Monday, August 31, 2015

Tour de Valley cyclists honor legacy schools, celebrate coming together as UTRGV

Story by Cheryl Taylor and Gail Fagan

EDINBURG & BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – AUG. 30, 2015 – Before the sun came up Sunday, about 50 cyclists gathered near the iconic Bronc statue on the Edinburg Campus. Simultaneously, 88 riders assembled at the Main lawn of the Brownsville Campus. 

Each group then headed out to meet up in the middle.

Dubbed Tour de Valley, the ride was a symbolic event to commemorate two legacy institutions – The University of Texas–Pan American and The University of Texas at Brownsville – riding together into the future as one: The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

Organized as part of the weeklong #BestWeekEver activities as UTRGV opens for the first day of classes on Monday, Aug. 31, one group pedaled east and the other pedaled northwest, meeting at the Iwo Jima Memorial on the campus of the Marine Military Academy in Harlingen. Then, together, they rode in solidarity to the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen, a central location for the UTRGV School of Medicine now awaiting accreditation. 

Mercedes resident and cyclist Lisa Marie Treviño, 25, is a UTRGV senior majoring in biology and psychology. Treviño has taken advantage of all the higher education opportunities in the Valley, having attended Texas State Technical College and South Texas College before transferring to UTPA.
She started biking in June, and her enthusiasm for the sport led her to create a Facebook page called UTRGV Bike Trail. As she mounted her brightly lit Schwinn, she said the coming together would be emotional, and the ride shows that both campuses are one.

“We need unity. If we want to be known as The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, we want to appreciate both areas and celebrate Brownsville and Edinburg merging together,” said Trevino, who hopes to become a medical doctor.
At the race’s end, Treviño said it was a long journey, full of some challenging inclines, but rewarding.
Tired after their ride and seated in the shade of the RAHC while enjoying fresh fruit and fajita tacos, Treviño, other riders and family members were greeted by Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell.
“Welcome to Harlingen, and more importantly, welcome to another campus of UTRGV,” Boswell said. “This bike ride symbolizes the coming together of the Valley and its many communities, including Northern Mexico. Your ride was like the Olympic torch, being carried from town to town, and now the torch will be lit on the new university, an innovative model of higher education.”

UTRGV President Guy Bailey was on hand to greet the riders, saying UTRGV will be greater than the sum of two parts.
“We can do things that the individual schools could not have achieved alone,” Bailey said. “UTRGV is going to bring people into the Valley, people who will love it and want to stay and make it their home.”

Among the cyclists who faced the easterly headwind in high humidity was Irma Hermida, who earned her degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from UTPA in 1999.

An employee at the university since 2008, Hermida will be UTRGV’s IT communications coordinator, keeping students, faculty and staff informed of the IT services available to them. A frequent cyclist in Valley biking groups the past seven years, Hermida was attracted by the symbolism of the Tour de Valley bike ride.

“The two groups coming together … the merger of both campuses … that really spoke to me,” she said.
Hermida and her cycling friends were impressed that UTRGV would take on such an event.

“These events take planning and a lot of coordination with the cities and safety officers. I know how much work goes into it and how many volunteers needed to make sure everyone will be safe,” she said.
Cris Trejo, UTRGV assistant vice president for Community Engagement and Assessment, and chief organizer of the event, said the university did indeed keep cyclists’ safety at the forefront of its Tour de Valley planning. At registration, they recommended that cyclists be experienced and could maintain a minimum pace of 13-14 miles per hour. Rest stops were arranged along the routes from the east and west. The ride included three police escorts and two SAG (support and gear) vehicles from Bicycle World and JT Cycling, riding along with supplies and water. A vehicle also was provided to pick up riders and their bikes if they couldn’t complete the ride.

Hermida, who directed the UTPA and Team McAllen Cycling’s Triathlon for Racing event that raised nearly $25,000 in scholarships from 2011-2014, said prior to the ride her attitude toward the transition had been like a “pendulum, swinging back and forth.”
“I reminisce about being a Bronc and our colors … It is hard to let go of something you have known so long. But I can also see why we need to move forward and let go. It is for the betterment of our community,” she said.

“To be part of history and this whole new initiative of creating a new university – we know it is going to have an impact – on our future generations, economically. It is going to change this area dramatically. To be in the middle of it is amazing.”

