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Women’s basketball gets associate head coach

April 30th, 2013

John Ishee is the new Broncs women’s basketball associate head coach, as announced by the University of Texas-Pan American Department of Intercollegiate Athletics Tuesday.

Ishee, who started his coaching career as the head coach for the boys and girls team at Prentiss High School in Mississippi, will be reuniting with Larry Tidwell, the new Broncs head coach, after working together last season for Lamar University. Ishee approached the University with more than 20 years of collegiate coaching experience, as both head coach and assistant.

In this past season, Ishee helped the Lamar Lady Cardinals to a 22-11 record and a spot on the Women’s Basketball Invitational quarterfinals.

“We’re happy to have John on our initial staff at UTPA,” said Tidwell in a press release. “John brings a tremendous work ethic to the table every day.”


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News from Neebo

April 11th, 2013

Students can expect not only a new bookstore location, but a new owner as well.

To ensure students receive the best value, the University issued a new bid March 1 to bookstore operator Neebo Complete College Outfitter, said Leticia Benavides, director of auxiliary services at UTPA.

After an eight-year contract with Follett Higher Education Group, Benavides said the timing to re-bid the bookstore contract was right, due to the contract’s expiration March 31, in tandem with the relocation of the bookstore to the Library.

“The bookstore industry has changed significantly since we first started the contract in 2005 that the financial considerations offered to the University had been renegotiated,” Benavides explained.

Prior to the contract with Follett, the book store  was self-operated.  Although Follett was part of the re-bidding process it failed to win a second contract.

“We respect the campuses’ decision and have done our best to ensure a smooth transition for the entire campus community,” said Bill Boney, regional manager for Follett at UTPA. “As with any great partnership, we hoped our relationship would continue.”

Boney said the bookstore industry has seen a steady and disturbing decline in sell-through, which he defines as the amount of materials sold as a percentage of total enrollment within a class department or school. He said the biggest factor is the growing collection of online sources that offer textbook materials.

“Students are savvy shoppers and the increase of larger online competitors has given them the opportunity to really explore what’s out there and at what price,” Boney explained.

Neebo began its transition to Library Room 101 April 10. The bookstore is expected to open its doors to the UTPA community April 19, when the staff will test its operations. The official opening will take place April 22 with a grand opening to be announced at a later date.

The Writing Center, previously located in Library Room 101, was temporarily moved to the Academic Services Building. The current bookstore building, located on the east side of the campus on the corner of 1201 West University Drive and N. Fourth Ave., is expected to receive renovations in preparation for housing a program from the College of Health and Science. The Physician’s Assistant program was originally considered but the final plan remains uncertain, according to Benavides.

“We hope that the centralized location in the Library will allow for the campus community to visit the bookstore more often instead of cyclically,” she said. “It also allows for the bookstore to become more integrated with campus life and events.”

As announced in an email sent to students, faculty and staff March 27, Neebo is expected to provide a variety of affordable course material options which include the following: matched prices on textbooks with other local stores or online websites; all textbooks available for rent; a large selection of digital textbooks; and the online buyback program which will allow students to know how much their book is worth in advance.

“Neebo understands that different students have different needs—and the more options there are for course materials, the better,” said Amy Turnip, South Texas regional manager for Neebo. “Through our used textbooks, Rent Every Textbook program, and our Best Price Promise, students will have an immediate way to save money.”

The new bookstore operator will also be expanding other merchandise areas such as electronics, office supplies, and Bronc fan gear. Rental kiosks will be placed throughout campus for students’ convenience. Benavides mentioned the possibility of scholarship opportunities through Neebo and the University’s Scholarship Office. Criteria for scholarships will be released in the future.

Turnip also said Neebo is in the process of interviewing existing bookstore employees and at the moment is unsure whether there will be more or less employees than before.

According to Alex Valdez, UTPA procurement management director, the University sent out a competitive proposal last November through a Request For Proposal process that provides for the license of space for operating the bookstore.

