SGA Inauguration Ceremony

April 17th, 2014

Newly elected Alberto Adame and Carla Fernanda Peña officially began their duties as president and vice president of the Student Government Association April 14. The UTPA Visitors Center lobby hosted the SGA’s 2014-2015 Inauguration Ceremony April 11, where Adame and Peña gave executive addresses.
Adame and Peña will be the last executive team to serve a full year under the name UTPA. After mergin UTPA and the University of Texas at Brownsville and creating the University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley, the 2015-2016 elected officials will divide their terms between both entities.
Adame, a finance major, said he is thankful to the students for giving him and Peña this opportunity and would like them to be involved with upcoming UTPA events.
“I’m very excited, but there’s also a kind of melancholy because UTPA is going away, but still very exciting nonetheless,” said Adame, a Monterrey, Mexico native. “I’m also very grateful to the students because we couldn’t have done it without the support of the student body.”
The inauguration began with Elections Committee Chair Yadira Mejia introducing Vice President for Student Affairs Martha Cantu for opening remarks. Following Cantu was the oath of office for every college, including senators for the College of Business Administration, the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and senators at large, which then led to the president and vice president’s oaths.
“I’m very excited and a little bit nervous,” Peña said. “We definitely want to make changes for the better of the University and we’re hoping to get this done, but also (we don’t want to) forget about UTPA because we’re still here so we want to keep our Bronc spirit and just transition to UT-RGV together.”
Adame and Peña replaced SGA incumbents President Aaron Barreiro and Vice President Erik Sanchez.
“More than anything, I want to thank every single person in the University for giving us this opportunity and just to stick with us. Also to come out to all the events we’ll have,” Adame said.
Their platform centered on healthier food options around the University, longer library hours and larger parking lots.
“Our door is always open for (the students),” Peña said. “If they ever need anything, we’re always here for them. We’re here for the students, not for us, so just stick with us. We want to make changes to the University and hopefully they’ll support us and if they need anything, they’ll come to us as well and we’ll help them together.”

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Chivalry isn’t dead

April 17th, 2014

UTPA alumnus Robert De Leon said his father used to abuse his mother. Once he grew up, De Leon found that he was becoming abusive himself, not physically, but mentally and emotionally.

According to The National Domestic Violence Hotline, between 1994 and 2010, approximately four in five victims in violent relationships in the U.S. were female. In 2012, 114 women were killed and there were 188,992 family incidents that included physical beating and verbal abuse among other types of violence in Texas.

“I’m here to share my story as a domestic violence survivor because I witnessed and experienced domestic violence in my home from a very young age and through my adolescent years,” explained 33-year-old De Leon. “So I thought that was what men were supposed to do or how men were supposed to act.”

In October 2013, De Leon founded “Bromodels” at his home in San Juan. The Valley-wide organization’s team consists of three other men that visit schools and universities to raise awareness about male violence toward women.

Bromodels teaches men about gender equality and speaks about proper ways to treat women. This organization attempts to solve the problem at its root by reaching out to males of all ages. De Leon believes that boys are prone to being violent because manhood is defined as being tough. Crying is considered feminine, so young men try to hide their feelings.

“As (boys) grow and get older, they’re suppressing those emotions and they can’t be expressive…because the moment that they shed a tear, their father, their friends, peers, media, they’ll say ‘stop acting like a girl’ or ‘that’s so gay,’” De Leon said. “That’s where men will see women as inferior to them, because they’ve learned that only women are submissive and only women cry.”

The strong traditional influence of Mexican culture in the Rio Grande Valley often brings in “machismo,” meaning manhood or male pride. De Leon said people tend to associate machismo with the character of “el valiente” from Mexican bingo. El valiente is a card depicting a man in a fighting stance holding a bloody knife. In English, it translates to “the violent man.” That is what De Leon is trying to change, showing that there has been a basic misunderstanding about what the term means; often it is seen as derogatory.

“I found that machismo is defined as someone that is worthy of imitation, and so we want to make people aware that machismo is actually a good thing,” De Leon explained.

Many people have grown to see masculinity as a bad thing, he said, but nobody acquaints it with chivalry. To be chivalrous is to be courageous, to be courteous, loyal and considerate to women. That is the version of machismo De Leon subscribes to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LEARNED BEHAVIOR

Mujeres Unidas is a local organization that has provided shelter and programs for 32 years to women, men and children who have experienced domestic violence and sexual assault. This organization has two branches that serve people in different ways.

