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First baseman goes from Broncos to Broncs

July 1st, 2014

The UTPA baseball team has signed Correy Davis to a National Letter of Intent for the 2014-15 academic year June 16.

 

The Aubrey, TX native is coming to the Rio Grande Valley as a junior having previously played two seasons with the New Mexico Military Institute Broncos. While at NMMI Davis primarily played in the first baseman’s position for both seasons.

 

While at NMMI he held a .375 batting average, with 17 doubles, 48 runs scored, three triples and 42 RIB with three home runs. Davis also comes to the Broncs with 13 stolen bases, surpassing UTPA senior Alex Howe. He held the team record for the 2014 season for the most stolen bases standing at 12.

 

He has improved his performance since his freshman year at NMMI, originally hitting .261 with five doubles, three triples and one home run to his name. He had a 31 RBI, 21 runs scored and nine stolen bases.

 

“Correy is a terrific young man who also happens to be an excellent baseball player,” Head Baseball Coach Manny Mantrana said. “(He) is a middle of the line-up type…who can really hit. His baseball abilities and character will be a great asset to our team.”

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Applying again

June 19th, 2014

The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, the result of the merger between the University of Texas at Brownsville and UTPA, officially enrolls its inaugural freshman class in one year and two months but the faculty that currently work at the University begin their application process this summer.

The hiring process is divided into two phases: Phase I, which is exclusively for UTPA and UTB tenured and tenure-track faculty members and Phase II, which opens the application process to UTPA and UTB faculty members who were not accepted in Phase I, lecturers and all external applicants. The Phase I application opens to eligible faculty July 21.

According to Thomas White, who served as chair of the Faculty Senate for the past two years, a select group saw the drafts of the process in April. The group consisted of two faculty members from both UTPA and UTB, two lawyers from the University of Texas System Office of General Counsel, UT System Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Pedro Reyes, and Dan Sharphorn, the UT vice chancellor for legal affairs.

When the information regarding the UT-RGV hiring process made its official debut last month, after approval from the UT Board of Regents, there were mixed reactions from faculty, according to White. However, the process is required due to the fact that UT-RGV is a new institution.

“I know a lot of people were very disappointed that it wasn’t just completely automatic- everyone on board,” said White, who is entering his sixth year with the UTPA Faculty Senate. “But according to the lawyers, there has to be some type of application process.”

According to a document sent to faculty, the first step in the hiring process was to determine the programs UT-RGV will offer, which academic units will host these programs and how many tenured and tenure-track faculty will be needed for each program. In late May, a list of tentative UT-RGV programs was revealed, but the specifics regarding how many faculty positions will be allocated for each will not be determined until July.

“So there’s allocations being made on the basis of what they’re calling ‘program units’- departments, programs, basically any concrete unit,” White said. “(UT-RGV President Guy Bailey), with his transition team, is supposed to be  allocating faculty and determining the numbers this month. The (UTPA) provost, Havidan Rodriguez, has been optimistic…there should be plenty of positions, but we just don’t know until there’s actually an allocation.”

In addition, certain criteria for the first phase of the hiring process raised questions. Faculty members must have a terminal degree, or what is commonly considered the highest degree, in his or her field, to be hired during Phase I. But this may vary depending on the field.

A doctorate may be commonly considered the highest degree achievable in a given field, such as philosophy or engineering. But the term may hold a different meaning for fields where the highest degree achievable is unclear. According to Master-Degree-Online.com, a website that provides information on graduate programs, the term “terminal degree” may be used when referring to the highest level of education that needs to be obtained to gain employment in a certain field.

For example, a bachelor’s degree may be considered the terminal degree for teachers since it’s the highest level of education a student will most likely achieve to gain employment, according to the website.

“There’s some discussion about what is a terminal degree because they are not always doctorates,” he said. “Like there’s many in the health sciences where the terminal degree is a master’s degree. There’s also some of the arts where the terminal degree is regarded as a master’s degree.”

But according to a statement provided to The Pan American by Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, the UT executive director of public affairs, this concern and many others will be dealt with in the coming months as the full hiring process has not been finalized yet.

“The creation of a new university and abolishment of two is unprecedented in this state,” LaCoste-Caputo said in an email. “It does take time to develop processes that facilitate the employment of as many staff and faculty members from the current institutions as possible.”