Interested vendors that replied to the RFP along with Neebo were Barnes and Noble College, Texas Bookstore College and Follett Higher Education Group, all of whom had until Dec. 7, 2012 to submit a response to UTPA.

The evaluation committee, which consisted of groups such as the Student Government Association, Athletics, Center for Online Learning Teaching and Technology, Staff Senate, Faculty Senate, Business Affairs and Academic Affairs, focused on criteria before making a decision. The committee looked at the vendor’s prior experience with other university bookstores and its financial capacity to license, install, stock and operate the bookstore on main campus.

“It was a lengthy process but we wanted to make sure the students were taken care of,” Valdez said of the evaluation process. “It was decided that Neebo best met the requirements.”

Turnip said she is looking forward to partnering with UTPA and the opportunity  to integrate into the campus and serve its students.

 “UTPA’s modern focus on global education indicates that it puts its students first and continually evolves to meet the changing needs of real-world preparation,” Turnip said. ”That’s the kind of school we want to work with, and we are excited to get started.”


According to Boney, UTPA students saved approximately $2.2 million through Follett’s rental, used, buyback and digital programs in the past three years. He said he believes Follett was successful in meeting their central goal of maximizing students’ access to affordable textbook options.

However, not all UTPA students were satisfied with the textbook policies at the Follett-owned bookstore.

 Freshman Mario Castillo said he only bought one textbook, at the beginning of his first semester at UTPA,  something the computer science major quickly regretted.

 “(Textbooks) are way too overpriced, I just don’t buy them at the bookstore,” the Mission native said. “I prefer buying my textbooks on Amazon or getting them used through a friend.”

According to CollegeData, an online college advisor, the average cost for for books and supplies for the 2012-2013 school year was $1,200 at public colleges.

Although biology major Robert Martinez rarely gets his textbooks at the bookstore, opting for ‘cheaper’ ones online, he said he plans on stopping by the new bookstore.

“A new bookstore won’t affect me but I’ll still check it out just because it’s new,” he said.



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A new company

March 15th, 2013

The members of newly minted Encantado Theatre have big dreams that involve a Broadway-in-the-Valley venue, six shows a year and workshops for local kids.
But that’s way down the line because for now, Encantado consists of seven people trying to raise about $9,000 for their first show in the summer, or September if they don’t get the money by then.

According to Isidro Lerma, the goal of Encantado is to tell great stories though theater in the Valley.

“We all have different areas of specialty,” the San Juan native said. “Mine is fantasy, another’s is realism, another, Shakespeare…We want to enchant every audience member so they leave thinking ‘Wow, what a great story.’ That they are so enchanted by the story, they won’t forget it.”

Lerma said that Encantado also wants to offer opportunities to actors in the Valley.

“There are some actors that are just used over and over,” said Lerma, who graduated from Corpus Christi University in 2010 before making his way back to the Valley. “There are some of us that want to teach, so we’re not just looking for actors to work with – we’re looking for actors to improve.”

Making sure to include several different actors in all productions is the reason for one of Encantado’s rules for the seven – no casting the same person twice in the same year, according to Mayra Ochoa, one of the founders.

“A lot of people always cast the same people in their shows and I have helped out on tech stuff and I see my friends say ‘I’m not good,’” said Ochoa, a senior theater major at UTPA. “But they are, and directors just get comfortable with certain actors, and that’s fine if that’s the way they work, but we really want to get a variety of people.”

Eventually, the members of Encantado hope to build a mega-venue in the Valley, with room for six plays at a time. The venue would serve not just Encantado, but possibly other companies in the Valley as well, like Thirteen O’ Clock or All Star Theatre. The idea came from two members who are studying architecture and business, respectfully.

“Like a mini-Broadway, so that people can go out at night and look at all the signs and say ‘OK which one do I want to see tonight?’” he added. “It might take 15 or 20 years to accomplish but it’s what we want to be able to do.”

For now, the new company will operate out of a venue in McAllen, opposite of Sprouts, that was offered to them for free as long as they also work with children to learn theater.

