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Texas Christian University and the Pursuit of HappineSSS

(l-r): BACK ROW — SSS Students Ariel Leon, Eric Garza, Daniela Sigala, Lea Sandoval, Maria Ortiz. FRONT ROW — Director Cynthia Montes, Academic Advisor Elizabeth Rosales-Ojeda.

October 3, 2018

During the Council for Opportunity in Education’s 37th Annual Conference in New York City, Texas Christian University (TCU) was honored as the winner of the Student Support Services 50th Anniversary Student Video Contest. Their video, “Pursuit of HappineSSS,” beat out 40 other Student Support Services projects to win the prize. Several of the TCU Student Support Services (SSS) students — Eric Garza, Ariel Leon, Maria Ortiz, Lea Sandoval, and Daniela Sigala — as well as their Director, Cynthia Montes, and Academic Advisor, Elizabeth Rosales-Ojeda, were in attendance at the event.

The students came up with the concept for the video after multiple brainstorming sessions. The storyline of the final video was a composite of several of the program’s students, including the video’s “star,” Eric Garza. Collectively, it presented a stark picture of the experience of a first-generation college student.

“We started this journey with an idea to create something great,” said Garza. “We had no idea who we were up against, nor did we know how much competition would be out there, but we knew the video we created would allow us to compete. What I enjoyed the most about this whole experience is that we created a video that depicted our perception and belief in the program, and at the root level, it was genuine.” Daniela Sigala said, “It being my senior year at TCU, shooting the video really helped me reflect how far I’ve come.” Lea Sandoval said she loved the amount of creative freedom they were given to execute the project.

“I think the best part about this entire process was that as we were making the video, we were — without realizing it at the time — experiencing everything that SSS stands for,” said Ariel Leon. “We got amazing support from Cynthia and Elizabeth to get started, follow through and win the entire thing, all while having a good group dynamic, coming up with ideas and executing them,” he said. “Throughout college I had the same experience with SSS providing me with opportunities to grow.”

Capturing the lives of first-generation students in one four-minute video is difficult, given that everyone has had a different experience. But, the TCU students felt that focusing on Eric’s story was the perfect way to depict their relationship with SSS. They made a conscious effort to show the community feeling that the office on their campus brings to their daily lives. They were able to briefly show, through Eric’s experiences, the social benefits from being in SSS. “Having the opportunity to show people a little bit of how great SSS has been to students through this video was incredible,” said Maria Ortiz.

After finding out that their video was in the group of top five finalists, the students rallied their university and community to vote for their video on social media. Each team member played a pivotal role in getting the word out about their video and the impact that SSS has had on their lives. The students credit their director and academic advisor with constantly encouraging them and reminding them that winning was definitely possible as long as they each did their part in promoting the video. “Rallying everyone’s support and garnering all our likes was exciting and made winning feel very accomplishing,” said Eric Garza. “We couldn’t have done it without our Director and Academic Advisor!”

An added benefit of spreading the word about their video was that it increased the visibility of the SSS program on the TCU campus. The students said that although the SSS program has played a tremendous role in their lives, not everyone on campus knew about it. After they created the video and promoted it to just about everyone they knew, SSS had a larger campus presence, including recognition from their Chancellor, Victor Boschini.

“This competition spoke to the core of what SSS and TRIO are: belief in self, hard work, and support,” said TCU SSS Director Cynthia Montes. “We set our sights on a goal, solicited resources, worked collaboratively, and executed to the best of our ability.” Ultimately, she said, “It was the process of making the video that taught us, bonded us, and affirmed our abilities.” “Winning was the sweet, sweet icing on the cake and we will cherish this experience forever.”

The program’s academic advisor, Elizabeth Rosales-Ojeda, expressed a similar sentiment. “This was such an exciting time for us — we worked together as a team and were able to accomplish such a huge win,” she said. “I’m very proud of our students all of the hard work they put in — and know that this is an experience we will always remember.”

If you would like to watch the videos of all of the top 5 finalists from the SSS student video contest, please click here.