However, if a tenured faculty member does not wish to undergo the hiring process, a voluntary buyout option was made available to them in May. UTPA President Robert Nelsen announced the option, called the Voluntary Incentive Separation Program, via email May 21. The University offered to pay half of a nine-month salary to those who qualify under the Rule of 80, which is about 100 faculty members. The rule stipulates that the tenured faculty member must have a combined total of 80 years between age and years of service at the University as of May 15, 2014, according to The Monitor. Those who accept the offer will leave the University May 31, 2015.

According to the timeline provided to faculty, they will know  their fate  by November when they will receive the final Phase I decisions. But UTPA Faculty Senate member Danika Brown doesn’t predict a great deal of change.

“I can’t imagine there’s going to be a lot of retraction,” said Brown, who has served on the faculty senate on and off for a decade. “If  anything, we’re growing.”

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Weekly UTPA Sports Updates 3/30- 4/2/2014

April 3rd, 2014

Baseball

Lost to the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders 15-7 April 2 at the Edinburg Baseball Stadium.

 

Women’s Golf

Junior Melissa Bernal finished in a tie for 17th place at the Husky Invitational April 1 at the Riverbend Country Club in Sugarland, Tx.

 

Men’s Golf

Finished their final round with a 304. For a ninth place finish at the ULM Wallace Jones Invitational on April 1 at the Southern Pines Golf Club in CALHOUN, La.

 

Men’s Tennis

Lost against the University of Louisiana Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns March 30, 1-6 at the Cajun Courts in Lafayette, La.

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Less money, more problems

April 3rd, 2014

On average, most college students accumulate $25,000 in debt after completing a four-year undergraduate degree, according to debt consolidation website Consolidated Credit. And for the first time ever, loan debt has outpaced credit card debt.

College Board stated that in 2013, the average in-state tuition at a four-year public university was $8,522 per semester. At UTPA, tuition averaged to $5,446 in the spring 2014 semester.

Along with a textbook education, college also comes with lessons about saving and spending money. Infographic website Daily Statistic states that 75 percent of college students hold down jobs and receive $1,200 a month with help from their parents. Forty percent of that amount goes toward things such as technology, clothing and food.

General rehab major Aaron Cepeda recently became financially independent from his parents. Now his spending revolves tightly around bills and gas money for his new car. The 23-year-old Edinburg resident works as a personal assistant and earns between $570 to $650 every two weeks.

Cepeda said that his decision to become financially independent at the start of this semester came as a shock to his parents. He also mentioned how switching from his single-person scooter to a car has greatly impacted his spending.

“I made all these life-changing decisions at the beginning of this semester and it threw (my parents) off. They kind of freaked out, but I’m managing,” he explained. “I’ve never had to pay for a lot of gas before because my scooter would only need like $3. Now it’s around $50, but it’s a lot better.”

While his bi-monthly paychecks are spent primarily on bills, junior Dulce Garcia’s funds go toward gas, food and shopping sprees. Four days out of the week, the rehabilitative services student commutes from her home in Hidalgo to the University, a 45-minute drive.

The 19-year-old worked at an HEB for two years then at a DDs Discount store for six months, but has currently been unemployed for about two weeks. Because of this, Garcia’s cash comes from her parents, who give her an average of $80 weekly. She also said that her parents opened a savings account, but she withdraws funds from it. Taking money from her parents, Garcia said, is  not something she wants to continue doing.

“It’s only been a week and I already need another job because it’s hard knowing where I’m going to get my money for the following week,” she said. “I don’t want to depend on my parents all the time, but right now I have to.”

 

MEANT TO BE SPENT

According to a December 2012 article by an online college community called Alive Campus, college students collectively spend more than $60 billion annually. Students spend nearly $13 billion on electronics and $11 billion on snacks and drinks, not including alcohol. An average of $5.5 billion is spent on the latter.

Garcia estimated that she spends most of her dough on food because she often eats out or on campus. She said $40 goes to food and another $40 to gas, but she also admits to having a spending problem. Once she is given money by her parents, the first thing she does is fill her gas tank and head to the mall.

“On a day that I have money, I’ll go shopping and spend about $80 or $100 max. When I don’t have money, $40 or $50,” she explained. “I go major shopping about four or five times a month. When I have money, I go more than once a week.”