To raise the $9,000 for their tentative first show, the members of Encantado have planned fundraisers including a BBQ plate sale that nabbed them about $600 after costs earlier this month. Funding is the biggest hurdle to overcome right now, Lerma said.

“That’s part of being enchanted,” he said. “To believe that we can build a great company even though it’s quite difficult, especially with no funds.”

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Expanding the house of science

February 14th, 2013

After it received the OK Jan. 23 by the University of Texas System board of regents, a new science building could be in the works for UTPA to help accommodate the growing number of science students.

If funding is approved by the Texas Legislature at the end of May, the new facility would be completed by December 2016 and available for students January 2017. The $98 million project would be funded by tuition revenue bonds, funds generated through state-issued bonds with future tuition as security.

The 162,600-square-foot annex would support science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines, including biology, chemistry, health sciences and environmental studies.

John Trant, dean for the College of Science and Mathematics, said the proposal for a new facility resulted from an increase in science majors.

“The number of majors in my college are growing faster than the University,” Trant said. “The UT System considers a building fully occupied when it’s 80 percent full. Our current science building is filled 110 percent of its capacity.”


In a presentation given at the board of regents’ meeting last month, UTPA President Robert Nelsen called for an addition to the new Science Building that would add three auditorium classes to seat a combined 450 students, plus the following: 30 research labs, 19 instructional labs, five specialized labs (imaging, instrumentation, tissue culture, herbarium and radioisotope), two biosafety level-3 labs, six environmental chambers and a vivarium (an animal care facility). Office space for additional faculty will be included as well.

UTPA’s current $26 million building, 156,700 square feet in shape of the letter ‘U,’ was completed in 1997. With the $98 million funding proposal, the existing edifice would receive an addition, or annex, that would turn it into a rectangular facility. The Department of Physics and Geology would also be moved into the annex, while the planetarium is expected to be enhanced or replaced.
With a new facility, Trant said students will have access to new specialized bachelor’s programs such as biochemistry, as well as more Ph.Ds.

Along with The University of Texas at Brownsville merger, Trant said the new science building will be an important step to helping place the University as an emerging research institute.

“In my opinion the best learning experience is experiential,” Trant said. “Our best opportunity to provide that experiential learning is through undergraduate research.”

According to the UT System website, emerging research universities are eligible for the National Research University Fund established by the 81st Texas Legislature in 2009. The funding program financially assists emerging research universities who spend at least $45 million in research.

As of now, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has designated seven institutions in the state as emerging research universities. The three that are the most recognized are University of Texas Austin, Texas A&M and Rice University as Tier One, or  high-performing, nationally competitive research institutes.

District 40 State Rep. Terry Canales said the UTPA science building would be an asset to the University’s proposed merger with UTB and the creation of a new medical school in the Valley, also up for consideration this Legislative session.

Because the new building proposal and merger between UTPA and UTB are two different projects, a science facility can still occur with or without the unification, Canales explained.

He also said a new structure will be a benefit to students and the Valley.

“In general, the new facility will have cutting-edge technology to empower UTPA students with the resources needed to compete nationally in the field of science,” Canales said.

The new building would contribute to the UTPA administration’s goal of enrolling 30,000 students by fall 2021. With a new science facility to compliment a medical school in the Valley, the number of students interested in a health career will double, according to Trant.

“There is no question in my mind that the programs, degree plans and research will be bringing more students from the region and across the state to study here,” he said.


Martha Salazar, a senior biology major, hopes the new annex will address classroom capacity issues in the current building.

“In my cell biology lecture we had about 50 students, some would end up sitting on the floor due to the lack of chairs and space until they moved us to another room,” Salazar said.

The 22-year-old Brownsville native expressed enthusiasm regarding the bachelor’s program for biochemistry that could result from the construction.

“There’s not much you can do with a biology major besides teach or work for wildlife research,” Salazar explained. “Biochemistry is more industrial, it’s a great complement to pharmaceutics, dentistry, pre-med and research. I’m actually reading about that right now.”

