For Quyen Trinh, the road to a bachelor’s degree has included unexpected stops along the way. After about 10 years, the Houston resident will complete a milestone and graduate from the University of Houston-Victoria this month.

“I have been a student on and off for so long, it’s going to feel great to finally spend some quality time with my family,” Trinh said. “My whole family is as excited as I am because I’ll be the first in my family to graduate from college. I would not be at this point without the support of my family.”

Trinh recently was named the Fall 2020 Outstanding Undergraduate Student for the UHV School of Education, Health Professions & Human Development. Ana Laura Pineda, of Edna, was named the Outstanding Graduate Student for the school.

“Quyen and Ana Laura are just two examples of the dedication and determination we see in our students to achieve their education goals,” said Rachel Martinez, interim dean of the school. “They each worked hard to reach success, and I wish them the best in their future endeavors.”

Each semester, professors from UHV’s three schools select outstanding graduates to be honored during commencement. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, UHV has postponed its 2020 graduation ceremonies until it is safe to gather.

Trinh will graduate with a Bachelor of Science in education with a concentration in early childhood to grade six. She started taking college courses about 10 years ago but put her education on pause a few times to help her family and to have a child.

Becoming a teacher was something in which Trinh was always interested. As a child, she would pretend to be a teacher for her younger brothers and relatives. Now, as a mother to 4-year-old Greyson, she sometimes finds herself practicing teaching strategies with him.

“I love working with the younger ones because you can just see how excited and interested they are in learning,” she said. “The little ones are so happy to be in school. Even through COVID-19, the children in my student-teaching classes have done so well and are just so excited to be learning.”

Trinh has juggled being a full-time student with a full-time job while also raising her son. Before the pandemic, she would go to school during the day, go to her job as a waitress at night, and then come home to put her son to bed and do homework. Her brothers, Joseph Trinh and Tan Nguyen, would help her by taking care of Grayson while she was working or in school.

“It was tough trying to schedule in family time because there just wasn’t enough time in the day to do everything,” she said. “The support of my family and friends helped keep me motivated because I love teaching, and I knew this was all worth it.”

Trinh not only gives thanks to her family and friends, but also to the UHV education faculty.

“All of the professors have been so helpful and supportive,” she said. “They all teach real-world lessons about what we can expect in the classroom and life lessons. The faculty always pushes us to be our best, and I appreciate that.”

Pineda, a certification analyst for the UHV School of Education, Health Professions & Human Development, saw getting a master’s degree as a personal goal. She will be the first person in her family to earn a master’s degree when she graduates with her Master of Education in Adult & Higher Education with a focus on adult education. She received her UHV Bachelor of Applied Arts & Sciences in general business in 2014 and her associate degree in 2006 from Victoria College.

Pineda has worked at UHV since 2007. Working in higher education motivated her to continue her education, she said. Pineda advises undergraduate students majoring in education, graduate students studying curriculum and instruction, and students in the online VOICE program who already have a bachelor’s degree in another area but want to become teachers.

“I enjoy working with students, but I felt like I could be helping them even more,” she said. “Being a graduate student myself has given me the opportunity to be a better advisor to students, and I feel more knowledgeable in the information I am giving when I am advising. I also understand what the graduates may be going through because they also are full-time working parents like me.”

Going back to school was not an easy task for Pineda, who has three children. When the pandemic hit, Pineda had to balance working from home, helping her children with remote learning, and completing her classes and schoolwork in addition to managing a household and raising a family. Pineda’s husband, Santos, and her children all helped and supported her during the time she has been in school.

“My family has been my motivation and biggest support during this entire time,” she said. “My children have been so sweet. They’ll ask me if they can bring me something to eat or drink while I’m doing homework. My children were part of the reason for me to go back and get my master’s degree, and to see them be so understanding is heartwarming.”

Pineda thanks her family, friends and co-workers for their help and support. She plans to continue her education and will be in the clinical mental health counseling program at UHV in the spring with the intention of one day becoming a licensed professional counselor.

“My goal overall is to help people the best that I can,” she said. “I am grateful to have the opportunity to continue my education, and to be named an outstanding student is just the icing on top.”

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