For Cepeda, his spending goes a little differently. After receiving his check, he splits his monthly rent of $650 with his roommate, pays his phone bill and deposits $50 into his life insurance policy.

Garcia is not the only one of the pair who likes to splurge on herself. After all of his dues have been paid, Cepeda has his own night in.

“I have my typical Friday night, which consists of something like pizza and junk food, because I’m so wiped out by the end of the week that I just want to stay home,” he explained. “I actually go crazy on the app store in iTunes. Maybe $30 of each paycheck will go to apps or to renting a movie or something like that.”

Both students receive financial aid from UTPA, Cepeda with a scholarship that covers most of his tuition and Garcia with a grant that pays for part of hers. The two of them also use student loans, but Cepeda said he doesn’t see himself needing one next semester because of his salary and savings.

“I did have to adjust and decide for myself to start financially planning now,” he said. “I was at the point where I said, ‘I’m 23. I can’t really be this dependent on my parents anymore. It’s time to start being more financially independent.’”

Garcia, on the other hand, said she knows she must control her spending in order to pay off loans after she graduates in May 2015, but it is not easy to do.

“It is a problem. When I have a dollar or two dollars, I’ll go and spend it. I’ll go buy a bag of chips if I have to. I cannot have money with me, I have to be spending it at all times,” she explained. “Everyone tells me that I need to stop because it’s going to get to me one day, but I can’t save money at all.”

 

SAVVY SAVING

After becoming independent from his parents, Cepeda believes he is learning how to save every day, but he understands that spending is tempting.

“I think it’s that you work so hard and you feel like you deserve (to buy something) and you want it, so why not take it? Sometimes it can be a little difficult, but I live by the philosophy that sometimes you have to treat yourself,” he said with a smile.

Next semester, Garcia said saving should become easier for her because she will only be commuting to school twice a week, which will cut down on gas and lunch spending.

Ultimately, Cepeda feels that becoming his own breadwinner has been troublesome, but necessary.

“I feel really good,” he said. “It has its times where it’s stressful, and there are times where I don’t know what the heck I’m going to do, but I do feel proud of myself for accomplishing a lot of things on my own.”

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Eight-minute donation

February 6th, 2014

Quick and quiet breaths come one after another as the phlebotomist says to stay calm and relax. She takes a light blue tourniquet and places it up above the crook of an elbow. “Breath,” she says, taking note of the blue vein as it begins to swell. Then there is a slight pinch, and a quick prick of pain as the needle hits home. Eight minutes later a bag of blood and plasma sit separated on a sterile white table.

 

This is the process of a simple blood donation. A process each of the Bronc baseball players went through in honor of Nolan Naranjo and Jiada Grace Ortiz, Jan. 30 at the UTPA Wellness and Recreational Sports Complex.

 

The drive was held by United Blood Services and is not solely for Ortiz and Naranjo, but the two have been sponsored by the team in the past with not only two previous blood drives but a bone marrow drive as well.

 

Both children are from the Rio Grande Valley were diagnosed with a type of rare bone marrow disease known as Aplastic Anemia. The illness affects the bone marrow the patient; this causes them to stop producing enough red blood cells and white blood platelets.

 

UTPA Assistant Coach Norberto Lopez explained that the blood drive was in honor of the children and marked another chance for the team, as a whole, to give back.

 

“We have been able to help a couple of kids in the past,” Lopez said. “They had some real rare blood disease…(Head Coach Manny Mantrana) wants to teach the guys, he wants to make sure that we teach them that it isn’t just about us and our lives. (It’s about) going every day and making sure that we are giving back and helping out.”

 

This event is by no means the first or last of its kind. This is the third year in a row that the Broncs have hosted the drive.

 

Recently, the baseball players paired with members of the women’s basketball team to host a bone marrow drive in November. The bone drive held Nov. 13 was to sponsor Naranjo, who was diagnosed with Pre-leukemia and was in need of a transplant.

 

Andy Fortuna, a Bronc outfielder, was present and donated at the January drive. He feels that he and the team should hold themselves to a standard where the community is also a priority.

 

“This is to set an example to the rest of the community,” the senior physical therapy major said. “If they see a group of guys in jerseys donating blood they will come around. Being a part of the University everyone looks at us in a certain way, we always try to set an example to everybody else.”

 

According to Fortuna this is a belief that the coaching staff has instilled in these players and has made the team what it is.