Although the completion of a new science annex along with its new programs might come in late for Salazar, she said more research labs may convince future students to stay closer to campus.

“Professors are really selective when it comes to choosing students’ assistance in research,” Salazar said. “But with more research labs available, students won’t have to leave to other universities to gain the experience they need.”

Adrian Guerrero, a junior chemistry major currently working on cancer biology research at the Edinburg Regional Academic Health Center, believes in the importance of adding more research labs on campus.

“I used to work with Dr. Banik along with 20 other students in a large lab, but at the same time it was too small for all of us,” the 20-year-old from Sharyland said. Bimal Banik is a chemistry professor at UTPA.

Guerrero, who came to UTPA with the hopes of majoring in biochemistry, said he’s glad the University is pushing more specialized science programs.

“The idea of adding biochemistry as a major has been around for quite a while,” he explained. “This is actually really exciting news. A larger science building will bring a larger science community.”
Mayra Olivarez, a pre-dental biology major, said a new science home will be a great addition to the possible medical school. The Hidalgo native also hopes more lab courses will open as a result.

“This semester I didn’t get the chemistry lab on the day I wanted, it got canceled,” the 18-year-old freshman explained. “It would be great if more labs are available at times that are the most convenient for students.”

Junior biology major Esthela Jimenez said although the new science building may not affect her by graduation, it will be a good prospect for students.

“I think it’s going to be great for the Valley. It will bring a lot of opportunities and recognition in the fields of science,” the 18-year-old McAllen native said. “Creating a larger facility will encourage more people to study here.”

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UTPA likely to merge with UTB, new medical school

December 6th, 2012

The University of Texas-Pan American may soon change.

The University of Texas System Board of Regents unanimously voted to merge the University of Texas at Brownsville and UTPA, with the addition of a new medical school in Harlingen.

“This is more important than passion or emotion. This is literally about saving lives, about the future of America,” UTPA President Robert Nelsen told the Board of Regents Thursday morning. “We will create bi-cultural, bi-literate researchers. We will transform the Valley with your vote today.”

Right now, the university is being referred to as The University for the America’s in the Rio Grande Valley, but the name has still not been decided, according to Nelsen.

This merger would consolidate the RGV universities into one, according to UT Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa’s presentation to the board this morning. The new consolidated universities would have locations in Edinburg, Harlingen and Brownsville, plus an administrative headquarters in McAllen.

However, the decision is not official until two-thirds of the Texas state Legislature approves the proposal in the next session in January.

It is very likely that the Texas Legislature will approve this new university, according to Nelsen.

The current enrollment at UTPA stands at about 19,000 students, but the predicted enrollment of this new University is about 28,000 students. Altogether, it would also have 1,500 faculty and 3,800 staff positions.

The Board of Regents will allocate $100 million total over 10 years for the development of the health science center in Harlingen, specifically the four-year medical school. The medical school will be open to the first class of students tentatively in 2015, although Nelsen said in a phone interview after the announcement with The Pan American that he would like to see it open earlier, possibly in 2013.

Additionally, UTPA will not move the programs it already has, such as the Physician’s Assistant program.

This university will be considered an emerging research institution on par with The University of Texas at Arlington, The University of Texas at Dallas, and The University of Texas San Antonio, according to Cigarroa.

The merger will save about $6 million in total, for both universities and the new health science center, according to Nelsen. Additionally, he expects the merger to result in more university jobs than layoffs.

“There have been no talks about (layoffs) at all,” Nelsen said. “I see it growing under this really, because we are going to have access to more students, have more buildings, more research and we are going to need more faculty.”

Nelsen also added that he did not expect the merger to affect UTPA tuition in any way.

“Instead, this is bringing in funds so we don’t have to increase the tuition,” he said.