A cyclist since age 18, Dr. Walter Diaz, dean of the College of Liberal Arts at UTRGV and former dean of UTPA’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, said he rides every weekend because it is a fun activity.

“Today’s ride was special because it is symbolic,” Diaz said. “People are crossing most of the Valley, and it is a good way to reach out into the whole community. There are employees here, but many cyclists today who are not. It’s a good thing.”

Michael Padgett, 64, graduated in 1974 from then-Pan American University, in biology. Recently retired from teaching physics at McAllen High School, Padgett calls the creation of UTRGV “a move forward.”

Padgett was a close friend of experienced cyclist and UTPA staff member Eddie Arguelles, who was killed by a drunk driver in 2014 while biking. Padgett said the Tour de Valley not only represents the union of the two legacy institutions, but also brings more awareness about safety and the need for drivers to share the road with cyclists.
Mary Morones, Victor Esperanza and Ruben Valdez, all H-E-B employees at the Brownsville Southmost store, were decked out in their red H-E-B Bike Team shirts. 

“I think it’s awesome that UTRGV is starting up here. This will be a goal for our kids, to make good grades and get into UTRGV,” Morones said. “H-E-B is so supportive of education. One way is with Read 3, a very successful program. I was in the meeting just recently when UTRGV committed to continuing support of Read 3. I hope a lot of the youngsters who participate in Read 3 will get a good start and go on to be students at UTRGV.” 

#TourDeValley #UTRGV #FirstClass #WeWill #BestWeekEver

Posted by The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley on Sunday, August 30, 2015

Saturday, August 29, 2015

UTRGV #FirstClass celebrates new beginnings, opportunities at The Roundup

By Jennifer L. Berghom and Vicky Brito
BROWNSVILLE & EDINBURG, TEXAS – AUG. 28-29, 2015 – The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley welcomed almost 4,000 of its #FirstClass students over two days during The Roundup, daylong orientation events geared toward acclimating new students to the university.
At Friday’s Roundup on the Brownsville Campus, more than 900 freshmen packed the Texas Southmost College Arts Center, and on Saturday, some 3,000 students attended in the Fieldhouse on the Edinburg Campus.
Freshman Sofia Villarreal was one of the more than 3,000 students standing in a line that snaked throughout the eastern part of Edinburg campus Saturday morning. A Brownsville resident and graduate of the Science Academy of South Texas in Mercedes, Villarreal decided to attend the Edinburg event because some of her classes will be on that campus.
“I like the enthusiasm of the staff and the mentors and everyone,” she said. “It brings more excitement to this environment.”
UTRGV Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Havidán Rodríguez welcomed the students and encouraged them to get involved with research, extracurricular activities and other opportunities available to them.
The UTRGV Roundup on the Brownsville Campus had more than 900 #FirstClass freshmen, shown here on Friday, Aug. 28, 2015, in the Texas Southmost College Arts Center. (UTRGV Photo by Paul Chouy)

Students are the number-one priority for UTRGV.
“We are here because of you. You are number one for our institution, and we want to work with you to ensure your success,” he said. “We are making history. You are making history, as we form this one university.”
Rodríguez said UTRGV has four important goals: ensuring student success and expanding educational, medical and research opportunities.
“At the forefront at UTRGV is the success of our students. We want you to come to UTRGV, we want you to stay at UTRGV, we want you to graduate from UTRGV. This is an institution of hope,” Rodríguez said.
Students also heard from the Student Government Association president and vice presidents at both campuses, as well as from motivational speaker Aric Bostick, who spoke about never giving up on their dreams.
The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley ushered in its #FirstClass with The Roundup, More than 3,000 new students attended on Saturday. Aug. 29, 2015, on the Edinburg Campus. (UTRGV Photo by Kristela Garza)

