Seven UTRGV students awarded Charles Butt Scholarship for Aspiring Teachers

BY Amanda L. Alaniz

Seven UTRGV students were among the first 100 Charles Butt Scholarship for Aspiring Teachers recipients under the Raise Your Hand Foundation.

The inaugural cohort was chosen from a pool of 350 candidates by means of a competitive selection process, which included a written application, interviews, group activities and demonstration of a teaching lesson. The students chosen attend, or are planning to attend, one of 10 partner universities in Texas.

Each student receives an $8,000 scholarship each year for up to four years, as well as ongoing training, mentorship and networking opportunities facilitated by the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation.

The seven UTRGV students are:

  • Jimena Gamboa, of La Feria
  • Clarissa Guerra, of Edinburg
  • Raquel Perez, of Edinburg
  • Brenda Olvera, of Brownsville
  • Cristina Ortiz, of Laredo
  • Clarissa Rodriguez, of Weslaco
  • Kasandra Salinas, of La Feria

During their final two semesters, the seven UTRGV students are to enroll in the UTRGV Student Teacher Educator Preparation University Partnership (STEP UP), the program selected by the Raise Your Hand Foundation as a partner for its Raising Texas Teachers Initiative.

Under the STEP UP program, students will be working with a partnering school district, including Harlingen CISD, McAllen ISD and Los Fresnos CISD.

Dr. Criselda Garcia, UTRGV associate dean for Initial Preparation Programs and Academic Affairs in College of Education and P-16 Integration, said the clinically rich program gives students an opportunity to work for a school district and gain personal experience.

“The last year, while they’re getting ready to graduate, we immerse them in the fall and spring semesters,” she said. “In the fall, they’re at the school for one day out of the week. They get to know the mentor teachers, other school personnel, but more importantly the students.

“Then in the spring, they complete their clinical teaching with the same mentor teacher and the same children. The whole idea is that they start to understand how to work within that school culture,” Garcia said.


The general consensus among the UTRGV scholarship winners is that the application process is demanding and not something done overnight, but that the end result is worth the hard work.

Recipient Kasandra Salinas, who graduated from La Feria High School this year and is attending UTRGV this summer, said her career goal is to teach biology in middle school or high school. Her drive to be a teacher has always existed because she has seen the impact teachers can make.

She applied for the Charles Butt Scholarship while she was still in high school and knew she would be competing against college students, so she was thrilled when she heard she won.

“Winning means I have what it takes to be a teacher, to inspire other kids around me,” she said.

Similarly for early childhood education junior Clarissa Rodriguez, winning the scholarship means not only financial support, but also a confidence boost.

“Growing up, my parents didn’t have the opportunity to achieve or obtain a college education,” she said. “This scholarship means I have support from people who believe in me when I didn’t believe in myself. I have people who will help give me the tools to obtain my diploma.”

Jimena Gamboa, a junior bilingual education major, said winning the scholarship made her feel proud, accomplished and honored.

“I was surprised because it was a very rigorous process,” she said. “I was really excited, hoping the whole time I would get it. And when I did, I was a bit shocked.”

Clarissa Guerra, a junior and early childhood education major, said she didn’t think she was capable of getting a scholarship, but as she looked at her accomplishments, she realized she had what it took.

“Winning the scholarship means a lot,” she said. “Not only will I always be remembered as a Charles Butt Scholar, but I know there will be plenty of opportunities available for me along the way.”

For more information about the STEP UP program, contact Dr. Criselda Garcia in the College of Education and P-16 Integration at (956) 665 – 3627 or


The Charles Butt Scholarship for Aspiring Teachers – one component of the Raising Texas Teachers initiative – is designed to encourage accomplished students to consider a future in teaching. The scholarship consists of $8,000 in annual funding for up to four years, as well as ongoing training and development opportunities, mentorship from sitting public school educators, and participation in a statewide aspiring teachers’ network facilitated by the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation.

About 100 scholarships will be awarded through teacher preparation programs at 10 partnering universities each year, with the cohort growing to include 500 scholars annually. The competitive selection process includes an application, pre-screening by university teams, and a daylong event consisting of a group activity, mock teaching lesson, and panel interview.