May 26th, 2013
Senate Bill 24 moves forward
Senate Bill 24, which will merge UTPA and the University of Texas at Brownsville into one university and create a medical school in the Rio Grande Valley, was passed by the Texas Legislature May 22 and now moves on to Gov. Rick Perry for approval.
Legislation for the merger and new medical school had been stalled May 6 when Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-Texas, substituted language in the bill that changed who has the final word in where the medical school would be located. Originally, the bill assigned the duty to an advisory panel of national experts assembled by the University of Texas System. The change made by Hinojosa would expunge that panel and require the first two years of students’ medical education be conducted in Hidalgo County, which he represents. The following two years of medical education would be held in Cameron County.
The newly approved bill on its way to Perry reflects these changes. In addition, the bill specifies that offices overseeing undergraduate medical education will be located in Hidalgo County and offices overseeing the graduate programs will be located in Cameron County.
New Texas landfill opens
Republic Services Inc. opened a new landfill and transfer station, which is a building or processing site for the temporary deposition of waste, in Edinburg May 22.
The company is the second largest provider of solid waste collection, transfer, recycling and disposal services in the nation.
La Gloria landfill will accept trash, liquids, green waste, such as grass or hedge trimmings, and hazardous waste, which is waste that poses substantial or potential threats to public health or the environment.
This 2037-acre landfill will replace the Republic’s Rio Grande Valley Landfill in Donna, which was filled to capacity. This landfill will now be closed permanently and will be covered with a clay liner, which slows the rate of seepage from the landfill. Topsoil is then added and seeded until eventually the landfill is covered and resembles a grassy hill.
The company said this new landfill should last 100 years. The life of a landfill depends on the size of the facility, the disposal rate and the compaction rate.
April 11th, 2013
Eduardo Guerra doesn’t feel safe in Reynosa, Mexico, anymore.
Mexico’s drug war has turned the 17-year-old high school student’s home into a cartel battleground.
And most recently, during Spring Break, there was a large shootout in Reynosa which reportedly killed three civilians, though bystanders claimed they saw trucks full of dead bodies leaving the scene, according to The Monitor.
Different sources reporting different data have been a regular occurrence during the conflict since it became a topic of concern in 2006. In the beginning of 2012, the Mexican attorney general’s office reported a death count of 48,000 since December 2006 and a total of 35,000 in 2010. The numbers haven’t been updated since, but critics argue (specifically, the Milenio, a daily newspaper based in Monterrey) the count is about 60,000 since 2006, not including the missing, or “desaparecidos.”
The government never involved itself directly with the drug cartels until 2006 when Mexican President Felipe Calderón sent 6,500 federal troops to the state of Michoacán to stop the violence, an event known as Operation Michoacán. The operation is considered the starting point of the war between the government and drug cartels.
Gary Mounce, a University political science professor who has researched Mexican politics and written about various Mexican-related topics for the online newspaper The Rio Grande Guardian, said he believes much of the information reported on the Mexican drug war is “chisme,” or gossip. As a result, no source has authentic numbers, except maybe the cartel members themselves, he said.
“We depend a lot on broad statistics and no one quite trusts the Mexican statistics,” Mounce said. “They seem to obviously want to tone down the numbers of murders…It’s all guesswork and it’s all chisme and…you can’t go down there and do research safely.”
Mounce refers to the fact that journalists are reportedly being murdered, and disappear completely, in Mexico. Last year, the Mexican government placed the journalist death count at 67, not including 14 who disappeared since the start of Calderón’s presidency in 2006. As a result, most Mexican journalists no longer pursue in-depth research to report factual Mexican drug war information, in order to prevent threatsof Colombia’s Cali and Medellín cartels in the 1990s.
Some say the Mexican drug war is partly an effect of the United States’ War on Drugs, an initiative coined by President Richard Nixon in 1971. The War on Drugs aimed to reduce illegal drug consumption in the United States through educational programs in schools and increased jail time for dealers and users.
The Mexican drug war, however, is it’s own series of conflicts occurring within the country.
The direct cause of the Mexican drug war is a power struggle between cartel groups, specifically the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, which used to be a united force but separated in 2007 after Gulf Cartel leader Osiel Cardenas Guillen was arrested.