His coaches agree.

 

”We have been doing this for four years,” Lopez said. “And we might have a special group, cause they never complain. I’ve seen guys that are scared of needles and they are freaking out, they are almost turning white, but they still want to do it. And I think that is a testament to Coach Mantrana; he really preaches to them and tells them about giving back.”

 

Whether it is the ideals instilled in them by their coaching staff or peer pressure that keep them donating, the end, even first-timers see the value.

 

Jesus Garcia, a shortstop for the team, said sometimes it’s the little things that matter, and taking time out of their days to donate is a small price to pay.

 

”This was my first time,” Garcia said. “And you really don’t feel much. It did not bother me at all, it was for a good cause. We are doing a small part for something big and this is what we are doing, each of us, It will contribute little by little to something big.”

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Drawing the line

February 6th, 2014

For all of the victims affected by sexual assault, President Barack Obama has officially given them a voice in the White House.

The president issued a Presidential Memorandum Jan. 22 to establish a “White House Task Force” to protect students from sexual assault. Representatives from the Office of the Vice President and White House Council on Women and Girls have appointed this task force of leaders. The president is giving the group 90 days to compile the best practices on increasing enforcement, awareness and interagency coordination to prevent rape and sexual violence on college campuses nationwide. Once these findings are reported, they will be shared with 4,500 colleges and universities in the nation and further action will be decided upon by administrators.

Accompanying this order was the White House Council on Women and Girls’ report, entitled “Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action.” The report found that one in five women – totaling 22 million- experienced rape in their college years.

Although women are most at risk for sexual assault, the study also found that 1 in 71 men- a total of 1.6 million -experience it in their college years as well. On top of this, it was also found that of these cases, 12 percent of all student victims reported their assault and  80 to 90 percent of cases involved acquaintances of the victims.

Dean of Students Mari Fuentes-Martin spoke of the positive impact this national initiative would have on students at UTPA.

“I think it’s good overall and I think it’s important that the president and the Department of Education place a high importance on campus safety,” Fuentes-Martin said. “Of course, I think all of us want to see the elimination of rape and sexual assault. The hard part about it is the regulations and how they’re written and their enforcement, and the mechanisms to report all of that hasn’t really been firmly established in our infrastructure, and this will resolve that.”

Fuentes-Martin stated that national committees are currently looking over mandates on how to respond to cases, what definitions of sexual assault have changed or not changed and if enough is being done to promote safety. The Dean of Students also elaborated on why students don’t always come forward with their cases.

“The main reason is that student victims suffer from shame and guilt,” Fuentes-Martin said. “Why don’t they come forward? It’s because they’re scared of the suspect, scared of telling their families, scared of being blamed, scared of all of these things and one of the things that is most important for us is to educate them more and provide outreach for our students about the options that they have in case something does happen to them.”

As for student reactions, sophomore Giselle Buentello commented on the president’s special attention to the topic.

“I think it’s generous on his part to think about such a small group,” said the dance performance major. “He’s trying to generalize and fix a problem that most people don’t pay attention to.”

Junior Cathleen Pompa also spoke of the attention given to this issue and about positive outcomes that can come from the task force.

“It makes sense to help out with the universities and especially with the rape victims that have been affected, so that we can make sure it won’t happen again,” said the English major. “Especially in this generation, you never know who you can trust and who is safe to be around. It’s all about the safety of the students and to make sure that we feel safe and comfortable to come to school every day, so it’ll help us, definitely in that sense.”

According to statistical records from 2012, there have been two reports of sexual assault at UTPA in the 2011-2012 academic year. Currently, students who experience rape or sexual assault on campus have the option of pursuing justice criminally or through the student conduct system. Through the criminal process, students can file charges through the district attorney and have their day in court.

Through the University, the case will be investigated by the dean of students and disciplinary action will take place if the charge is found to be a credible one. The options can be pursued simultaneously.

After a crime has been committed, students can go to the University Police, Counseling and Psychological Services or Student Health Services to report the offense. These practices and services will more than likely be strengthened with the president’s initiative.

UTPA is currently educating students on this subject through the police department’s defensive training program, residence hall outreach, and collaborations like the Coalition Against Violence Exploitation. This project is shared between citizens and businesses from the Rio Grande Valley, the Pan American Collaboration for Ethics and Professors and UTPA and aims to eliminate violence against women.