He had a rough childhood, Bostick told them, so he knows first-hand how important it is to keep working to overcome any and all obstacles.
“I come from a broken home, but here’s the good news: I’m not broken,” Bostick said.
Freshmen eventually were divided into three groups that traveled to different breakout sessions with information on student organizations, wellness and campus safety.
Students also met with representatives from the UTRGV colleges that house the programs they are interested in pursuing, to learn more about what is in store for them.
Freshmen Yenda Garcia and Brianna Cortez are friends from high school and attended Hanna Early College High School in Brownsville together. Both are aspiring teachers and were glad to have been placed in the same orientation group.
Cortez said she chose UTRGV because of the proximity to home.
“We’re going to be part of the first class,” she said. “My freshman year, I was looking forward to attending UTB, and now it’s changed to UTRGV -- which is something bigger.”
Garcia is looking forward to adulthood and to embracing the changes to come.
“I look forward to independence,” she said.
Estephanie Hernandez, who recently graduated from Veteran’s Memorial Early College High School in Brownsville, said she chose UTRGV to stay close to her family.
“Everyone is here,” Hernandez said. “My friends and my family, I have cousins that go here and I decided to follow them.”
Hernandez is looking forward to new experiences as she begins her collegiate career. She plans to major in Criminal Justice and hopes to become a police officer.
Her father is her motivation.
“My dad dropped out in high school,” she said. “But he always told me to reach higher and not to give up.”
Brownsville’s Pace Early College High School graduates Alan Garcia, Nathan Serrata and Fabian Leyva all said a quality education close to home is what appealed most to them about UTRGV.
“Mainly so I can stay closer to home, I wouldn’t have minded leaving, but since there is something nearby and the education here is really good, it is really one of the reasons why I decided to stay,” Leyva said.
Serrata said he has a love for education and plans to study pre-pharmacy.
“I love learning new things and, with this major, I feel like I am going to learn very interesting things about my favorite field of study, science,” Serrata said.
Garcia dreams of owning his own start-up business and hopes UTRGV can give him the knowledge to attain that dream.
“My ultimate goal is to build from the bottom up and show people that it doesn’t take money or influence to be able to build yourself into somebody, Garcia said.

Friday, August 28, 2015

UTRGV freshmen move into new home-sweet-homes on both campuses

By Gail Fagan and Vicky Brito

EDINBURG & BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – AUG. 27-28, 2015 – Hundreds of anxious freshmen carrying bags of clothing and armloads of bedding spent the morning Aug. 27 and 28 moving into their new homes away from home at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
Move-In Day on the Brownsville Campus was on Aug. 27, Aug. 28 on the Edinburg Campus.
Mike and Letty Vera, clad in “UTRGV Dad” and “UTRGV Mom” shirts, came from Hebbronville, Texas, on Aug. 28 to help their youngest daughter Monica, 18, move into her room in Unity Hall on the Edinburg campus.
Monica, excited to be part of history as a member of UTRGV’s #FirstClass, said she had heard great things about the university from family and alumni. After touring the dorm twice and measuring its dimensions, she was ready to make her room feel “homey” with some handmade decorations. Now she’s ready to start her school year.  
“I’m looking forward to discovering myself and doing things on my own without the support and comfort of my parents,” Monica said.
Her parents said they were pleased with the university’s affordability, citing its four-year guaranteed tuition, and are excited about Monica’s venture into college.
“I don’t feel like I am losing her, I feel like I am letting her expand,” Letty Vera said of her youngest child leaving home for the first time. “The decisions she makes now will be her decisions.”
Monica, who plans to major in business marketing, was among roughly 500 freshmen who will live on UTRGV’s campuses this year – some 150 at Casa Bella, which provides apartment-style housing near Brownsville’s campus, and nearly 350 in Unity, Heritage or Troxel halls in Edinburg, which provide shared living spaces with two students per room. The Village on the Edinburg campus provides additional one- to four-bedroom apartment-style housing for upperclassmen.  
More than 1,000 students will make their home on campus this fall, coming from 12 different countries and 19 states other than Texas. The housing capacity for both campuses is 1,450.
Director of Housing and Residential Life Sergio Martinez said freshmen are moved into campus housing early to build spirit and engage with them early on. At each campus, the new residents attend a Freshman Town Hall after they move in, where they ask questions and meet their resident assistants.
“We go over our student bill of rights and what it is to be a community member, a positive contributing resident of our facilities. We also have activities that help them get to know their neighbors,” Martinez said.
During the day, more than 60 student, faculty and staff volunteers helped students with the move-in process. The 36 resident assistants – 12 at Brownsville and 24 at Edinburg – were on hand to help the check-in process, which included a room condition report and getting their keys, mailbox and student handbook.  
“One of our goals is to engage students as much as possible and we do that with the resident assistants,” Martinez said.
RAs live with the students, as do two full-time professional staff who are available 24 hours a day to provide guidance, mentorship and serve as role models, he said.
Jaione Rosagaray is a second-year resident assistant at Casa Bella. The biology major, originally from Guanajuato, Mexico, cited several benefits to living on campus.
“My roommates are also studying there, so you get to relate to all of them,” she said. “Also, if you are bored, you can go to a campus event. We have food, we have movies. And we have educational programs, so it’s really good for all the residents.”
Campus housing also serves as a way to meet other students from around the world, Rosagaray said.
“My first time here as an RA was also my first time staying here, and one of my roommates was from Ireland. It is fun to be able to meet a lot of people from different cultures here,” she said.  
International student Luis Manuel Larrinaga said he loves the Rio Grande Valley’s weather, which is similar to the climate in his home of Vera Cruz, Mexico. He was recruited to play baseball as a UTRGV student athlete, and will live in Unity Hall with a fellow pitcher from Laredo who is also a Vaquero athlete.
The first-generation college student, who was accompanied at the move in by his mother, Irma Dominguez, will study civil engineering at UTRGV. 
“I like math and I like to build things,” Larrinaga said.  
Despite its 14-hour distance from where she lives, Dominguez said, she likes the campus and where her son will live. They both also like that UTRGV is a new university.
“I am trying to better myself,” Larrinaga said. “This place makes me feel special.”
Freshmen Move In is part of a weeklong agenda of activities on both campuses to usher in the first day of the new university Aug. 31