As a result, the Zetas, previously a bodyguard group of the Gulf Cartel, seized the chance to become their own organization and since then have been at war with their former partner.
There is also the Tijuana cartel, Beltran Leyva cartel, Sinaloa cartel, Juarez cartel and La Familia Michoacana, according to a report by Congressional Research Service; however, the Rio Grande Valley is most affected by the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas because their territories are just across the border.
“The violence has increased in the last six or seven years as the cartels split and the people got greedy,” Mounce said. “It’s a turf fight.”
According to an article by globalpost.com, Mexican drug trafficking totals to revenue of $6 billion a year. The United States has the largest market for cocaine, heroin and marijuana, which makes the country the main market for the Mexican drug cartels, according to information collected by Visual Economics.
Also, in June 2008, U.S. Congress passed legislation that provided Mexico and Central American countries $1.6 billion as part of the Merida Initiative, a three-year assistance plan that provided law enforcement training, equipment and technical advances to strengthen Mexico’s justice systems.
Still, Mounce does not believe the United States is doing enough on their part to stop the Mexican drug war and its violence.
“You would have to say that there’s corruption on this (U.S.) side too,” Mounce added. “How do the drugs get through…. Somebody has to be on the (the other side).”
Mounce said he believes the fix is to legalize drugs in the United States.
“Until we legalize marijuana and cocaine, tax it and control it, have methadone treatment centers and have more education, then this whole question of violence won’t stop,” Mounce added.
However, legalizing anything other than marijuana does not seem likely to happen anytime soon. As of now, 18 states permit the medicinal use of marijuana, and as of last year, two states permit recreational use of the drug – Colorado and Washington. As for cocaine, heroin, crystal methamphetamine and other drugs that are sold illegally in the United States, the political discussion has yet to have open up to using them medicinally or recreationally.
Saavedra Cisneros said he believes that the United States couldn’t legalize drugs even if politicians wanted to because it is too difficult to regulate drugs.
“Who’s going to be in charge of regulating the quality of the product, because we know that cocaine isn’t always pure,” he asked. “In fact, it’s always cut and you don’t know what they’re cutting it with. So is the government going to set the purity of cocaine? I don’t think it’s going to happen.”
He also said he believes that if the cartels lose the drug market, they’ll find other ways to make money, for example, by kidnapping wealthy people and through extortion.
“If you take away the market, they have to resort to funding their operations somehow…they might go more into kidnappings and extortion because that’s how they get money,” Saavedra Cisneros said. “It’s a weird balance and we don’t really know whether there’s a way to solve it.”
LIFE IN MEXICO
Guerra said he’s grown accustomed to living within drug violence.
“Normally, I just put on my earphones, sit on the bus and dedicate myself to my own things, even though no one really knows when anything is going to happen,” he said in Spanish. “I just like to pretend nothing is happening.”
According to the death count provided by the Mexican Attorney General’s Office, most of the drug war killings have taken place in eight of Mexico’s 31 states, four of which share a border with the United States: Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, Coahuila and Chihuahua.
On the home front, UTPA has 930 international students, and a percentage of them travel across the border from Mexico to attend classes several times during the week.
“In Reynosa, I would be very cautious. Keep your eyes and ears peeled because you could unexpectedly be caught in crossfire. Students from there come every day, and professionals do too,” Mounce said. “The main problem in Mexico is on the border, from Reynosa to up the (Texas) border. (The violence) on the Mexican side, not the U.S. side.”
As for the rate of death among Mexican journalists, it doesn’t appear to be decreasing, according to data collected by the Committee to Protect Journalists. The skewed data will most likely not improve until something changes within the country, Mounce said.
Mounce and Saavedra Cisneros agree that they don’t see the problems stopping until the United States and Mexico take a more proactive approach to stopping the violence.
“It’s all about money and it’s all about making more money. And it won’t stop,” Mounce predicted.
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.”