The section of MU that most people are familiar with is for women and children who have been in an abusive setting. With two McAllen offices and one in Weslaco, MU helps individuals by offering shelter, counseling and legal services.

Yesenia Ibarra, the coordinator of MU’s other section, the Batterers Intervention and Prevention Program (BIPP), said abusers grow up with domestic violence around them and they inherit that behavior.

BIPP focuses more on the batterers rather than the victims themselves. The 24-week program is similar to anger management but targets family violence. Ibarra believes this program is more effective because in group sessions, participants are able to give each other feedback.

“Many (abusers) have seen violence in their home. They go on seeing that their father was violent towards their mother, so when they get older they think that that’s normal,” said Ibarra, who has been BIPP’s coordinator for eight years.

According to childhelp-usa.com, 30 percent of children who were abused will later go on to abuse their own children.

“That’s one of the reasons I do these presentations. To get more men involved and (so they can learn) how we as men can prevent violence against women,” De Leon said.

The National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) recorded 1,907 answered domestic violence hotline calls in Texas the day they conducted their 2013 census Sept. 17, which means more than 79 calls were answered each minute.

UTPA engineering major Victor Diaz feels one reason men might feel the need to treat women violently is because do not respect females.

“These men will use violence against women if they are mad or upset and think it’s alright to abuse them whenever and however they want,” Diaz said. “I believe Bromodels is a good cause because the more males that are aware of this abuse, then statistically the percentage of women being abused will decrease.”

Ibarra believes Bromodels can have a positive impact on the community and that it is important to start talking to children as young as 11 years old about stopping or avoiding violent behavior.

“I think it’s a really good approach to try to catch them at a younger age and the people that (BIPP) deals with have already offended, so they’re already in the system,” she said.

According to the Domestic Abuse Shelter of the Florida Keys (DASFK), about 4,000 women die from domestic violence each year. Ibarra mentioned that children may also be indirectly affected, adding to the toll of the problem.

“Most people associate family violence with just the physical aspect. They don’t think about the verbal abuse or the emotional abuse and even a lot of the participants that we get don’t see that being violent towards their partner is affecting their children,” Ibarra explained.

DASFK’s website also lists different types of domestic abuse including intimidation and guilt or scare tactics. Because of his history with abuse, De Leon said drinking would only make things worse, so he began to search for a solution.

“(I began) to abuse alcohol to express myself when I was angry, confused or frustrated,” he explained. “That was when I started to make something of these feelings and finding a way to let them out, which was talking to other men about it and saying, ‘You know what? It’s OK that I’m hurting right now.’”

 

THE CHALLENGE

To spread awareness, Bromodels participates in the annual Walk-a-Mile In Her Shoes, hosted by Mujeres Unidas. The latest edition will take place April 26 at the Edinburg Municipal Park. The 5K marathon will be followed by a mile challenge, where men wear high heels and walk a mile to spread awareness of violence against women. The 5K is available to men and women but, the 1K challenge is a men-only event.

The public is able to register at MU’s main office for $25 at 511 N. Cynthia St. in McAllen or online at rgvevents.net. Registration is open until the day of the event.

While he appreciates the event, De Leon said it doesn’t compare to some of the struggles women face, but believes it is a great way to raise awareness of some issues. He said the ultimate Bromodel is supposed to “encourage and empower” all males to become the solution when it comes to ending violence against females.

“At the end of the day, I know that there is a lot of violence against women and girls, but at the same time we have to recognize that these behaviors attribute to violence against ourselves as men,” De Leon said. “We have to do a better job of taking care of ourselves, but at the same time with an understanding that we have to respect, and when I say women and girls, I’m talking about all women and girls.”

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Preparing for catastrophe

April 17th, 2014

The destruction of the Gulf Coast left by Hurricane Ike six years ago played on a screen as community members and University staff looked on in disbelief. Finance Insurance Real Estate, also known as FIRE, held a natural disaster symposium April 10 in hopes of preventing destruction like the kind left by Ike in the Rio Grande Valley. The conference was held at the Community Engagement and Student Success building located on Freddy Gonzalez Drive and Highway 281.

Hurricane Ike came two months after the Valley had been struck by Hurricane Dolly July 2008. The cost in damages added up to more than $1 billion, according to The National Weather Service.

