Craving respect and belonging, some members of Ashley Valdez’s family turned to gangs.

Seeing the effects of their choices inspired Valdez to research Houston gangs – and write a speech that students voted the winner of the Roger Stallings Student Speech Contest at College of the Mainland.
Speech professors nominated top students to compete in the contest held each semester to showcase students’ work, and three made it to the final round, Valdez, Brittany Braun and Byron Howard.
For Valdez, 16, and a student from Texas City in COM Collegiate High School, the contest was her first public speaking experience outside of class.
“She’s excellent. She’s grown so much as a speaker,” said her speech professor Dr. R.E. Davis. “Everyone in class supports her.”
After digging through news articles and nonprofits’ information on prevention, Valdez presented her own well-researched opinion.  
“I learned that there was too much of it,” said Valdez. “We need to do something about it like (offer more) extracurricular activities.”