Categories: Arts & Life
February 5th, 2013
The following is an email from University President Robert Nelsen to the University community about the Amancio Jose Chapa:
Many of you have expressed concern for the student who was injured in an off-campus gathering over the weekend. The student’s father has allowed us to share the following message on his behalf to the UT Pan American community:
“As AJ’s father I want to thank all of you who are keeping my son in your thoughts and prayers. At this time our family’s primary focus is solely on his health and his recovery.
I also wanted take this opportunity to dispel any and all rumors that have arisen out of this incident. First and foremost my family and I would like to state that at no time did we communicate that this incident was a hate crime or that we had confirmed that his injuries were due to an altercation. The only thing we knew was that his injuries were severe.
Second, we have not authorized any fund raisers or established any account on his behalf. Any such activities are being done by third parties and we have no knowledge or confirmation of their ultimate goal or intentions.
Finally, I would like to ask that everyone maintain their composure and allow cooler heads prevail. I do not support any of the negative comments being made in the social media related to this incident. They are both harmful and speculative based on limited to no information. As it relates to the organizers of the party, they were one of the first to contact and visit us outside of our immediate family and friends. I have spoken to several people that were at function and I would like state that I am not in agreement with the assumptions being made as it relates to a possible altercation.
Once again we thank you for your thoughts, prayers and support, and would like to ask, on the behalf of our family, to support our need for privacy.”
The Valley Voice has written that the Sheriff’s Department has determined that there was no criminal assault and that the student’s injuries were from a fall (http://www.yourvalleyvoice.
The Dean of Students is continuing its investigation of the incident. If it is determined that any UTPA student was involved in conduct that violates the UTPA Student Code of Conduct, appropriate disciplinary action will be taken.
For now, we must come together as a family. One of our family members, AJ, is in great pain today. Our hearts, prayers, and best wishes should go out to him and to his family.
I hope that we can take this tragedy as a teaching moment, a teaching moment about rushing to judgment, about the nature of the internet, and most of all about what it means to be part of The University of Texas-Pan American. We are Broncs, and we are family. We must trust processes, and we must support each other. We must not label each other or make decisions based upon stereotypes or incomplete information.
I am often amazed at our students. Today, I saw a great outpouring of love and respect. Let’s all work together to become an even stronger family.
January 31st, 2013
News straight out of the Pentagon Thursday brought the lifting of a 1994 ban on women in military combat positions.
Close to home, the news caused a stir at the University.
“I think the decision is going to be effective,” said Lt. Col. Alfred Silva, a UTPA military science professor. “Women are already performing combat duties, so all this does is open up more opportunities for women who have the abilities to fill gaps within the ranks.”
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, along with the 18th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, announced the rescission of the 1994 Direct Ground and Combat Definition and Assignment Rule.
The announcement will erase a ban that has kept women from serving in various positions, such as infantry, armory, artillery and other combat roles, along with eliminating gender-based barriers to the service.
At a press conference Jan. 24, Panetta shared his reasons behind the move.
“Women have shown great courage and sacrifice on and off the battlefield, contributed in unprecedented ways to the military’s mission and proven their ability to serve in an expanding number of roles,” Panetta said.
Over the course of both the War in Iraq, which started in 2003, and the War in Afghanistan, which began shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, there have been more than 280,000 women deployed. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, women make up 14 percent, or 202,400, of the military’s 1.4 million active personnel.
Silva has been an active service member of the Army’s aviation branch for 20 years.
“This decision will allow women to fill positions with more responsibility, perhaps even commanding positions. It will open up a wide range of career opportunities for them,” he said.
The presence of women in the military is nothing new. Although they had been kept from combat career paths, many still served as either truck drivers, military police, field medics or Army aviation aircrew members.
In some of those positions, combat was a very real threat.
“As far as the current state, I know a lot of girls who have been put in combat situations, such as driving in convoys which are often hit,” said Frank Martinez, a 29-year-old dietetics and rehabilitation major who served in the Army. “I think the big push for that comes from the women’s side in that they are doing it already.”
When it comes to the dangers women already face while serving in the military, such as when in a convoy, Samuel Perez, a 30-year-old psychology major who served in the Air Force, stated that women are trained to defend themselves.
“As soon as they get hit, that’s it,” he said. “That is a small battle, and they’ve already been trained to pick up their guns and fight.”