Experts from all over the country attended the symposium, including UTPA Provost Havidan Hernandez and U.N. Representative Elina Palm to speak on the importance of disaster resiliency in the Valley.

“At the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) our primary focus is to engage with different factors to mobilize them to act before disaster strikes,” Palm said. “It is all about building resilience and reducing risk.”

Palm discussed the different ways an area can prepare for a disaster and build up resiliency. Examples included building regulations and designing buildings and homes with Mother Nature in mind.

In turn, the Rio Grande Valley has begun working on resilience by having a mock tornado drill March 5 in Brownsville as part of Rio Grande Valley Severe Weather Awareness Week, March 2-8. The week was designated by Gov. Rick Perry in 2013.

Awareness Week comes after the Valley was hit with a severe hail storm March 2012 that resulted in $200 to $500 million in damages, according to The National Weather Service.

At the April 10 event, symposium organizer Kenneth Lovell discussed the importance of being prepared and stressed the population growth of the Rio Grande Valley. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2012 the RGV has a total population of more than 1.3 million.

Furthermore, UTPA is also helping build resilience by developing a disaster studies master’s program that will teach researchers how an impending storm can affect the human population it strikes, according to a 2013 article in The Monitor.

“If you look at our economy you will see that a lot of (it) is dependent of Winter Texans. If a hurricane hits us and there is damage to their homes, they would not come back,” said Lovell, a UTPA lecturer in economics and finance.

In order to raise awareness in cities worldwide about the importance of disaster resilience, the UNISDR created the Making Cities Resilient campaign which launched in 2010. The campaign advocates for a commitment from local governments to build resilience to disasters by way of better city planning and.

“There were some cities in the Galveston area that survived Hurricane Ike because they took the advanced precautions,” Lovell said. “We need to recognize that this can happen here in the Valley and we need to think about how we can make this type of disaster less effective.”

At the symposium, UTPA President Robert Nelsen discussed the need for action in the community.

“The new university, the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, will be an anchor institution. An anchor institution is an institution that is committed to solving problems in the community. UT-RGV needs to reach out,” Nelsen said. “We will graduate students who will be able to solve societal problems and more importantly we will volunteer and be engaged in that work as a University from here on out.”

According to Palm, there has been a decrease in mortality risks, destruction and death for weather related catastrophe due to less vulnerability. This decrease is because of early warning systems, improved weather forecasting and preparedness.

“There is nothing else I want to emphasize more than the importance in planning and trying to avoid building more risk,” the U.N. representative said. “Building resilience is not a cost, it is an investment.”

