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RHS Senior Discovers New Path for Future Thanks to Dual Enrollment Programs

Hillary Thee Sanchez with senior project in precision machining Thanks to Ritenour High School’s dual enrollment program with both North Technical High School and St. Louis Community College-Florissant Valley, a Ritenour High School senior has discovered a new path for her future.

Ritenour High School (RHS) senior Hillary Thee Sanchez’s lifelong dream of becoming a hair stylist/cosmetologist was turned upside down when a teacher who recognized her talent and aptitude gently prodded her to explore precision machining technology at North Technical High School.

“My whole life I thought I wanted to be a hair stylist or something to do with cosmetology. I was never one of those people who wasn’t sure what they were going to do. I knew exactly what I wanted,” said Thee Sanchez. “It wasn't until my sophomore year during the career exploration program that my last teacher in the last exploration course suggested that I try it (precision machining). To be so sure about something only to have someone who believes in you nudge you in a different, better direction. I am very thankful for that teacher.”

Beginning in her junior year, Thee Sanchez dual-enrolled in the precision machining technology program at North Tech and switched directions onto a new path toward earning a college degree in engineering. Her school days last year were split between RHS and North Tech.

Since she had outstanding grades in her RHS classes, Thee Sanchez has been able to dual-enroll this year in Ritenour’s newest collaboration with St. Louis Community College (STLCC) called the Early College Academy. This dual enrollment program allows RHS students to earn college credits at STLCC at no cost to the students. As a senior, she now is splitting her school day between STLCC and North Tech.

This spring, Thee Sanchez will graduate with a diplomas from RHS and North Tech,  metalworking certifications from her coursework at North Tech and with several college credits under her belt. Post-graduation plans include going to a four-year college to major in mechanical engineering.

Thee Sanchez’s senior project of making an oversized chess set out of aluminum in her North Tech class has earned her overwhelming praises by her North Tech instructor, Brett Smith.

“She has a high mechanical aptitude and loves to learn new things,” said Smith. “Hillary can quickly visualize and understand how objects are made and assembled. She has a meticulous eye for detail, as well.”

To make the chess set, Thee Sanchez has designed each piece, and has written all the programs to produce the pieces on the CNC (Computer Numerical Control) lathe using G-codes. She also programmed the parts that need secondary operations done to them such as the rook’s castle top and the king and queen's crown to be run on the CNC mill.

What Thee Sanchez says she enjoys most about her class is the opportunity to infuse creativity while problem-solving as her projects progress.

“Our instructor encourages us to think and to step out of our comfort zone, so that we can learn, not just because we have to for a grade but because we genuinely want to,” says Thee Sanchez. “Having to overcome the difficulties of each thing I create is definitely where the learning comes from. The trouble shooting of each part during the drawing, programing, and machining aspects are what make the finished product so special.”

Accolades for her precision machinery include earning a gold medal at districts last year as part of North Tech’s Skills USA Automated Team Manufacturing team.

In addition to her astute mechanical and problem-solving skills, Smith says Thee Sanchez possesses the soft skills that employers are seeking.

Hillary Thee Sanchez “Hillary listens attentively when being instructed and also when talking with peers,” says Smith.  “She is a very caring and considerate young woman. I have never seen Hillary without a smile on her face.”

In a male-dominated technical pathway, Thee Sanchez has made her mark.

“I have only had approximately 10 female students in the class in the past 18 years, none of which have excelled to Hillary’s level,” Smith says. “I wish more would take advantage of the opportunity. There is such a huge demand in the trade right now, and the demand will be increasing in the coming years.”

Outside of her technical and academic skills, Thee Sanchez has been recognized for her talent as a violinist. Playing violin since third grade, her accomplishments in high school include playing in the pit orchestra for RHS productions of Hair Spray and Anything Goes. This year she also earned a spot on the All-Suburban Orchestra.

“I have been contemplating whether or not I want to double major in music education and mechanical engineering,” says Thee Sanchez. “I definitely don’t want to stop playing after high school. I’d love to be part of an orchestra or some sort of performance group in the future.”