Bekah S. McNeel

There’s a popular parable in the non-profit sector about a villager who spotted a baby floating in a river. He pulled the baby out, and was rightfully considered a hero for saving the baby’s life.

The next day there were two babies in the river. He saved them both. Every day the number of babies in the river doubled, and he had to enlist help from other villagers to keep watch to pluck out the babies. They had some success and some failures. They got more organized and increased their success rate in plucking babies out of the river, but they also lost quite a few.

Until one day one of the villagers said to the rest, “I’m going to walk up river until I find out who is throwing these babies in the river!”

The point of the parable is that proactively going to the source of the problem is more effective than reacting as the problem proliferates “down stream.”

Toyota is getting proactive. Rather than wringing its hands that the mismatch between the truck manufacturer’s local needs and the skills of the workforce, company officials are addressing the root of the problem, and investing in a solution. And part of that solution is a bright young man named Thomas Seabers of East Central High School.

On Wednesday, Toyota, in collaboration with Texas A&M-San Antonio (TAMUSA) and Palo Alto Community College, presented the Toyota Texas Teacher Scholarship to Seabers to study math at both institutions (two years at Palo Alto, two years at TAMUSA).

Gary Patterson, Dr. Maria Hernandez Ferrier, Thomas Seabers, Dr. Michael Flores, and Chris Nielsen
Gary Patterson, Dr. Maria Hernandez Ferrier, Thomas Seabers, Dr. Michael Flores, and Chris Nielsen. Photos courtesy of TAMUSA.

Seabers is not a baby plucked out of the river. He is receiving the $25,000 scholarship with the understanding that he will go on to teach math back in his home school district, East Central ISD. Last year’s winner, Katie Dryzmala, is also from East Central High School, on the exact same trajectory. They exemplify the kind of investment Toyota is looking to make in the workforce.

The Toyota Texas Teacher Scholarship is specifically designated to promote the study of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in future teachers – future South Side teachers.  Toyota is investing directly in those who will shape the local workforce of tomorrow.

Dr. Maria Hernandez Ferrier, President of TAMUSA, expressed her pride in the collaboration between these major South Side institutions to “help Thomas, Katie, and the recipients of the future to make our world a better place …”

Ferrier also pointed out the importance of family participation and encouragement, a point reiterated by Dr. Michael Flores, President of Palo Alto College.

“They don’t do it alone,” said Flores, highlighting the importance of support from traditional support structures like family and churches. “Many do it with corporate and community partners as well.”

Flores shared a vision of a better community that is “scaffolded by corporate partnerships.”

Gary Patterson, Superintendent of East Central ISD, glowed with pride as he gave statistics on the district and praised the character of Thomas Seabers.

Quoting the East Central High School choir director, he said, “If Thomas was in charge, the work got done.”

It was Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Texas, Inc. President Chris Nielsen who presented the check to Seabers, after a word of congratulations from Dryzmala.

Chris Nielsen presenting a scholarship to East Central High School student Thomas Seabers.
Chris Nielsen presents the scholarship to East Central High School student, Thomas Seabers.

“We’re here to collectively support the study of STEM in our local schools,” Nielsen said.

He went on to say that the 600,000 STEM jobs that remain unfilled in the nation testify to the need for teachers who can inspire students to acquire the skills necessary to enter the workforce to pursue these often challenging fields.

As Seabers accepted his scholarship, he defied the stereotype of an overachiever. With his dreadlocks and casual style, he approached the microphone with humility.

“This is my first speech ever, by the way,” Seabers said. “You’ll have to let me know how I do.”

Thomas Seabers, recipient of the 2nd ever Toyota Texas Teacher Scholarship  delivers his first ever speech.
Thomas Seabers delivers a speech for the first time after receiving the second Toyota Texas Teacher Scholarship.

He kept it short and direct (which, in this writer’s opinion, is the essence of a good speech), thanking all involved and resolving to do a good job.

“Thomas had goals and plans to study and teach math,” Seabers’ father, Joe, said. He expressed his gratitude “to find out that there are people out there who support that goal.”

Joe Seabers was grateful for the financial help, but also the guidance Thomas received throughout the application process. As a first generation college student, Seabers would have been alone in the sea of forms and essays had it not been for advisors from TAMUSA, Palo Alto and East Central High School.

“My job is to make sure he lives up to the opportunity,” Joe Seabers said, beaming proudly.

Bekah is a native San Antonian. She went away to Los Angeles for undergrad before earning her MSc in Media and Communication from the London School of Economics. She made it back home and now works for Ker and Downey. She is one of the founding members of Read the Change, a web-based philanthropy and frequent contributor to the Rivard Report. You can also find her at her blog, Free Bekah.

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Bekah McNeel is a native San Antonian. You can also find her at her blog,, on Twitter @BekahMcneel, and on Instagram @wanderbekah.