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Some assembly required

April 17th, 2014

Caleb Elizondo, a senior computer information systems major at UTPA and public relations director for the Association of Information Technology Professionals, has found a way to use his education to help the less fortunate. He has been refurbishing and donating computers to an orphanage in Reynosa, Mexico through a volunteer project that promotes technology education to young children.
The orphanage, Casa Hogar MAMI, is a shelter for girls where education, room and board and medical/psychological attention are offered 24 hours a day. MAMI is an acronym for Ministerio de Amor y Misericordia, or Ministry of Love and Mercy. The orphanage can care for up to 50 girls, according to its website.
Jerald Hughes, an associate professor in computer information systems and quantitative measurement, started the project in fall 2013.
“The City of San Juan…and also a local FBI office, donated some monitors, and individuals and faculty have donated parts and PCs to be given to (Casa Hogar),” Hughes said. “So my team’s job was to go through every single one of them, make sure they’re in good working order and remove the parts or replace the ones that weren’t.”
AITP is a national organization that provides a community network for those seeking to be IT business professionals. They provide education programs for advancing technology and business skills, networking and online resources, according the main AITP website.
“The students from the AITP chapter are the ones doing the work,” Hughes said. “There are probably around 10 of them all together that have done the majority of the work. And of course their benefit is a lot of hands-on experience in hardware and software (and) figuring out what the system’s needs are.”
The members of AITP provided “operating systems” for all of the computers in addition to a program, which they wrote the code for, that made Linux easier to install. An operating system is software that supports a computer’s basic functions, such as executing applications and scheduling tasks.
Elizondo explained that students in AITP who are knowledgeable in the IT field are often bilingual and have been beneficial the organization in Mexico.
“Since the orphanage is in Mexico, we decided to (install the software) entirely in Spanish, which was pretty interesting,” Elizondo said. “And to be honest, I think if another university or college tried to do this, they might have had some difficulty…luckily (we) have some bilingual students that were able to run the code, install the software and everything in Spanish. So (this) was a learning process for those of us that don’t speak Spanish.”
The computers that were donated to AITP go through the process of being wiped clean, followed by “troubleshooting” at no cost to the organization. Troubleshooting is the process of tracing and correcting faults in an electronic or mechanical system.
“We had to resort to open-based software or freeware, which is why we chose a Linux operating system,” Elizondo explained. “If we were to go with some sort of Windows system (like) XP, 7, Vista, Windows 8, all of those would either have to be obtained at a high price or would have to be obtained illegally (and) we’re not in the business of doing things illegally, so we resorted to a Linux-based operating system that the kids can use.”
As of February 2011, there are 76.5 million Linux users. Linux is a computer operating system that is similar to Windows and OS X, which is the operating system powered by Apple computers, and is entirely free.
According to Elizondo, the Linux operating system was originally difficult to operate, but they have since developed a new, user-friendly version that makes it easier for children to use.
“My favorite part was being able to help other kids in need,” Elizondo said. “You know, develop their future and work with peers and other students from the organization and not only learn, but teach some of the underclassmen who have never worked with Linux before and installing anti-virus software.”
Ascension Mares, AITP president, said the organization likes to search for community engagement opportunities as a group to help out where it can.
“It involves the community and without this, a lot of our organization and the work that we do wouldn’t have any benefit,” said Mares, a Los Angeles native. “So we benefit and the orphanage benefits, so we would like to continue doing this so that we can continue our training and we can continue helping the orphanage.”
The organization had done community service before they started with the Reynosa orphanage. The idea of donating computers began with members’ volunteer work in Peñitas.
“We donated some computers to the local community center (in Peñitas) and I knew it was something our students would be good at and enjoy, so as soon as we found out that San Juan had surplus computers to use, we got right on it and figured out how to transfer them (to Mexico),” Hughes said.
According to Hughes, this will be an ongoing project and he does not want to see it end.
“The purpose of this is community outreach and engagement with the people of Rio Grande Valley,” he said. “These will be the first computers these students have ever touched. These children have not had access to anything like this kind of technology.”

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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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Tuition on the rise

April 3rd, 2014

As UTPA approaches its final year before merging with the University of Texas at Brownsville, its students may see a possible increases in their fall 2014 tuition. Whether this increase is related to the creation of the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley has been discussed by students.

Karina Saucedo, a junior English major, said that there may be a connection between the tuition increase and the upcoming university merger.

“I guess they are doing it to accommodate (the new university) or just to get certain grants that maybe they need, or more money from the government,” the 19-year-old said. “They are putting schools together so they think, ‘How are we going to afford this?’ Raise it. Raise the tuition.”

The proposed tuition for fall 2014 is $1,830.36, a $94.36 increase from fall 2013. This three percent increase would be a leap from the 0.14 percent increase seen between the 2012 and 2013 school years. Despite proposed increases, UTPA’s tuition will still sit more than $2,000 below that of the University of Texas at Dallas and nearly $1,800 below that of the University of Texas at Austin.

“I feel that (UTPA) shouldn’t do it,” Saucedo said. “I guess we just have to bear it and hope financial aid gives us enough to cover it.”

While the proposed tuition raise seems unnecessary to some students, the Cost of Education Committee released a Powerpoint explaining the processes of initiating a possible rise in cost for students and where the funds would be distributed.

The Powerpoint states that the possible increase in tuition would help fund two new buildings on campus that will cost approximately $900,000. Also the University must set aside funds for exempt students, such as veterans. These factors, among others, are responsible for the possible increase, according to the committee.

The Cost of Education Committee consists of two faculty members, seven staff members, one parent and 10 students, including current Student Government Association President Aaron Barreiro. The committee members meet to discuss increases before making suggestions to University President Robert Nelsen.

Barreiro said that the committee is responsible for looking at tuition costs and deciding whether to approve an increase. The committee then sends recommendations for an increase to the University President Robert Nelsen.

“There are number of different factors that play a role in whether or not tuition increases,” Barreiro said. “This past fiscal year, the tuition increase was focused on taking the money and giving it back to students through a number of different programs.”

