Representatives from Tech Bloc and AT&T on Monday announced the launch of a new mentorship program at CAST Tech High School. Come January, more than 200 local tech professionals will mentor students on their path toward educational and career opportunities.

“[The program] will bring [students’] learning to life, so that it’s not just an academic experience, but also one in which they’re truly connected to the tech industry in San Antonio,” said David Heard, Tech Bloc co-founder and chief executive officer, at Monday’s announcement on the CAST Tech campus.

The program is supported by a $95,000 grant from the AT&T Foundation, the telecommunication company’s philanthropic arm. The grant will enable CAST Tech to hire a mentorship coordinator and acquire software that covers program elements, such as scheduling.

More than 100 volunteers have already joined the effort, and aspiring mentors may sign up for the program through Tech Bloc’s Friends of CAST campaign.

Tech Bloc CEO David Heard addresses students of CAST Tech High School.
Tech Bloc CEO David Heard addresses students of CAST Tech High School. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The Centers for Applied Science and Technologies, or CAST Tech, was developed through a public-private partnership among SAISD, Tech Bloc, H-E-B, and other supporters. AT&T and local cybersecurity firm Jungle Disk are the latest private companies to make significant investment in CAST Tech, following on the heels of the City of San Antonio and Bexar County.

In August, the school opened its doors on the Fox Tech High School campus near the downtown tech district to nearly 200 freshmen, each of whom will have a mentor come 2018.

The proximity to the tech corridor on Houston Street is crucial, Heard said, as it will facilitate interaction and connections between students and the volunteer mentors, many of whom work in the area. In addition to on-campus mentoring, partnerships may allow students to visit their mentors in their workplaces and attend career talks and other employer engagement opportunities, according to a press release.

“…We know classroom learning is important,” he said. “But [so is] learning that happens outside the classroom. … Experiences like internships and mentoring … can help kids further define the right path for them as they seek to transition into the workplace or continuing education beyond high school.”

The number of well-paying high-tech jobs in Texas is increasing, said U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), a former cybersecurity policy advisor and an advocate for San Antonio’s tech industry. He urged the more than 100 students attending the announcement to capitalize on opportunities like the mentorship program to better prepare for their careers and futures.

“You have a real opportunity not only to get a good-paying job, but you have an opportunity to change the future of our country,” Hurd said. “It starts with you. You have the opportunity – Don’t waste it.”

CAST Tech Principal Melissa Alcala said the mentors will give CAST Tech students a better idea of life in the workplace.

“…These mentors will bring real-world experience that our faculty doesn’t necessarily have,” she explained. “It’ll cover what the work is like, if they’re working more inside or outside, the job demands, 24 hours vs. a 9-hour day, and how the job outlook is like in San Antonio.”

J.D. Salinas III, AT&T’s external and legislative affairs director, said the company looks forward to seeing the students become critical thinkers who are well prepared for the future. He also encouraged students to be attentive, engage with their educators and mentors, and ask questions.

“What you learn in the classroom is very important,” he said, “but there’s nothing more important [than what] you put it into practicum.”

Two more CAST high schools are currently taking shape on San Antonio’s Southside: CAST STEM at Palo Alto College and a third high school at Brooks.

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.