UTPA currently only receives Higher Education Resistance Funds from Texas, but if the new university is established in the Valley, then it will qualify for Permanent University Funds. The Permanent University Fund is a public endowment included in the Texas Constitution in 1876 that provides financial support to institutions in the University of Texas and Texas A&M University systems. A two-thirds vote by the Texas Legislature is required for a new university to access the PUF.

“We have support of the delegation (of state legislators),” Nelsen said. “And more importantly, there is no fiscal note with this legislation, meaning it doesn’t cost the state anything.”

Permanent University Funds are a larger quantity of money than Higher Education Resistance Funds, so this new University will have more resources.

“We’ve known from the very beginning we had to get the PUF funds for the Valley,” Nelsen said. “Now we will be able to.”

Nelsen said that the administration started planning on how to get PUF six months ago, and two months ago is when they finalized the plans of how they were going to do it.

UTB President Juliet Garcia told reporters in a press conference held after the announcement that PUF funds would put the new University for the Americas on the same academic level as the other UT schools.

“It hurts President Nelsen and I when we see ourselves on the charts with the other universities and Nelsen and I see that but there’s not an asterisk saying ‘They don’t do as well because they don’t get PUF moneys,’” she said. “It’s like we’re barefoot, but give us the same pair of tennies like everyone else and watch us run.”

Cigarroa will visit the Valley Dec. 7 to hold town hall meetings at UTPA and UTB, and press conferences to discuss the new university and the health science center with Board of Regents Chairman Gene Powell, Executive Vice-Chancellor of Academic Affairs Pedro Reyes, Nelsen and Garcia. There will be a townhall meeting in the UTPA Student Union at 1:45 p.m.


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Double major available in business college

November 15th, 2012

If there is one thing that economics professor Alberto Davila wants to make clear, it’s that the recently announced double major for economics and finance is not new. Davila, the chair for the Economics and Finance Department, always advised students to double major.

“It was an overlap in courses,” Davila explained. “What we essentially did was create a plan to fulfill the degree requirements for both majors.”

Before the announcement on Sept. 4 during the semester’s first meeting for the Economic Society, a student majoring in finance could take 30 hours of economics electives, and vice versa for finance majors.

The minimum number of hours required for either an economics or finance degree plan is 120, or four academic years with full course loads. However, the degree plan for the double major has a minimum requirement of 135 hours, one extra semester.

Salvador Contreras, an economics professor, explained why students couldn’t technically double major in both before the revision of the degree plan.

“Since there was so much overlap between these two degrees, we added this in for students wanting to take advantage (of the double major),” Contreras said.

Because the joint degree plan calls for only an extra 15 credit hours, the department saw it as a way to attract students to join  the program.

“There’s something powerful about the package,” Contreras said. “It’ll have a significant impact on how students go out into the business world.”

Among the students who decided to change his degree plan to accommodate the double major was Jose Luis Briones, president of the Economics Society student organization.

“I think it makes a graduate more marketable when he’s looking for a job,” the 22-year-old Dallas native said. “The skill-sets one could learn from doing both majors would provide a greater understanding of business.”

Charles Danso, vice president of the Financial Management Association, another student organization, agreed with him.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to be more versatile since economics and finance go hand in hand,” said the 22-year-old native from Ghana, in West Africa.

Danso is a finance major who couldn’t switch to the degree plan because he’s planning on graduating in the spring, and will start grad school next fall.

“If it was announced earlier, I would’ve done the switch,” he said. “But I don’t have the time to do an extra semester of school.”

Davila said that so far, a total of seven students have transitioned to the new degree plan since its announcement, but the number is expected to rise.

According to Contreras, even though students were able to double major before, graduates who did so didn’t have it recognized on their degree. The information was available on their transcripts though.

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A ‘save haven’

November 8th, 2012

By the end of next year, as many as 1,000 Valley residents should be able to take refuge at UTPA when the next dangerous hurricane passes through.

The University received a $1.8 million grant earlier this year from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to build a dome that would act as a “safe room” on campus.

The dome is a “safe room” and not a shelter because the Valley community will only be able to take refuge there for 24 hours in the case of a hurricane, and two hours in the case of a tornado.