There are also female engagement teams, programs started by the U.S. Marine Corps nearly a decade ago. The teams were created because male soldiers are prohibited from looking at or interacting with any Afghan women they encounter on patrols due to the cultural norms of Afghanistan. In order to interact with the female population, the marines established special teams consisting of servicewomen who have volunteered for the program.
Despite these exceptions women already faced while serving, Sabrina Sanchez, a 30-year-old psychology major who served in the Army, recognized that this announcement will bring about a difference in what women are allowed to do while deployed.
“Women weren’t even allowed to leave the gate,” Sanchez said. “Of course, if they were pilots or truck drivers they could, but I remember one time they asked for volunteers, and at that time I felt like they automatically went to the men.”
Sanchez served stateside and overseas as an aviation operations specialist. She was stationed in Hawaii for 11 months, and after coming back from a six-month maternity leave, joined up with her unit in 2007 that had deployed to Iraq. Her duties involved scheduling of flights, as well as maintenance of flight records. She is currently the UTPA ROTC Cadet Battalion commander.
There are currently 66 cadets enrolled in the ROTC program, about half female, according to Silva, who added that the program holds the same standards for women as it does for men.
Panetta gave the various departments of the military until May 15 to submit detailed inclusion plans for the integration of women. The secretary plans for the process to be completed by the beginning of 2016.
MAKING THE CUT
With the announcement on Thursday came concerns that women may not be able to meet the standards that have been expected of men in the military, both physically and emotionally.
“I think it’s great that women will have equality in the military, but again, women are psychologically different,” said Danielle Birne, a public relations major who served in the Army. “I don’t know what the ramifications of that will be. They’d also have to be able to do the same things as men, physically.”
However, Silva believes that the standards for recruitment would resolve the issue.
“It will all be based on gender-neutral criteria. If she isn’t able to meet the standards, then she wouldn’t be there in the first place,” he said. “That goes with the psychological aspect as well. If she is strong enough and has the will now, she will have the will in a combat unit.”
Cadet Mayela Ramirez was excited when she heard the news, but understood the reality of the announcement.
“It was a bittersweet feeling to find out,” the 20-year-old from Mission said. “The bad part is that it’s just scary to be considered for the frontlines.”
In a report released by the congressional research service in 2012, there have been 4,475 American soldier casualties in Operation Iraqi Freedom, 110 of which have been women. In the war in Afghanistan, or Operation Enduring Freedom, there have been 1,915 American soldiers killed, 34 women.
And death is not the only threat for women in the military. In 2010 there were 3,158 reports of sexual assault in the military and only 529 of them went to trial, according to the Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military. Also, the report estimates that this statistic only represents 13.5 percent of total assaults in 2010.
These facts don’t faze Angelica Montano, though.
“There might be rapes, but we can defend ourselves,” said the freshman from Pharr, a member of the ROTC. “It’s getting better because there are now training programs inside the army that help prevent these things from happening.”
Despite all of this, Sanchez still feels that this decision is fair and helps equalize women.
“I think it’s awesome. It’s been a long time coming,” she said. “Me, I’m already 30. I think (the decision) is more for the younger gals, but I’m happy for all of us. If one makes it through, we all make it.”
January 24th, 2013
Lohany Garcia can breathe now that she is finally registered in the Chemical Problems I course she needs for her degree plan.
She wasn’t able to register for the class because of a hold on her account that took a series of trips to the Chemistry Department office and the registrar’s before it was removed.
“I feel like my time was wasted. The department should have contacted the registrar’s office first,” Garcia said. “If it was only me, OK, that’s fine, but there are other students who have the same problem who are barely having their names sent.”
Garcia is just one in a number of students this semester who have experienced holds that prevent registration for a class, the sudden cancellation of classes and other similar problems related to scheduling.
Meanwhile, John Villarreal, the recently appointed chemistry chair, spent the beginning of the semester becoming acquainted with the workings of the office.
When it’s time to submit a new schedule for an upcoming semester, the chair of a department submits a draft of the schedule to their dean, who in turn relays it to the respective vice provost for approval or editing.