Further education is planned for March with events such as Safety On Week, held the week before Spring Break, to provide students with information about protecting themselves in dangerous situations. The week will also include the play Sex Signals, a two-person improvisational show of educational skits on dating and sexual violence.

Fuentes-Martin hopes this initiative will help in stopping these crimes, further educating students on how to protect themselves in the process.

“We do some things, but we could definitely do more,” Fuentes-Martin said. “Our first concern is going to be that the physical and mental welfare of the student is addressed, and we’re trying to evaluate our current programs and see what we can improve to what we offer to our students.”

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Broncs rush past Chicago

January 21st, 2014

UTPA women’s basketball team gave the Chicago State University Cougars a fast paced game Jan. 18. Midway through the game the broncs went on a 16 point run to pull off a win at the UTPA Field House 66-44.

Currently the Bronc season record now stands even 9-9, 3-2 season record in the Western Athletic conference.

The game was at a standstill as the Broncs fought off the Cougars. But Kaelynn Boyd, a sophomore, scored a three pointer, starting the 16 point run. Then junior Tonashia Walker hit seven straight points using two free throws, a three pointer and one layup.

The Broncs kept up the momentum as Charrell Price scored another three pointer and Brittany Bush went for a free throw. Scoring Shawnte Goff ended the run 42-27.

All in all Goff scored a total of 18 points, junior Jasmine Thompson scored 10 and Bush came close to a double double with nine points and 12 rebounds.
With this win in hand the Broncs will now face off at home against New Mexico State, Jan. 25, at the UTPA Field House.

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Getting to the bare bones of academia

October 17th, 2013

While the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives voted to reopen the federal government and lift the debt ceiling Oct. 16, the impact still affected UTPA and Texas for 16 days.

Of the estimated 800,000 federal workers furloughed due to the government shutdown, as many as 140,000 were in the state of Texas, according to the Dallas Morning News. Federal workers were either deemed “essential” or “nonessential” during the shutdown, which was in effect for two weeks.

With cuts made in nearly every federal department, the impact the shutdown had on UTPA spanned several departments and resources, including research funding, financial aid, services for veterans and library resources.

SHUTDOWN EXPLAINED

In order for the government to operate, there needs to be funding. If Congress can’t agree on a method, the government shuts down, according to The Washington Post.

Each year the House and Senate are supposed to agree on a dozen bills to fund federal agencies by Sept. 30 to keep the government going. In the past 30 years, Congress has met this deadline only four times – in 1977, 1989, 1995 and 1997. During all other years, Congress resorted to stopgap measures, or temporary solutions, to keep business paid for.

This year, however, the Democrat-controlled Senate and Republican-controlled House couldn’t agree on specifics regarding the stopgap legislation. The two government bodies are at odds regarding President Barack Obama’s healthcare law, national legislation created with the intent of providing health insurance to the estimated 60 million people who are uninsured. The House wanted to delay Obamacare for one year and repeal a tax on medical devices, but the Senate did not.

RESEARCH FUNDING

According to USA Today, scientific research at public universities is deemed “nonessential.” The National Science Foundation, which funds research in mathematics, computer science, engineering and other disciplines, furloughed 95 percent of its staff during the shutdown. This resulted in major delays in reviewing and awarding new grants. The NSF is just one of several federal resources for research funding.

These delays affected institutions such as UTPA.

“The University of Texas-Pan American receives a number of competitive grant awards from various federal agencies,” said Sadiq Shah while the shutdown was still in effect. “Our faculty and staff work hard to develop competitive proposals to seek external funding for projects that are related to the academic mission. These awards may provide funding to engage students in hands-on research, scholarship, creative activities, curriculum development and service and community engagement projects.”

According to Shah, the vice provost for research and sponsored projects, proposals must follow strict rules. For example, proposals sent to agencies one minute after the deadline won’t be accepted.

“Generally, these proposals are submitted online. However, sometimes there are technical issues with these websites due to submission of thousands of proposals submitted by various universities,” he said. “With the government shutdown, there is no one at the agencies to address these issues so that we may successfully submit proposals.”

In addition, when these agencies closed or downsized, there was no one to review proposals and without these reviews there was a delay in decisions regarding awards. The agencies also cannot issue award letters, so if a proposal was accepted, the University could not be notified and these new projects couldn’t be started, Shah said.