This structure would be the first of its kind at any university in Texas, according to Richard Costello, director of Environmental Health and Safety at the University.

“(FEMA) realized that a lot of the people in the Valley aren’t going to leave if there’s a weather emergency,” Costello said. “They decided to fund some domes in this area because it will help keep people here safe. Every year there’s a hurricane, we’re inundated with people who think we have a place for shelter.”

The grant from FEMA accounts for 75 percent of the total budget for the project leaving UTPA to pay the remaining $600,000 out of the University budget.

Construction will begin in two to three months and finish by the end of 2013, Costello said. It will be located at the corner of Van Week and Second Street, north of the Education Building.

The dome will hold 800 to 1,000 people depending on the staff’s discretion. Space will be allocated on a first-come basis, with priority given to people who are physically disabled. The dome and its specially designed windows should be able to withstand winds of 200 mph, or a Category Five hurricane.

Loren Solis, a senior studying chemistry, believes the dome will be a good addition to the Valley but it’s inconvenient for her because she commutes from Donna.

“I’m sure people would take advantage of it because if a hurricane were to come, they probably wouldn’t evacuate the Valley and some houses wouldn’t be able to withstand the storms,” the 22 year old said. “I probably wouldn’t take advantage if I were home because I’d have to drive to Edinburg.”

When the weather is fair, the University will use the dome for classroom space and the permanent offices for the Department of Health and Safety officials.

“Number one and foremost, this will a safe house for Valley residents,” Costello said. “However, this is also a mutually beneficial agreement. We are in need of classroom space on campus, so when there is not a potential weather disaster, the University can use that space.”

The University currently does not have enough classroom space to host more than 60 people, but the 19 large rooms in the dome are aimed to help.

“There are a lot of big classes where students get crammed into small rooms,” said Ariana Mata, a 26-year-old communications major from Mission. “Getting classroom space will fix that problem.”

In the past, the University has taken campus residents to the refuge in San Antonio for protection from a storm because it is nearest to the Valley. However, now the students will be able to use the dome for refuge. In total, Bronc Village apartments and Unity, Heritage and Troxel dorms have 800 beds.

Although the University will have control of the dome in instances of safe weather, the Red Cross will operate the dome in the case that dangerous weather passes through the Valley.

Costello believes that this shelter is something the Valley has needed for a long time.

“I’m happy. This will keep many more people safe,” he said. “This dome will be safe harborage, a safe haven.”

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Roam the net with eduroam

October 18th, 2012

Having gone live in early August, a new wireless Internet access service called eduroam is now available for use by students at the University.

The idea behind eduroam is that students, faculty and visiting scholars to the campus will be able to easily access the wireless Internet without having to mess around with network settings, as long as they come from another institution that also uses eduroam.

Likewise, UTPA students visiting other institutions with eduroam will be able to easily access their wireless connection.

After students register with the network using a username and password, eduroam stores the data so that when they visit another participating eduroam institution, the login info is instantly recognized and access is granted.

“We hope this is going to be a real convenience for our students,” said Anne Toal, technology assessment officer with the Office of Information Technology. “Especially those that are dual-enrolled or transfer.”

However, students are advised to use their school emails when doing the initial setup. When visiting another institution, they will find that the network will use a student’s email address to identify what university they hail from and send their credentials for verification.

“It’s not anonymous connection,” Toal said. “If someone from another eduroam school comes on, we have a record of them logging in. It gives us an email address. You’d be leaving little electronic footsteps so the system knows who you are.”

The University is a part of the University of Texas System, which in turn is a member of the Lonestar Education and Research Network, an association comprised of various academic and research institutions. Lonestar Education Research Network is a member of Internet2, another association much like Lonestar.

Lonestar focuses on supporting the research, education and economic development of institutions through statewide networking and access to global resources.

Internet2 focuses on the development of advancements in software, security,  network research and performance measurements to further the progress of Internet applications. The cost of eduroam is paid for by Internet2, and thus made available to any institution in the UT System that wants to use it.