After a possible increase in tuition, UTPA and UTB would remain the two most inexpensive schools within the UT system, just below the University of Texas of the Permian Basin and the University of Texas at Tyler, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

According to an article by The Monitor, UTB may see an increase of nearly 7 percent in their fall tuition rates.

While a previous article by The Monitor stated that the possible tuition increase at UTB is set to match that of UTPA, University of Texas System Spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said that this is not the case.

“There’s no connection between UTB tuition and UTPA tuition,” LaCoste-Caputo said. “That discussion about what tuition will be at UT-RGV has not begun.”

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Events calendar April 3-12

April 3rd, 2014

Screen shot 2014 04 02 at 9.09.13 PM Events calendar April 3 12

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Lending a healthy hand

April 3rd, 2014

With student research posters lining the walls of the UTPA ballroom, demonstrations and games awaited the community in the quad the morning of March 29.
Maximizing Opportunities in Research and Education (MORE) took place on campus March 26-29. The four-day event included presentations and panel discussions by doctors and professors. Topics ranged from health care policies, such as the impact of the Affordable Care Act, to new research related to diabetes, obesity and other life-threatening diseases in the Rio Grande Valley.
The event culminated to the final day with a community health fair open to the UTPA community. Here, more than 50 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students presented their research projects the first day of the conference in a competition to find who was the best in each academic level. Research from students ranged from drug interactions to hearing awareness. Results were announced on the third day, with winners receiving a Kindle Fire as their prize.
The event was an initiative by the College of Health Sciences and Human Services with assistance from the Pan American Collaboration of Ethics in Professions (PACE), Doctors Hospital at Renaissance and many other community partners from the Valley. The conference brought awareness to important health issues, such as diabetes and obesity.
“It’s a chance for us to be engaged in the community, provide a service to the community, and give a reason for the community to come on campus and benefit from what the faculty and the students have to offer,” said Jon Ronnau, dean of the College of Health Sciences and Human Services. “There’s all kinds of topics and activities that will get the people to think about health, being healthy and provide information to the community to get healthier and particularly how to combat and reduce the amount of diabetes and obesity.”
This was the second year of the conference, and more than 100 students, faculty and members of the medical community were in attendance. Associate Professor of Nursing Beatriz Bautista commented on the benefits of the conference.
“It helps us grow future health care professionals in different areas and research is part of what we do since it helps us take better care of patients,” said Bautista, who has been at the University since 1991 and is the director of the Family Nurse Practitioner Program at UTPA. “We have a lot of talent in the Valley, so this helps us bring out that talent and push them in that way.”
Ana Quintero, a graduate nursing student, agreed with Bautista and compared the event to last year’s inaugural conference.
“This is the second year it’s happened, and it seems to have improved from last year, so I really hope it continues on,”  Quintero said. “As future health care providers in our college, I think it’s really important as we’re getting pushed out to start working, events like this bring up important topics for us to be aware of.”
Denise Alaniz, a senior student participant, shared her hopes of the conference receiving more attention in upcoming years.
“I believe the effort that students put into studies, whether it’s something that they wanted to expand their knowledge about and present it to the community, that it’s great,” the communication sciences and disorders major said. “I just wish it was more known to the community, and that they knew the amount of work that the students put into this, because it took a lot out of us.”
One of the main objectives of the event was to make a progressive impact on the UTPA community and the RGV. In 2012, the McAllen-Edinburg-Mission area had the highest rate of obesity and households below the poverty line in the nation, with percentages of 38.8 and 37.7, respectively. Currently, the rate of diabetes is 26 percent in the RGV, while Hidalgo County’s rates for hospital admissions for long-term diabetes are twice the statewide average, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
With these statistics in mind, Dean Ronnau hopes this conference and the years ahead will make a profound change in the RGV.
“I think any time that the University reaches out to the community, and the community can see the value added to the University by what the faculty does and students do and the great work that our students are doing, I think that’s a huge win,” Ronnau said. “We had a real good participation, a nice good variety of topics, and I’m very pleased with the turnout and the level of involvement.”

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Toxic

March 27th, 2014

In an effort to inform residents about the hazardous contaminated plume found under approximately 33 acres of McAllen by the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality (TCEQ), several UTPA students and faculty have begun reaching out to the community about the issue.

A groundwater plume, based on the definition provided by the Environmental Engineering Dictionary, is a volume of contaminated groundwater that extends downward and outward from a specific source.

The students held their first community gathering, the Plume Round Table, March 22 to inform residents about the situation.

