Alumnus Forges Own Path to Early College Success

Caden Kuster holding up a degree dressed in graduation garb.
Hannah Alfaro

TMCC’s Jump Start Program is an excellent way for high school students to get ahead or experience college classes earlier than their classmates, but for alumnus Caden Kuster, it was the perfect opportunity to go above and beyond.

Determined to Succeed

As a student at Reed High School, Kuster joined the Jump Start Program in the fall of 2020 because the College offered classes that weren’t available at this high school. Interested in engineering, he wanted to pursue his studies further than what was offered to him. With the encouragement of his counselor, Kuster enrolled in the program with the intention of taking a few extra classes while earning college credit.

Kuster began pursuing these classes enthusiastically, but they weren’t the only things keeping him busy during his senior year of high school. While dedicated to his studies, he found the time to participate in a number of extracurricular activities, including serving on the Washoe County School District Student Advisory Council, where he was asked to be a temporary student representative on the Board of Trustees to help hire a new superintendent.

Kuster was also the Reed High student body president for the 2021-2022 school year, and he worked to help his class transition back to school after returning from COVID-19 shutdowns.

“It was a massive challenge to be a student and stay engaged during shutdowns, and it was difficult to re-engage them when we went back to school,” Kuster said. “Although it was a challenge, I had fun and learned a lot about leadership during that time.”   

And if you didn’t think that was enough work to keep a high school senior busy, Kuster created his own LLC and company where he flies drones commercially. As an FAA-certified drone pilot, Kuster made his hobby into a side gig, taking drone photos for various companies.  

As busy as he was, Kuster realized by the time graduation was nearing he was only a couple credits away from completing an associate degree, a feat he never intended to achieve. As his senior class valedictorian, he jumped at the opportunity to finish high school with a college degree. He graduated from high school with a 5.45 GPA as well as Summa Cum Laude from TMCC with a 4.0 GPA and an Associate of Science degree.

“I wasn’t quite sure what field I wanted to study after high school, but getting an associate degree actually played a big part in my ultimate decision,” Kuster said. “Because my credits transferred so smoothly to the University of Nevada, Reno, I decided to continue studying engineering there.”

This week, Oct. 17–21, TMCC is celebrating the National Institute For The Study Of Transfer Students National Transfer Student Week. Kuster’s amazing successes not only as a high school student, but now as a transfer student, were supported in large part by advisors and counselors working with Kuster to ensure a smooth transition to a four-year college. With Kuster’s nontraditional pathway to a degree, additional help was vital in ensuring his success.

One of the counselors that helped Kuster in figuring out the world of transfer credits was Reed High School Counselor Kyle Cassanelli.

“Caden was unmatched in his ability to make the most of his high school experience,” Cassanelli said. “He took advantage of every opportunity afforded to him, including dual credit, and independently forged a pathway to an associate degree in conjunction with earning top honors in high school. Caden saw a way to get the best of both worlds, and did the legwork to make it happen, all while wanting to share his experience with others and encourage them to do the same. He is the epitome of a role model and I know he will have a lasting impact on Reed students for many years to come.”

Along with Cassanelli, Kuster also credits TMCC Academic Advisor Courtney Schachter for helping him through the program.

Forging His Path

When asked if he’d recommend the Jump Start program to other students, Kuster answered with a resounding “Yes!”

“I would recommend this program to students who know what they want to do, but also students who have no clue,” Kuster said. “I want students to know that getting an associate degree, or just getting ahead, in high school is an attainable goal, and there are a lot of people out there to help you get there.”

Although starting his first full-time college experience at UNR this fall, Kuster is miles ahead in terms of experience and preparedness. He’s gotten most of his core classes out of the way so that he can focus his efforts on his passion for engineering, and he knows what to expect out of a College classroom and workload.

“Caden is a great example of what a high school student can do to get ahead in their educational plans,” Jump Start Specialist Betty Cervantes said. “We are very excited to see students take advantage of TMCC's Jump Start Program. It is an excellent opportunity for students to get ahead in their college careers.”

For more information, contact the Jump Start Dual Credit Program