Like UTPA, South Texas College has also started using eduroam.  As part of a joint project, it went live for both campuses at the same time, at the start of the semester.

Ideally, this will help students enrolled at both campuses, or those who’ve transferred to UTPA looking to continue their education.

“We first became aware of eduroam in March 2012,” said Jeffery Graham, chief information officer with the OIT. “We actually started working with STC to acquire it in May 2012.”

There are currently 76 institutions in the United States using it. The five in Texas include STC, UTPA, Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi, Texas A&M University, and the University of Texas System offices in Austin.

UTPA was the first school in the UT system to adopt eduroam.

“This is really good for Pan Am,” Toal said. “This really shows us as technology leaders, and for us to be the first in the UT system to use it is really great.”

A change with eduroam is how one logs in to the domain. There is no difference in performance. Now, instead of having to know the name of the Service Set Identifier in order to connect, which was

Student2010 for students, the eduroam service is broadcast so that connection is instant.

“We still have the student SSID and the faculty SSID, but we are trying to go over to eduroam,” Graham said. “Our long term goal is to replace the other two with eduroam.”

Since the network has gone live on campus, students have been able to test out the service and get a feel for how it preforms.

“The service is fast and it doesn’t mess up for me,” said Valeria Rios, a 19-year-old communication disorders major. “It’s also good that you can just go (to another campus) and use it without having a problem.”

Other students, such as 22-year-old Bryanda Garcia, told of their rocky start with the service.

“I had overheard that some students have had problems, and in the beginning of the semester I was experiencing issues connecting with my phone, but it’s fine now. I use it almost every day,” she said.

Part of the reason eduroam was adopted was in the hopes that it will allow students to continue their education if they choose to move beyond the University, beyond the state and even outside the nation.

“It allows our students to venture out into the world and not have to worry about figuring out how to get on the Internet,” Toal said.

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Funding Circuitry

September 21st, 2012

Graphic by Erick Gonzalez

Thanks to a $215,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, UTPA will become the only institution in South Texas with a fabrication system for integrated circuits.

The grant, titled “MRI: Acquisition of a Sputtering System for Device and Material Research (SDMR) at Hispanic Gateway Institutions,” will be used to support research in thin film and semiconductors through the purchase of a sputtering system, according to the grant document on the NSF website.

Semiconductors and thin film are materials that help produce integrated circuits. Semiconductors are substances that are commonly used in modern electronic devices such as radios, computers and cell phones, due to their electrical conductivity. Integrated circuits are small electronic devices made out of semiconductor material that are used in several electronic products such as computers and phones.

The project, which went into effect Sept. 1, will run until the end of August 2015. The money will be used to buy instruments to help manufacture integrated circuits because UTPA currently doesn’t have a manufacturing facility.

The Engineering Department has to send its products to a manufacturing company, MOSIS, and wait for it to return before products can be tested. Hasina Huq, the electrical engineering professor in charge of the project, hopes that from the funds being used for a fabrication facility, students can see their work being fabricated and learn real-world lessons.

“The short-term goal is to increase research infrastructure (and) the long-term goal is to have a facility here that will help students get more experience in the engineering world,” she said. “Even without the fabrication facility, students got several job offers from places like Intel and Texas Instruments, so we’re excited to see how far students can go with one.”

The manufacturing facility, known as a sputtering system, will be located on the second floor of the engineering building, in the high bay area. The system, according to Dorina Mihut, associate professor of mechanical engineering, will be used to create the deposits in integrated circuits.

The deposits form the bases of the integrated circuits; the bases are fundamental materials (metals, semiconductors and insulators) and are layered on the IC on a nano scale.

The requirement for the sputtering system involves a room with a hood for ventilation and water supply. Mihut, says that the system works by having a room that’s low in pressure and high in vacuum, creating a condition conducive for molecules bonding together.

So far, the plan is to do the deposits on the IC’s, Huq said. To finish the IC, they’re going to continue to send the ICs to MOSIS.