Department chairs at UTPA are the designated faculty members who have the power to rearrange, or override, a class for a student’s schedule.
Previously the assistant dean for the College of Math and Science, Villarreal slowly adjusted to his role and found it to be a bumpy transition. The department’s enrollment grew by 6 percent, causing a need for more sections and larger classes.
“This growth caught us completely by surprise,” Villarreal noted.
Villarreal and the Chemistry Administrative Assistant Rosemary Hinojosa each have had to process paperwork to allow students to enter closed classes, or waive pre-requisite holds for classes.
“This semester, we generated a stack of papers two inches high of late additions to the classes that we offer,” Villarreal said. “Sometimes the students generate the request and that’s fine. We’re here to serve as many as we can.”
THIS SECTION CANCELLED
Humberto Garza, a junior social studies composite major, was looking forward to taking Intro to Judaism with history lecturer Ken Grant but when he showed up to class, he thought it was weird that Grant was missing. He got the email that night that the class had been cancelled due to low enrollment.
“I was disappointed because it was a class I was really looking forward to,” the 21-year-old said. “I understand because (the administration) was probably optimistic that people would still join, so it’s OK.”
Kristin Croyle, vice provost of undergraduate education, is in charge of approving undergraduate schedules for each college. She also has the final say on any classes that need to be cancelled at the start of a semester.
There are a number of reasons why a class can be cancelled, according to Croyle. If a professor quits or passes away right before the semester, the department has to resort to that tactic.
Low enrollment is usually the reason a course gets nixed, she said. The University requires at least 15 registered students in an undergraduate class, and 10 on the graduate level.
“We try to give students a fair opportunity to register and not cancel classes that are small until kind of close to the semester,” Croyle said. “But at some point we have to pick the ideal point in which to say, ‘This is not working. We have to cancel this.’ It’s hard to pick the ideal date. Someone is always inconvenienced.”
Sometimes exceptions are made, though.
“So, if (the department) says, ‘This is a class students need to graduate,’ and we’ve got 12 students, but three of them are graduating seniors, the class is worth keeping,” Croyle said.
Degreeworks, the University’s advisement tool available through ASSIST, was purchased in spring 2011 and offers tools to help students figure out the classes they still need to take for their degree plan. According to Croyle, the software will soon offer departments a tool to better predict what classes should be offered for upcoming semesters based on a student’s progress in their degree plan.
Croyle also advised students to use the waitlist for any class they hope to take for the upcoming semester if a spot isn’t immediately open. It allows the departments to know if they need to open up another section for a class.
“The best thing students can do is register for the classes they need as soon as they know they need them,” she advised. “That’s really the biggest thing. If they put off registration, then they may not have the seat in the classes they need.”
As for Garcia, she is finally content with her schedule and hopes that no further complications arise with her new course.
“It was really frustrating,” she concluded. “I hope I never have to experience this again.”
December 12th, 2012
UTPA international students gathered in the ITT building Tuesday morning to snap a picture with the TelCel Cowboy mascot and receive their free Samsung Galaxy phone and bag.
The phones were given out by TelCel, a Mexican cell phone company, as part of their new initiative to expand to the states, starting in border regions where brand recognition is the highest, according to Spokesman Joe Ramirez, Jr.
Along with the Android-powered phone, 75 students received three months of domestic and international minutes, texting and data, all unlimited.
The process started with UTPA emailing international students in financial need that did not have a phone number registered with the University. The first 75 to respond were invited to Tuesday’s event and given the free phone, according to Jorge Gutierrez from University Advancement.
President Nelsen spoke at the event and encouraged the students to use the phones to download the UTPA app, stay in touch in family in Mexico and yes – play Angry Birds.
“The world we live in is amazing because everyone can reach out and touch someone and make a difference,” he said. “Use these phones to make a difference, improve your studies and learn.”
Many of the students that received the phones were excited to be able to call on both sides of the border, because international calling tends to be pricey.
Fabiola Urgel, a freshman economics major from Piedras Negras, Mexico, thanked TelCel and UTPA for her phone.
“I’m super excited because this will serve as a medium to connect me and my family,” she said. “It’s sort of difficult to get an American cell phone because (international students) don’t have a social security number.”