“As a result, students cannot be engaged on these projects,” he continued. “For existing awards, that are multimillion dollar awards, we do the work and submit invoices to the agencies for reimbursement for our costs. Unfortunately, due to the shutdown we are unable to receive reimbursement. It creates a financial hardship for the University.”

FINANCIAL AID

Because financial aid is forward-funded, meaning the awards for the 2013-2014 school year come from last

year’s budget, the short-term effects of the government shutdown were minimal, said Elaine Rivera, executive director for student financial services.

“The UTPA financial aid office is still able to draw down funds and disburse aid, students are able to complete FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) applications and schools are able to import FAFSA applications that students have completed,” Rivera said Oct. 8. “Students completing the FAFSA verification process may be slightly inconvenienced. The local IRS (Internal Revenue Service) office in Harlingen is closed, so students must request copies of tax transcripts directly online at the IRS website.”

The debt ceiling, set at $16.7 trillion before it was raised Oct.16, is the maximum amount of borrowing the government can do; it determines how much debt the federal government can have to pay for its operations.

The Treasury estimated it would exhaust its legal authority to borrow Oct. 17 and would have about $30 billion in cash on hand to pay those who are expecting to receive federal money. If nothing was done, this money would have run out by the end of the month and the country would have entered “default” and wouldn’t have the funds to pay those who own Treasury securities, according to NBC.

If Congress allowed the U.S. to hit the debt ceiling, not only would financial aid run out, but student loan rates could soar because they are now tied to the 10-year Treasury note. Rivera said this is why the long-term effects of the shutdown could have been more dire than the short-term ones.

“The next hurdle of concern would be the failure of Congress to increase the debt ceiling,” she said. “Reports indicate that the U.S. Treasury Department is expected to run out of borrowing options in mid-October. Failure to increase the levels of debt which the U.S. can take on could potentially disrupt student aid funding, not to mention financial markets across the globe.”

OTHER SERVICES

According to Elda Arriaga, manager of the UTPA Veterans Service Center, the assistance the center provides wouldn’t be interrupted by the shutdown unless it was prolonged. Like the situation with financial aid, veterans’ benefits depend on the debt ceiling.

“VITAL (Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership) veterans’ benefits administration programs will remain operational: compensation, pension, education, vocational rehabilitation and work study,” Arriaga said Oct. 8. “However, in the event of a prolonged shutdown, the processing of claims and payments in these programs would be suspended when available funding is exhausted.”

In addition, certain scholarly resources, such as data.gov, were not available during the shutdown. This site, among others, provides access to government data from across the federal government that students may need to use for research.

“All of the government information resources that students would rely on for their research papers and academic work are unfortunately shut down,” said Karen Holt, head of reference and instructional services in the library, Oct. 11.

The deal reached by Congress prevented these long-tern effects from happening and fixed the short-term problems faculty and students experienced at the University.

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Changing education

October 3rd, 2013

The recent release of the World Economic Forum’s 2013-2014 global competitiveness report showed a lag in the education system of Vietnam. It ranked lower than  neighboring countries in terms of higher education and training, including Korea, Thailand and Malaysia.

Thanh Nien News in Vietnam reported that lagging scores for primary and higher education are due to curriculum and teaching methods that are outdated and inefficient. Vietnam native Ngo Ai Nhan, a lecturer in the department of English at the University, wants to help fix this.

“I am not pleased with education in Vietnam. Critical thinking skills are not being developed there,” said Ngo.

In the United States, the family name is used as the last name. However, in Vietnam, the family name is first. So she is listed as Ai Nhan Ngo in the UTPA directory, but that is not how she is referred to in Vietnam.

Ngo moved to the Rio Grande Valley nearly three years ago to  complete her master’s degree at UTPA in English second language. She received a bachelor’s in foreign language studies from Hue University in Vietnam. Upon receiving her master’s in ESL, she became a teaching assistant and is now a lecturer. While she had difficulties adjusting to a new culture, she said she will take back her educational experiences from America  and spread them to the youth in her home country.

Many of the problems with the education system, according to AsiaNews, can be attributed to the prevailing communist government structure found in Vietnam. Because the government controls the education  system, AsiaNews said there is little room for education to grow and for free thinking to occur among young students. Ngo and other Vietnam natives feel this type of education system is detrimental to the future of the nation.

