now I want to get into education and try teaching as well.”
Cleaver is the second member of her family to earn the Rusk Promise scholarship.
“I learned about it as a freshman, when my sister was a senior and was a recipient of the Promise scholarship,” she said. “She was very excited, and it helped our mom out so much. And seeing so many of her classmates talk about it and how it completely changed their lives and took so much stress off their shoulders, I have been looking forward to it.”
Speaking on behalf of Citizens 1st Bank and The Perking Family Foundation, Margaret Perkins said, “What you have heard this morning is a history-making opportunity that will be life-changing for you, your family and this community. When the Rusk Promise program began, many of your siblings, your family members and your former classmates have been a part of it, so you know a great deal about Tyler Junior College. And you know that they have exceeded in every category. They have been superb students and there are many reasons for this.”
She attributed that success to the preparation students receive in the Rusk school system, TJC’s nurturing environment and accessible professors, and the attention students receive from the Rusk Promise office led by Megan Cumbee Burns.
Burns, TJC’s senior manager of scholarships and the Rusk Promise, is also a 2006 Rusk High School graduate. During their senior year in high school, she keeps in contact with Promise scholars and holds workshops and meetings especially for them and their parents, to ease the students’ transition from high school to TJC. When the students enroll at TJC, Burns and her team keep in regular contact with the Rusk Promise scholars through monthly meetings, seminars and answering any questions that arise.
Perkins continued, “Under every system of measurement at TJC for the success of students, the Rusk students exceed expectations and often surpass other students from different communities. Those other communities have noticed this, and they were aware of the success Rusk Promise students were enjoying. They were challenged by it, and now there are Promise programs all over East Texas and all over the state of Texas — but Rusk was first.”
Mejia added, “Through the TJC Promise and the UT Tyler Patriot Promise, we have a most unique opportunity to increase the degree attainment level for our region, at scale, and in a sustainable way. Recently we had the opportunity to once again celebrate the authentic partnership among the Rusk School District, TJC, Citizens 1st Bank, and the James I. Perkins family foundation. Since we launched this program in 2014 as the first of its kind in the state, we have demonstrated how transformative opportunities like this are for the students served and for the community.”
TJC has a long history of providing a high volume of transfer students that outperform students going directly from high school to a four-year institution. Students participating in the TJC Promise Program also outperform their non-participating student counterparts.
“We truly celebrate the participating school districts, including Chapel Hill, Grand Saline, Lindale, Mineola, Tyler, Van and Winona, for strategically partnering with TJC,” Mejia said. “Now, with the opportunity for additional years at UT Tyler, this is a significant win/win for our entire region. We remain committed to a successful college-going culture, and the result is an enrollment at TJC of over 12,000 strong.”
For more information on the Rusk TJC Citizens Promise, go to TJC.edu/RuskPromise.