Hundreds of anxious freshmen carrying bags of clothing and armloads of bedding spent the morning Aug. 27 and 28 moving into their new homes away from home at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

Posted by The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley on Friday, August 28, 2015

UTRGV offering intra-campus and campus-to-campus transportation options


By Melissa Vasquez

EDINBURG & BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – AUG. 28, 2015 – The wheels on the Vaquero Express buses will go ’round and ’round all across the Rio Grande Valley starting Monday, Aug. 31, when The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley opens its doors to its #FirstClass of students.

More than 28,000 students and about 2,700 faculty and staff will have several transportation options this inaugural year, including UTRGV’s Vaquero Express Campus Shuttle Service, and the Campus Connector system.

Rodney Gomez, UTRGV director of parking and transportation, said transportation options for the new university community increase the transit network and provide route options throughout the Valley, from South Padre Island to Sullivan City to the west.

“Our goal is to give the university community more choices and more opportunities to travel within and between campuses without the need for a car,” he said. “We hope to continue adding incremental improvements throughout the year, and major improvements in the future.”

Last fiscal year, the on-campus shuttle system had more than 100,000 riders in Edinburg alone, Gomez said, and more than 50,000 used public transportation in Brownsville and Edinburg combined. Gomez expects both numbers to increase this year.

Vaquero Express Campus Shuttle

This shuttle is a free, intra-campus transit on both the Brownsville and Edinburg campuses. It will carry students to designated spots within each campus, but will not travel between the two campuses.

·         In Brownsville, the intra-campus shuttle service will run Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to noon, and 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., every 15 minutes.

·         On the Edinburg Campus, the shuttle will be available Monday-Friday, 7:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., every 10 to 15 minutes.

·         In addition, the Edinburg Campus Shuttle will provide rides to the UTRGV McAllen Teaching Site and the Visual Arts Building in Edinburg.  

Campus Connector System

For students, faculty and staff who need to travel from one campus to the other for classes or university business, the Campus Connector system offers several public transportation services – Valley Metro, Brownsville Metro and Metro Connect – between both campuses.

·         Valley Metro, with services to both campuses and cities in between, and B Metro, Brownsville service only, will offer free rides on all transit routes with a validated UTRGV ID card.

·         Metro Connect will charge a $5 daily rate, or $25 for a 30-day pass. Bus passes can be purchased at Brownsville and McAllen bus terminals and at the UTRGV Parking offices in Brownsville (Main Building) and Edinburg (ASFC Building).

“Public transit is an invaluable partner for UTRGV. It is an affordable, convenient alternative for students, faculty and staff,” Gomez said. “We are proud of the relationships we’ve developed with our local providers and will continue to strengthen these partnerships for the benefit of our university community.”