Ngo, aware of the challenges she will face in her country, said that many Vietnamese college graduates come to the states for a doctoral degree and find it very hard to change the education system in Vietnam once they return.

“Just because it’s hard to do,” Ngo said, “does not mean you don’t try.”

According to the Critical Thinking Community, an online organization that promotes education reform and  improvement, critical thinking is the ability to analyze and  evaluate gathered information and develop an answer or conclusion based on logic.

“I see the role of critical thinking (in the United States) and I want my students in Vietnam to learn and think, not just memorize,” the 27-year-old said when discussing what she hopes to apply to her teachings in Vietnam.

The role of critical thinking in the classroom is also seen as something very important to Sarahi Ruiz, a senior education major from UTPA.

“The main goal of education is to promote and develop critical thinking skills so that students can think for themselves as adults,” the 20-year-old said. “And also be themselves; be individuals.”

AsiaNews reported that a  monopoly on the education  system in Vietnam may also be part of the problem, with the country’s government focusing on earning money from universities rather than educating youth.

“(Asia is) not like America where just anyone can get a scholarship or a grant from the government,” said Irish Bautista, a senior in the nursing program and Philippines native. “You have to have a lot of money (before you start college).”

Ngo discussed how a corrupt government stands in the way of educational advances in her country, adding that there is a lack of skills in the classroom that perpetuates this problem.

“Research and critical thinking skills are lacking in Vietnam,” Ngo said. “I had to learn (these skills) here (in the United States) and developed them here as well.”

Ngo plans to teach at UTPA for four to five more years to gain as much education experience as possible. Then she will return to Vietnam to try and reform the education system. She said that by taking all she has learned about research and critical thinking back to her country, she will be able to implement these theories into her teaching methods there and possibly change education in Vietnam for the better.

“If I am going to learn something,” Ngo said, “I am going to do something meaningful with it.”

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Progress and parking spaces

September 5th, 2013

More than 3,500 new students entered the University this fall, with the new enrollment totaling to 20,000 students; a 3 percent increase in population compared to last year, according to the Office of Institutional Research and Effectiveness. As posted on the facilities management website, UTPA is expected to grow and continues with the Campus Master Plan, which was last updated in 2005.

These projects include the new Performing Arts Complex, the Van Week Parking Project, the new Academic Services Building and the remodeling of the Mary Alice Shary-Shivers Building with a new courtyard.

Marta Salinas-Hovar, assistant director of project planning and management at UTPA, estimates that by next year the school will have gained 110,000 square feet of building space.

“These include all additional buildings on the campus when we are done with all the projects,” Salinas-Hovar said. “The old building (PAC) had outlived its useful life. It did not meet the current building codes. It did not meet with safety handicap accessibility. It was too small to meet the needs of the fine arts program.”

EASTSIDE PAC
The new PAC will be more than twice the size of the old one. For example, the original auditorium was 25,000 square feet and the new one is to be 60,000 square feet, encompassing three buildings.

Building ‘A’ will have the new 1,000-seat auditorium with lower and upper balconies and an audio and video recording studio that will provide live feeds and four rehearsal halls. Building ‘B’ is a remodel of the current two-story building; it will offer classrooms, a dance practice room and a small practice area with a removable dance floor. Building ‘C’, the north building, will contain practice rooms and a computer lab with a piano and piano-recording equipment.

“This gives us a much better auditorium with proper handicap-accessible seating requirements, a bigger lobby, some support space for the theater arts, dressing rooms, larger rehearsal spaces,” Salinas-Hovar said.

In addition, the complex will have an arched wall entry to a remodeled courtyard with a new water fountain. The entire complex is scheduled for completion by October 2014 and will cost $42 million.

“We don’t know about any delays; we don’t know the future,” Salinas-Hovar said. “But we do plan on having our first Christmas performance concert event when it is completed.”

SOUTHSIDE MASS & ACSB
South of the campus is the site of the MASS remodeling and the new ACSB with a student lounge and  courtyard.

The second floor of the MASS building has been retrofitted for the Office of Human Resources and the third floor for the Office of Student Financial Services. In addition, the first floor will hold the Office of Graduate Studies; all floors are scheduled for completion in mid-October.