Urgel added that the three months of free and unlimited service will save her some money but she will have to check the service and details of the plan before deciding whether to renew in March.
Alfredo Aguirre, a mechanical engineering major from Coahuila, Mexico, couldn’t get his new phone to work initially, but later figured out the international code and got through.
“The internet is way faster than Sprint, and the call quality is really good,” he said.
December 6th, 2012
DegreeWorks hasn’t been around for too long, but students at UTPA are already familiar with the role it plays in advisement. However, there are still some issues that the registrar’s office is ironing out.
The program is designed to help a student track their completed and pending classes for graduation, and became available through ASSIST in spring 2012.
A very noticeable disclaimer at the bottom of the page informs users that DegreeWorks is not intended to replace one’s adviser, but is rather considered an advisement tool. It also helps a student calculate their grade point average and predict future GPAs by inputting additional classes with anticipated grades.
This program has helped the registrar’s office efficiency when it comes to planning classes for the upcoming semester. With DegreeWorks, the office can predict future semester classes depending on how far along a student is on the degree process.
The software was purchased in Spring 2011 from Ellucian for $300,000, paid for by standard operating funds (budgeted University monies). President Robert Nelsen became interested in the software when he saw it functioning at his former home, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, according to Jeff Rhodes, registrar.
“We want students to graduate in the shortest amount of time possible and take only the classes that they absolutely need for their degree,” Rhodes said. “That’s what DegreeWorks does. It lets the students know exactly what courses they need to get their degree so that they don’t waste time taking classes that are unnecessary.”
According to Nelsen at the 2011 fall convocation, an average student takes 165 credit hours, but only earns 141 credit hours at UTPA. However, a typical degree plan only requires 124 credit hours.
In 2011, the four-year graduation rate at UTPA was 15.6 percent. That means that out of 100 students who started at UTPA, on average about 16 graduated in four years, or on time, in other words.
In order to raise both of these statistics and solve what the University perceives as a problem, DegreeWorks was introduced.
In Rhodes’ opinion, the first semester the software received good feedback. In the most recent survey taken at the end of last semester, 51 percent of students agreed that DegreeWorks is an effective advisement tool.
“What I’ve seen from other systems is that they are not very user-friendly,” he said. “What DegreeWorks does is put (class progress) in student-speak. It builds a very simple checklist and says, ‘Here are the courses you need. Here are the options.’ And when they’re completed, it checks them off.”
Because DegreeWorks is a fairly new deal, there are still some kinks that need to be sorted with the software. Graduate students at UTPA are still not able to use it. The degree plans for graduate students are “much more sticky,” Rhodes said.
The graduate degree plans are more complicated because their classes are more specialized, so the registrar’s office is working toward having those degree plans online by the end of next spring as a “soft target,” Rhodes said.
Along with the graduate implementation to DegreeWorks, the registrar’s office is also planning to set aside two weeks this spring to fix any road bumps, such as updated degree plans, with the software.
Also, in the case that a student’s major or concentration is incorrect in DegreeWorks, Rhodes recommends that the student turn in a change-of-major form to the registrar’s office. There is a simpler, updated version of the form available online at their UTPA page.
“There was a lot of missing data, especially the tracks (for degrees),” Rhodes added. “That data actually resided in the departmental offices and had not been reported to us, so we’ve been working very hard to get students to fill out the form.”
Ayssa Cabrera has found DegreeWorks to be a useful tool as she maps out future classes.
“It was helpful and it made my degree plan pretty clear to me,” the 20-year-old accounting major said. “I recommend it to my friends because it’s pretty efficient. You get to see what you’re doing, what you’ve done, and what you need to do when it comes to classes.”
Cabrera also likes a feature that informs her of prerequisites she may need for a class, saving her from having to call the registrar’s office and ask.
However, Adriana Ramon doesn’t see DegreeWorks as a useful tool. The nursing major believes it could be more user-friendly.
“I couldn’t understand how it works,” the 18-year-old said. “I was really confused by the percentage bar. It was saying I already had a percentage but I don’t know how that works since I just started taking classes.”
