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Leo Alvarado, front right in focus, stands outside at South Texas College campus with the first cohort of 10 Engineering Academy students as well as the Engineering Academy project manager.
After hearing of the partnership between Texas A&M University and South Texas College, Leonel Alvarado, associate professor of practice for the Engineering Academies, returns to his former college to bring a small portion of the rich tradition from Texas A&M to the students of the Rio Grande Valley. | Image: Courtesy of South Texas College Public Relations and Marketing

Leonel Alvarado, associate professor of practice for the Texas A&M Engineering Academy program, had a fondness for engineering from a young age.

"My father and my mother both inspired me to become an engineer," Alvarado said. "My father had great attention to detail and was very systematic about things, and my mother was great with math and problem-solving. Both always encouraged me to pursue my interest in engineering — even when it meant I had taken apart the VCR or my bike and could not put them back together."

To pursue his passion for engineering, Alvarado attended South Texas College (STC), where he took classes between 2000 and 2001 from professors who helped him recognize his potential as an engineer.

"As a student at STC, I had phenomenal professors who were engaging and helped me realize that I needed to actively be involved in my learning — that I needed to ask questions in class and for help when I needed it," Alvarado said. "Come to think of it, they also helped me to understand that I was not alone in my quest to earn my degree."

After finishing his courses at STC, Alvarado graduated from The University of Texas-Pan American with a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering. However, after spending a few years in the engineering industry, he realized his real passion lay in educating students. Thus, Alvarado obtained a Master of Science in educational leadership at the University of Texas-Pan American, and in 2018, he began working as an associate professor of practice for the Texas A&M-Chevron Engineering Academy at Houston Community College-Spring Branch (HCC). 

The Engineering Academy program is the first program of its kind in the United States. Academy students are co-enrolled with Texas A&M and one of nine partner community colleges. Within this program, students take mathematics, science and core curriculum courses through the community college while taking engineering courses from Texas A&M faculty on the community college campus. After one or two years, students transition to Texas A&M to complete the remaining requirements for their bachelor's degrees. Unlike traditional transfer programs, students within the Engineering Academy program are Texas A&M College of Engineering students from day one. 

As someone who would have benefitted from the Engineering Academies when he was attending STC, Alvarado is thrilled to offer this program to students.

"The main benefit of the Engineering Academy program is that it helps to fill a void that would otherwise prohibit many talented students from reaching their academic goals,” he said. “With smaller class sizes and more accessibility to their professors, it offers students a smoother transition from high school to college life. In turn, this helps students stay on course to graduate as engineers from Texas A&M."

In February 2023, Texas A&M and STC announced their partnership in launching the Texas A&M Engineering Academy at South Texas College

"The Rio Grande Valley has a tremendous amount of potential that often does not get realized due to financial constraints,” Alvarado said. “With the cost savings at the academy, I know that more students will be able to accomplish their goal of graduating from Texas A&M."

After Texas A&M announced its partnership with STC, Alvarado requested to return to his former community college as a professor and bring the Spirit of Aggieland to the Jaguars.

"I’m really excited to be able to bring a small portion of the rich tradition from Texas A&M to the students of the Rio Grande Valley," he said. "I’m really looking forward to supporting each and every single one of my student’s aspirations of becoming an engineer by earning their education from Texas A&M."

As Alvarado returns to STC, he aims to emulate the same compassion and intentionality his professors showed him, saying that "the right teacher makes all the difference." 

"They believed in me, even when I didn’t. This is the same philosophy and methodology that I practice with my students," he said. " I want to instill a sense of family and community in and outside my classroom. I want to set up my students for success — I want to see them understand, then realize their potential."  

Although Alvarado has been with the Engineering Academies for five years, he says he is still excited to see what the future holds for the program.

"The future of this program lies in the ability of my students to be able to take what they have learned in the classroom and teach others,” he said. “I want to instill in them a longing to serve others and to always remember to believe in themselves and their abilities. This will help ensure a long and prosperous future for the Engineering Academy."