In addition, by August 2014 the 40,000-square-foot ACSB building will be complete, costing $11.9 million. It will have five classrooms, each with a 60-student capacity, the University’s Writing Center, the Office of International Programs and the Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning. It will also house a new student lounge, and the new University College, which will assist entering undergraduate students in adapting to their new environment. The University College will also host the well-known UNIV 1301: Learning Frameworks classes.

“I think it is exciting that we are getting this upgrade,” said Kelly Longoria, a 30-year-old student finishing her license as a professional counselor. “It’s getting bigger and better. The University is getting pretty old and we need to progress and keep up with everybody else. Construction is good.”

In addition, there will be a new stoplight at the University’s main entrance on West University Drive, near the Visitors Center. It will connect to the recently constructed Joe Ochoa Drive and should alleviate many problems for drivers.

“The stoplight is a good thing. Actually, today I saw it, they just ran the stop sign,” said Al Morales, a 24-year-old senior majoring in criminal justice. “They didn’t even yield or wait the proper (amount of) time. (A new stoplight) would most definitely help with controlling traffic problems.”

NORTHSIDE VAN WEEK
There will be exactly 336 more parking spaces in what will be known as the Lamar Parking Lot, when the estimated $2 million Van Week Parking Project is finished. According to Director of Facilities Management Oscar Villarreal, Van Week Street parking lots directly south of Schunior Street will open Sept. 16 and another west of the thermal tank will open Nov. 15.

The project will also include a pedestrian mall, which is a landscaped walkway also known as a “pedestrian street”, have drainage improvements and finalize a new road to connect Schunior and Van Week streets.

“In a selfish sense, the construction has hindered the ability to get from one end of the parking lot to Sugar Road,” UTPA student Longoria said. “In the grand scheme of things, construction is construction and it’s progress. You are doing it for the betterment of the University and the community. There’s no need to complain about something that’s going to get better.”

Both Longoria and Morales attended UTPA before most of the changes to the parking took place and are very much used to the morning traffic.

“Additional parking most definitely helps, but it is still going to be a tight squeeze,” Morales said. “As it is, there’s a lack of parking every now and then, but I don’t mind walking.”

PAST AND FUTURE
Last December, the University updated its signs around campus and this fall installed a new three-sided brick kiosk by the University’s sundial to help students find their way around campus. It offers a cork board, a campus map, and an LED color screen. Some students who have been attending UTPA prior to the recent construction feel the school is moving in the right direction in terms of design.

“It makes the school stand out a bit more,” Morales said. “The signage (of building names) keeps it modernized. It brings the University to the new age. It makes it look like a university now.”

Last year, the University finished construction of the Student Union and unveiled a new game room, Chik–fil–A, SU Cafe, Mein Bowl, the C-store, Subconnection and Mi Taco Poncho’s.

“The (revamping of the) Student Union, that helped out. They brought in different restaurants and different food,” Morales said. “It helps out to not always eat the same kind of meal. At least we now have some variety to choose from. About the game room, I really miss the old pool tables.”

Longoria, who was an undergraduate student at UTPA in 2002, sees a difference between past and current parking issues.

“It was a different world then,” she said. “We didn’t have a lot of parking options. Now it’s different, there’s residential parking where there used to be open parking. I was going to park in my regular spot, but then there was Zone 2. I’m sure there’s reasons for it. It helps the staff get to their destination.”

Also, students can expect the completion of the “Dome Safe Room” by summer 2014. This structure will accommodate 1,000 people in case of a weather emergency, providing refuge for at least 24 hours. It will also provide 19 classrooms and house offices for the Department of Health and Safety.

“We hope to achieve this process within the next month or so,” said Villarreal of facilities management. “We are currently working on obtaining final (Federal Emergency Management Agency) approval.”

With all the construction happening, Salinas-Hovar has a message for students about staying safe.

“On the perimeter, we have fenced the areas to keep the students, faculty and the campus community out,” the project planner said. “Please stay away from these areas. Our information is posted on the facilities management website. We use this to alert students of these areas to go around and find an alternative route.”

Additional information and maps on construction are also available at the UTPA Police Department website.

“We ask the students to bear with us. To be patient, and understand that our campus is growing,” she said. “In due time, we will have these facilities and parking lots completed. We are working hard and diligently to provide improvement for the students. We are looking to make things better. In order to progress, we must go through growing pains.”

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