For Vaqueros who need to stay connected and work while on the go, Gomez said, seven Vaquero Express shuttle buses are equipped with free Wi-Fi, and he hopes to have additional buses furnished with Wi-Fi by mid-September.

In addition, a real-time bus-tracking app will be available later this fall for Android phones and iPhones.

Gomez realizes that not every shuttle or bus schedule may meet the needs of every UTRGV student or employee, so he encourages everyone to plan ahead and look at all available options for travel.

“If our on-campus network doesn’t serve a particular need, maybe a public transportation provider has a route that does,” he said. “Unlike personal vehicles, shared transportation services are designed to serve as many people as possible. Not every schedule can meet every need, but with a little planning the available options expand.”

To learn more about the UTRGV transportation options, routes or schedules, contact Gomez at or (956) 665-2224.

MEDIA CONTACTS UTRGV Director of News and Internal Communications
956-665-2742 UTRGV Director of Public Relations

Bronc ROTC ready to march into UTRGV

Story by Karen Perez

EDINBURG, TEXAS – AUG. 28, 2015 – For select students at The University of Texas-Pan American, the culmination of years of study and training doesn’t just lead to a diploma. It marks the beginning of a career as a leader in the U.S. Armed Forces.

UTPA’s Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) held its final commissioning ceremony on Aug. 21 to honor three graduating UTPA seniors commissioned as U.S. Army second lieutenants.
The commissioned officers were joined by family members, friends and guest speaker Col. Rich Morales, brigade commander of the U.S. Army Cadet Command, in a ceremony that marked the transition from Bronc Battalion to Vaquero Battalion under The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
The new second lieutenants are:
  • Sergio Buhat – B.S. in kinesiology; Army active duty officer, Ordnance Branch.
  • Liliana Chavez – B.S. in biology; Army National Guard officer, Aviation Branch.
  • Anthony Paulson – B.S. in biology; Army active duty officer, Infantry Branch.
“It is, I would say, a historic moment for everybody,” said Lt. Col. Walter Llamas, professor of military science and Bronc Battalion commanding officer. “It is a big honor. When I’m giving the oath of office – which is when they raise their right hand and repeat the oath that they will support and defend the Constitution of the United States – it kind of gives me goosebumps.”

Bronc Battalion has commissioned 287 students since its inception in 1981. The Army ROTC prepares cadets for officer responsibilities in the active Army, Army Reserve, or Army National Guard, following graduation or after deferment to attend advanced civilian schooling.

“It’s a big responsibility. They’re in charge of 30 to 40 people during the workday as soon as they graduate but when they have those soldiers, they are responsible for them 24/7,” Llamas said.

Cadets are expected to maintain their grades and GPA and participate in physical training, among other activities. Students can join the program for two years before making a commitment to serve in the Armed Forces. Scholarships are available for high school and college students.

UTPA and The University of Texas at Brownsville have been on the same team since long before the creation of UTRGV. UTB’s ROTC program joined the Bronc Battalion in 2008 due to an increase in cadets, and both institutions have worked in partnership ever since. 

The ROTC program, originally under the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at UTPA and under the Office of the Provost at UTB, is now a component of UTRGV’s College of Liberal Arts.
“This transition from Bronc to Vaquero is a positive move. It says we are moving along the right path to become more integrated, to have more opportunities, and opens us to the new markets as the School of Medicine comes into play,” Llamas said.

Recent milestones for the Bronc Battalion include going from a small to medium-size program and producing at least 15 commissioned officers per fiscal year. The program, which had 65 cadets in 2013, currently has more than 100 cadets, 80 from the Edinburg Campus and 25 from the Brownsville Campus. The program also increased the number of cadets in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields to 15.

Llamas, who will continue working at UTRGV, said the ROTC is the best leadership course students can take without spending a lot of money.

“Comments that I’ve received from other faculty whenever they see our students is that they are always very professional and very respectful. And that’s the discipline we try to instill,” Llamas said. “It’s a good deal overall for young kids who are for the first time leaving the house. We try not to fulfill the role of the parent but be a mentor, to make sure they’re successful in the future.”

For more information on UTRGV’s ROTC program, please call the office at (956) 665-3601. Visit the UTRGV Facebook page to see a photo gallery of the August 2015 commissioning ceremony.