When South Texas College observed its 25th anniversary in 2018, it wasn’t just a milestone for both STC and its founding president, Shirley Reed, but for the Rio Grande Valley.

Since its inception in 1993, thanks to the passage of Senate Bill 251 making way for the creation of a junior college serving Hidalgo and Starr counties, STC has found career paths for tens of thousands of college and high school students from all walks of life. Reed, as the college’s first and only president, has long been considered a big part of STC’s ever-broadening influence in the Valley, earning her this nomination for the 2018 Rio Grande Valley Citizen of the Year.

Such is Reed’s commitment that her life quite admittedly revolves around STC, and in a 2018 interview indicated that she practically lived on campus during its early days to help develop programs and earn the college its accreditation. These efforts went toward more than educating a student body, of which 70 percent are first generation college students from a region where the poverty rate is at approximately 40 percent, but directly impacting the local workforce.

Reed came to the Valley from Arizona, where she had served as vice president for finance and administrative services at Northland Pioneer College. She had already collected 20 years of experience in education at the time, and held a doctorate and a Master’s of Business Administration in International Business. This helped her understand the maquila industry as well as the North American Free Trade Agreement, the latter especially assisting Reed identify pathways for good-paying jobs.

Now after a quarter of a century, STC has more than 34,000 students seeking technical certificates, associate and bachelor degrees at the school’s five campuses in McAllen, Weslaco and Rio Grande City, including education centers in La Joya and Pharr. It’s an impressive feat considering STC began from the modest confines of a makeshift campus in McAllen with a cohort of about 1,000 students. Reed even recalled being laughed at — this when she was first introduced to the community at the McAllen Country Club — for asserting that STC would have 10,000 students in 10 years.

But others, like land owners, businessmen and local leaders, believed in the idea. The rest is history, and a testament to the inaugural president’s nurturing leadership of a then-fledgling institution.

“You ask us today, ‘What is your mission?’ And we are preparing a workforce,” Reed said in a 2018 interview. “We want college to be affordable, to be accessible and to be expected for all … it begins with that one student. We change the life of that student and we change that family, and the next generation. They are going to go to college, there’s no question about it.”

For her work guiding the college from its infancy to the higher education institution it is today, and by extension providing students with career opportunities that were otherwise scarce without STC’s impact, Shirley Reed is now among an illustrious pool of nominees for the 2018 Rio Grande Valley Citizen of the Year.

Nomination by The Monitor Editorial Board.