The meeting was organized by Sarah Chavez, a senior history and anthropology major. She has also organized other events, including canvassing the area of the plume every Friday to inform residents  and holding campus meetings to raise awareness among UTPA students.

Chavez planned the round table meeting with the help of other fellow students, including Sam Denny, Alexis Bay and Anna Hernandez.

According to Chavez, they first learned about the issue in professor Lynn Vincentnathan’s Anthropological Method and Theory course in fall 2013.

“It started out as a class project to restore the historical case and trial documents that were getting destroyed for the UTPA Border Studies Archives,” said Chavez, a member of Battleground Texas and the Environmental Awareness Club. “But the more I found out and read about the issue, especially about the suffering of the people, the more I felt something had to be done to clean up the mess.”

The acres of groundwater plume pollution is one of the largest areas of contamination in the U.S., according to an investigation conducted by KRGV Channel 5 News in 2011, as well as a court case first opened in 1992. The affected zone lies below 23rd Street and Business 83.

Although state agencies had known about the plume for at least 16 years,  based on KRGV’s report, the first lawsuit was filed in 1992 by attorney and UTPA alum Scott McLain.

“I was hired by a client who could not obtain a permit to open an adult day care facility for a building over the plume because of concern that vapors could enter the building and affect the health of the elderly folks at the facility,” McLain said.

When researching the case further, McLain discovered the plume. But, according to the attorney, the TCEQ had knowledge of the problem several years before.

“The TCEQ had known about the contamination in the neighborhood since approximately 1990,” he said. “They first learned of it because of the failure of tank tightness tests at several gas stations in the area.”

According to McLain, while the TCEQ believed only one small plume emanated from a gas station next to his client’s property,  research showed otherwise.

“Our testing revealed that there were in fact two plumes, the relatively small plume caused by a gas station next door to my original client’s property, and another much larger plume to the north,” McLain said. “The northern plume was over 10 times larger than the southern plume.”

RISKING CANCER

Subsequent testing revealed not only the existence of multiple plumes, but also the presence of benzene, a well-known cancer-causing pollutant, in the groundwater.

“There was an abundant presence of benzene,” McLain said. “After extensive fingerprinting of the product by the geochemists we hired, we came to the conclusion that the bulk of the product in the plume is natural gas condensate, not refined gasoline.”

As a result, McLain believes the benzene contamination came from natural gas activity.

“We believe (benzene) came from natural gas wells and pipelines,” he said. “So we sued all of the companies that had ever owned or operated the wells and associated pipelines in the area.”

According to the American Cancer Society, benzene is a colorless flammable liquid that evaporates and is a part of crude oil and gasoline. Studies conducted on lab animals and humans show that the link between benzene and cancer has been linked to leukemia and cancers of other blood cells.

Based on information provided by the American Cancer Society, people are most often exposed to benzene by breathing contaminated air from gasoline fumes, automobile exhaust, emissions from factories and water waste from industries.

People residing in the contaminated area in McAllen, an estimated 200 families, developed cancers and died, according to the attorney.

“We had one client who grew up living over the plume (and) developed leukemia as a college student,” McLain said. “Another client had a child who grew up living over the plume who sadly died of leukemia.”

For the residents of McAllen, however, the flammability of the contaminant could pose a serious threat.

Similar to the McAllen plume, one in the downtown district of Analco in Guadalajara, Mexico, caused numerous explosions in 1992 that was traced to the sewer systems, which contained benzene. The explosions killed 252, injured 500 and left 15,000 residents homeless.

With such a flammable contaminant lurking beneath, UTPA organizer Chavez cannot help but fear the worse.

“There are a lot of kids that go out and play with matches,” Chavez said. “It’s an immediate danger, but even if it doesn’t go off, the fumes are still killing people.”

Bay, a senior political science major and McAllen resident, said the issue is all too real.

“The plume is huge. It moves. It’s toxic. I want every person living here to be safe because all families have a right to live without worry,” she said.

CLEANUP

Although people believe cleanup efforts were decided when the case closed in 2011, according to McLain, such actions did not occur  and to this day, little work has been started.

“After the Channel 5 news story ran in 2011, the TCEQ started doing some work…I don’t think much was done,” the attorney said. “The TCEQ promised to keep me in the loop on the work that was done, but I haven’t heard from them in several years.”