But Hugo Sanchez, a criminal justice major, agrees with Cabrera. He put his appreciation for the program in simple terms.
“DegreeWorks is like an adviser,” he suggested.
December 6th, 2012
The proposal to build a law school in the Rio Grande Valley was once again submitted to the state Legislature, Nov. 12 by State Rep. Eddie Lucio III, just months after the UT System announced plans to build a medical school in the area.
Two similar bills were submitted in the 2011 State Legislative Session, but failed to make it out of the House of Higher Education Committee, a body with jurisdiction over education beyond high school in the state of Texas.
District 40 State Rep. Terry Canales supports the move to bring a law school to the Valley. Canales has been an attorney in District 40, which includes a chunk of Hidalgo County, and Edinburg, for almost six years and is a graduate of Saint Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio. In a statement from an article by Edinburg Politics, he expressed the need for a law school in the Valley.
“First and foremost, a law school is about empowering a region with tools and knowledge to see and obtain legal and social justice,” Canales said. “In addition, a law school creates jobs through construction of facilities, the hiring of administrators, faculty and staff and securing government and private grants for everything from financial aid to legal clinics.”
If a law school were established in the Rio Grande Valley, it would not be the first. In the mid-’90s the Reynaldo Garza School of Law in Mission closed its doors after failing to earn accreditation from the American Bar Association, a professional organization focused on improving the legal profession.
Before an attorney can begin practicing, they have to pass the Texas Bar Exam. However, the exam cannot be taken unless the person taking it has graduated from an accredited school.
The closest such school to the Rio Grande Valley is Saint Mary’s in San Antonio. It is one of 9 in Texas (five are private). Jerry Polinard, political science professor at UTPA and pre-law adviser, said that it would play a big part in the decision to establish a law school in the Valley.
“Part of the question the Legislature would ask is why we would need more than 10 law schools. Our answer is that it would be location,” Polinard said. “The closest public law school is five hours away. Obviously it would be an advantage (for students), and it probably saves on travel and housing costs.”
However, the number of existent schools isn’t the only thing that could keep the law school from being established in the Valley. Another hindrance is that the entity would have to be established on state funding.
“It is an uphill battle. We are talking about a bill that would support a state law school. States are stingy with their education money,” Polinard said. “It always loops back to what it is going to cost.”
According to the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board, the cost of starting a law school can range just above $80 million in a five-year period. This may prove a problem, especially for a state with a recent history of budget cuts. According to National Public Radio, state lawmakers cut $4 billion from education funding in 2011, leaving 12,000 teachers and support staff unemployed.
Not everyone agreed that creating a law school in the Valley would be a good call. One such person is Jackie Odum, a 21-year-old political science major and vice president of the UTPA Pre-law Society. She believes that although the school would bring more resources to law students in the Valley, she also thinks it would not benefit the community since it would create an unbalance in the Valley’s legal world.
“I think it would open doors for students, but the Valley is such a close-knit community since people who grew up here tend to stay here,” Odum said. “With the system down here, if you’re an attorney from the Valley the odds are in your favor against out-of-town attorneys. It’s an unfair advantage.”
The idea behind this is that having people who graduated from a Valley school would create attorneys who have already had the chance to establish connections with judges and other attorneys, as opposed to someone who moves here from another city and has to start fresh.
In 2009, Texas law schools graduated 2,340 students, but only 1,837 of those graduates passed the Texas bar exam. Also, the Valley has the lowest lawyer-to-citizen ratios in the state of Texas according to The Texas Tribune.
Despite the obstacles before it and the history of the last law school in the Valley, Reynaldo Garza, the people behind the move seem determined to make it happen when the Legislature goes into session in January. But to Polinard, the chances are slim, especially after an announcement this summer by UT System Chancellor Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, who has made it his mission to establish a medical school in the Valley.
For the medical school, the plan is to convert two buildings in Harlingen and the Regional Academic Health Center, which is behind the campus’ Human Services Building, along with the creation of a school of public health in Brownsville.
“I do think that it is inevitable that South Texas will get a law school,” Polinard said. “There is a need since we are so far from an accredited law school, but the odds are against it this year.”