The plan is to have the room ready by the end of this fall or beginning of the spring semester, and after buying the necessary equipment and having students and faculty go through a training process, the sputtering facility will be ready to use by summer 2013, Huq said.

Huq also stated that the project will be a collaboration between UTPA and UT-Brownsville.

“UTB has no master’s program in engineering, so projects like this make it easier for UTB freshmen if they want to come here (to UTPA,” she said.

She also notes that a travel fund will be used by UTB engineering students, so they can come to UTPA in the summer, while the local department will work on the project year round.

Hector Trevino II, an electrical engineering graduate student who was runner-up in an integrated circuit design competition by Advanced Micro Devices INC in the spring, thinks that the grant will be as beneficial for students as it will be for the University.

“Without the fabrication process, not everyone could get a hands-on approach and fully appreciate what they were doing,” he said. “Now, with this process being added, students will get more experience and it’ll help them be more prepared for more job opportunities and they’ll be all the better for it.” 


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OpportunityWall aims to help students communicate

September 13th, 2012

Walking down the halls of the University, it’s not uncommon to see walls and bulletin boards plastered with event posters and fliers. One student’s web project, however, is looking to revolutionize the way information gets passed around on campus. is the brainchild of Jorge Vivanco, a 21-year-old management major.

The idea for OpportunityWall first came to Vivanco when he noticed the disorganized and messy way many of the fliers on campus are posted. At the time, he was competing in the Great BizIdea, an annual contest through the College of Business that promotes entrepreneurship and innovative ideas.

Vivanco lost the contest, but from the ashes of defeat came the spark of inspiration for OpportunityWall when a judge suggested to him that he make the idea digital. Vivanco, who is from Reynosa,

Tamaulipas, worked throughout the summer on the development process for the website, hiring a web programmer and a graphic designer to help with its construction.

The result was a website, which is still in beta, or the testing phase, that Vivanco hopes to release some time in November.

“This will be a new platform for students to buy or sell their books, post events and job offers,” he said.

The website works like a bulletin board where digital fliers can be posted for others to see. Each type of flier, or ad, is separated into categories that can be accessed by clicking on tabs located on the web page.

Students will have to create an account in order to view and use the functions that OpportunityWall offers and this will come at no expense to the user.

“It’s going to be free. It’s a non-profit project, and I have no plans to charge for it,” Vivanco explained. “It’s to help our student community.”

Anyone can create an account with the website, not just students. Given the anonymity of the Internet, it’s not hard to see how this might be a problem.
“Even if it is a non-profit venture, he will have to ensure that any legal condition is not violated,” said Punit Ahluwalia, professor with the department of computer information technologies. “(Like) in the areas of copyright or offensive content.”

Although the site has a buying and selling section where students can post information on books they want to sell, Vivanco does not want to be involved in the actual transaction process.

He won’t leave the members of his website completely vulnerable to misconduct and abuse.

“There is going to be an option so that if students catch on to a scam or other form of misuse, they can report it and I can review it,” he noted.
As the creator of the site, Vivanco’s account has moderating options that allow him to manage it from anywhere with access to a computer. Initially he will do this on his own, but as the site begins to grow, Vivanco plans to hire people to help with the upkeep.

Vivanco isn’t the first to explore the idea of an online board in which students can post information. There is also Much like OpportunityWall, it allows students and teachers who register to post advertisements and schedule meet-ups, and to post about books for sale.

However, isn’t specific to a single university. Visitors of the site are able to select what state they live in, and are then taken to a directory listing all the universities within that state that are able to use, including The University of Texas-Pan American.

Activity on since publication of this story appeared low with few posts, if any at all, on several of the universities boards.

Vivanco has already made plans to spread the word about his website. Social sites such as Twitter and Facebook are two ways in which he will do so. His target audience is currently students because they are the people he hopes the site will help out the most, but it’s not something that is going to be restricted to the University.

“I won’t hold it back if it wants to grow,” he concluded.

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