As a result, the group of students hope to restart the cleanup that never happened in the coming weeks through various community and campus meetings, as well as this initial Plume Round Table.

“For the people of South McAllen, nothing should be more relevant than getting (the plume) cleaned up,” Chavez said.

Regarding the delay of action by TCEQ, Bay believes work should have been undertaken sooner.

“This is something the government should have taken care of a long time ago,” she said.

According to Chavez, the danger faced by residents currently living in the exposed area is one of the reasons she wants to inform the public and get the TCEQ to finish cleaning up the contaminated area.

Despite the fact that Chavez does not live near the 33 acres of contamination under 23rd Street and Business 83, she feels people deserve to know about it.

“I am an outsider in the community affected, but I am concerned,” Chavez said. “I want people in the neighborhood to know what lies beneath their homes.”

As far as getting the community involved, and ultimately the TCEQ to take charge, Chavez admits it is necessary but it won’t be easy.

“It’s not going to be the most popular thing to share,” she said. “But if there are any elders or children, they need to know. They are the first ones affected. The way I see it, every mother deserves to know.”

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Learning the tricks of the trade

March 27th, 2014

Five UTPA student teams – one graduate team and four undergraduate – recently participated in the 2014 Trading Challenge, a global competition sponsored by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Group, one of the world’s leading marketplace for buyers and sellers. A preliminary round ran Feb. 4-20 and the championship round was Feb. 23 through March 7.

 

During this four-week electronic trading competition, all teams traded CME Group Futures. This basically means that student competitors traded basic goods such as oil or wheat, referred to as commodities through futures. Futures are a financial contract obligating the buyer (business organizations) to purchase an asset – commodities – at a predetermined date and price. It was the first time a UTPA team entered the challenge, which consisted of more than 385 teams representing 208 universities from 32 countries.

 

The University’s four undergraduate teams, UTPA Greed is Good, UTPA Pot of Gold, UTPA Bronconomics, UTPA Rio Grande Valley and graduate group, UTPA Graduate, are each made up of three to five members from a range of disciplines.

 

The secret to becoming a contender in the competition is staying up to date with current events, according to Raul Aldape, a member of UTPA Rio Grande Valley. He said that knowledge is power in the world of commodities.

 

“I learned how to balance risk with return,” the finance and management double major said. “And how from one day to the next, something can change so fast…from anywhere to natural disasters to political statements can affect the prices of commodities.”

 

Starting off with a virtual account balance of $100,000 in the preliminary round, each team had to execute a minimum of five trades per day dealing with contracts for a range of commodities or asset classes, such as corn, soybeans, crude oil and gold.

 

The top 10 percent of highest account balances at the end of the preliminary round advanced to the championship round with the chance for each team member to win cash prizes. The first-place team eventually received $1,000 per member, 2nd place, $700 per member; 3rd place, $500 per member, and 4th place, $300 per member.

 

Advancing to the championship round, UTPA’s graduate team placed 8th and defeated universities such as Cornell, Boston University, California State University, Duke and London School of Economics, among others. Undergraduate student teams UTPA Bronconomics and UTPA Rio Grande Valley, placed 23rd and 28th, respectively. Although, a team from Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain placed first and the teams that advanced to the championship round, including three Bronc crews, have been invited to attend the CME Group’s Day of Market Education in Chicago April 11. There, students will participate in educational sessions and network with industry experts and representatives from leading financial institutions.

 

As adviser for the five UTPA teams, Bruno Arthur commented on how the competition is a great opportunity for students to build the confidence and experience they will need for the real world.

 

“The competition is fun and makes you really think before you act,” said Arthur, a lecturer in the Department of Economics and Finance. “You might think of it as gambling, but it’s really about understanding the needs of the consumer, the market you’re dealing in.”

 

Future department activities for April, include playing Stock Market Game, a financial market trading simulation, and competition and participating in the “WSJ Student Index University Trading Competition,” a virtual competition sponsored by The Wall Street Journal which engages universities from 48 states.

 

In addition, with guidance from Alejandro Serrano, assistant professor in the Department of Economics and Finance, participants plan to take part in Entrepreneurship Game, a competition that challenges students in a range of marketing and business strategies on campus.

 

The ultimate goal is to challenge students from all disciplines, Arthur said.

“We plan to engage our students with some UTPA, national and international tournaments to help them test their skills all year round,” he said. “I encourage students to test themselves and have fun learning something new.”

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