“I’ve never been a skirt person.”
It was Angela Hernandez’s first thought while shopping for her uniform to attend Young Women’s College Preparatory Academy (YWCPA) in Houston, Texas.
“Mom, what did you get me into now?”
Because Hernandez didn’t realize she’d been enrolled until orientation.
YWCPA is a secondary school providing young women with academic and leadership skills to build success in college and in life.
“On the first day, I was thinking, ‘Maybe this isn’t for me,’” she recalled. “I felt out of my comfort zone. I was frightened. I wasn’t very open back then.”
That changed – fast. Turns out, Mom really did know best – and she definitely knew her daughter.
“It only took about a week for me to get loud,” Hernandez said. “I realized, ‘I think I may have found my people.’”
Regions Bank supports YWCPA, most recently presenting the school with a $10,000 donation in April. The school’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) curriculum, and its focus on developing the core values of leadership, college readiness, wellness and life skills, all align with the bank’s strategic commitment to elevating education opportunities.
“Young Women’s Prep is empowering students not only to succeed academically; they’re doing something far bigger. They’re presenting opportunities for them to develop into future leaders,” said John Stacy, Commercial Banking leader and market executive for Regions Bank in Houston. “You feel how special this campus is as soon as you arrive. It’s a place where life-changing growth is occurring every day.”
Regions’ latest grant for YWCPA came during a week-long tour paying special tribute to the bank’s community partners in Houston. The celebration included Regions’ big LifeGreen Custom cruiser rolling into town. But it was the symbolism of something else – the large “IF” sign representing Regions’ “IF in LIFE” campaign – that resonated with Tiphany Burrell.
You feel how special this campus is as soon as you arrive. It’s a place where life-changing growth is occurring every day. John Stacy, Commercial Banking leader and market executive for Regions Bank
“I always say we are the ‘if’ for our girls because we tell them it’s not if they’ll go to college, but when,” said Burrell, development manager for YWCPA. “We want to give our girls a surefire way to break the poverty cycle and break through the glass ceiling. We believe that education is their path to success.”
Hernandez has certainly charted a successful path thanks to YWCPA. Six years after arriving, the initially unsure student is graduating as valedictorian and heading to Princeton University to study civil and environmental engineering. Not only is she the first in her family to attend college, she’ll be doing it on a full-ride scholarship.
“I love how ‘Y Dub’ exposed me to so many careers,” Hernandez said. “I was building robots in the sixth grade. They were missing a few bolts, but they got built.”
Laney Baker, a licensed professional engineer and YWCPA teacher who’s mentored Hernandez, has seen her incredible growth.
“Angie’s excitement to learn and her quirky personality make her a joy to have in the classroom,” said Baker. “As a natural, lifelong learner, she is an active participant in the learning process. It’s been a privilege seeing her solidify her future and incorporate her many interests into a cohesive goal. It isn’t just her academic skills that will make her successful in life, it is her bubbly personality and persistence that will make the largest impression on others.”
Baker’s observations confirm Hernandez hasn’t just flourished in the classroom. She’s also found her voice and made lifelong friends.
“You never feel like you have to put on a persona here,” Hernandez said. “I’m free to be who I am with zero judgment … to be unapologetically myself. Some people’s perception of YWCPA is that they morphed me into who I am, but they encouraged me to embrace who I am. They didn’t make me; they enforced who I am.”
Burrell, whose daughter attended the school years before she began working there, understands how important self-confidence is.
“I was a parent first,” Burrell explained. “I wanted my daughter to go to a space where she felt a sense of community and culture … where she could be herself. She met some of her best friends in sixth grade. She swore she would never get into STEM, and then she earned a chemical engineering degree.”
You never feel like you have to put on a persona here. I’m free to be who I am with zero judgment … to be unapologetically myself. Angela Hernandez
And earned is the key word. While 75% of girls attending YWCPA are from economically disadvantaged homes, Burrell stresses the millions they are awarded in college scholarships are the result of hard work.
“Our students go to school on their merit,” she said. “They don’t feel indebted to someone because they’ve been handed something. We want them to know that when you show up, you’ve earned it, not because of your economic situation.”
“I walked in here knowing I wanted to pursue a degree but not knowing how,” Hernandez added. “I wondered, ‘How can I get to college with a degree of my choice?’ The administration has your back. They want what’s best for us.”
And Burrell will tell you Hernandez embodies the best of YWCPA.
“We want more Angelas,” she said. “We want more girls like her to see what’s possible.”