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Jerry Woodfill

July 23rd, 2014

woodfill 300x200 Jerry Woodfill

Jerry Woodfill delivers a presentation to TexPrep students at UTPA’s College of Engineering July 22. Woodfill worked as a spacecraft warning system engineer for NASA during both the Apollo 11 and 13 missions. To inspire students, Woodfill shared many instances of triumphs and failures in his life that led him to become the person he is today.

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Nursing abroad

July 17th, 2014

Being 8,848 miles away from home while immersed in a foreign culture can be scary, but UTPA foreign exchange students Prattana Aroonrattanateawan and Kanyarat Pratrairach are doing it this summer and getting the chance to study nursing in a new light.

The pair of 23-year-olds graduated in February with bachelor’s degrees in faculty of nursing from Naresuan University located in Muang, Thailand. Upon entering their senior year of college last fall they signed up for the school’s Cooperative Program Nursing Project linked with UTPA.

The four-month project consists of 12 hours of UTPA nursing courses plus weekly trips to the McAllen Medical Hospital for clinical observations. Once Aroonrattanateawan and Pratrairach complete the program, which is equivalent to a graduate program at Naresuan, they will each write a research paper on how the American medical profession differs from the Thailand health system.

According to Naresuan’s website, the university is a leading research institution collaborating with top international colleges around the globe in countries such as Australia, France and the U.S. UTPA and Naresuan have been partners since November 2011 and will renew the agreement in November 2016.

One month after receiving their diplomas, the girls packed their bags and boarded a 22-hour flight from Shanghai, China bound for McAllen.

Throughout their stay, the women experienced life as American college students. They met new friends in class who helped them get accustomed to campus and were invited to shopping sprees and trips to the movies.

Aroonrattanateawan explained that their stay at UTPA’s Bronc Village apartments is coming to an end because they will be heading back to Thailand July 21. Once back home, the pair hopes to become more educated on health care in order to receive work as nurses.


Aroonrattanateawan is completing her nursing project on “transcultural nursing,” an anthropology-based science focused on how professional nurses treat a patient with a background different from their own. She explained how her project will be based on her belief that doctors in the Rio Grande Valley should be more educated about Mexican traditions and beliefs.

According to Baylor University’s BearSpace webpage, a network file storage space for students and faculty, many from the Hispanic background believe problems that are primarily spiritual in nature can be treated with prayer and ritual. However, research suggests most Hispanics use medicine such as antibiotics to a far greater extent than traditional or folk methods.

“It’s all about how you would take care of a patient who comes from a culture that’s not your own,” Aroonrattanateawan said. “I would say the Mexican culture is dominant here, so doctors have to be educated about the Mexican culture.”

On the other hand, Pratrairach is writing her project on maternity nursing, also known as labor and delivery nursing. While at UTPA, she said she has seen how the Thai and American programs differ.

“Here, I would say nursing is taught a little less strictly,” the Udonthani, Thailand, native said. “In Thailand, it’s required for nurses to have their hair pulled back in a hair net, no makeup, no nail polish and no jewelry, but here it’s only required to pull your hair back.”

When first arriving at McAllen Medical Hospital in March, the women said they were amazed to see the amount of technology that is available to patients, such as a “medical vending machine.” These machines hold medicine, personal care products and even first aid supplies that can be bought like snacks from a vending machine. Hospitals can also use them for prescription medications.

In Thailand, much of this equipment goes to leading hospitals instead of rural ones.

“(Hospitals in the U.S.) have a lot of good technology,” Aroonrattanateawan said. “But in Thailand, nurses need to provide the patient with their medicine…we don’t have much, but some hospitals do have it.”


Along with being amazed by American medical technology, the women were astonished by how much American culture differs from their own.

“In the Thai culture, we don’t touch much or kiss, and here everyone does that,” Aroonrattanateawan said. “I like the fajitas and (Pratrairach) likes the tacos, which is different from Thai food like rice. We can have rice every day with every meal. And driving on the opposite side of the road was also a challenge.”

When it came to their schoolwork, speaking and writing in a foreign language was the toughest challenge the pair faced.

“I think talking is the hardest. Every Thai student has to take an English class starting in the first grade,” Aroonrattanateawan explained. “We don’t get to use it much. We only speak Thai, and even in English class we speak Thai. But we learn from watching movies and listening to music. Music helped a lot. My favorite is Taylor Swift.”

Despite being overwhelmed by a new language, Aroonrattanateawan knows all the hard work will eventually help her to save lives.

“I would say if we walk on the road and we see someone who is need of medical attention, we have the power to help them immediately,” she said.

Pratrairach said after she completes the nursing project, she would like to find work as a perioperative nurse, meaning she would assist doctors during surgeries as well as work with patients who are having invasive procedures.

“When I think about nursing as a career, I think I can help a lot of people who will need my help in the future,” she said.

The girls admit they have enjoyed the countless shopping trips, parties and trips to the movies with their new friends. They hope after turning in their research projects and boarding a 22-hour flight back home, they will be able to return one day to visit the place that became their temporary home.

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Speak your mind

July 17th, 2014

According to an October 2009 study by Daniel Eisenburg, an associate professor at the University of Michigan, students at UTPA are less likely to seek help from their families regarding mental health issues than students from other universities.

This was just one tidbit of information shared at the “Speak Your Mind Texas” event held in the University Ballroom July 14. The event, sponsored by the Texas Department of State Health Services is part of a statewide campaign to bring awareness to mental health and substance abuse issues. UTPA was one of 16 locations in Texas to host the town-hall style event, with more than 100 attendees showing up.

“We’re pleased to be able to host (this event)…which just shows the importance of mental health and substance abuse and what it means to us as individuals, as groups and as a family and a community so that we can respond to something that I think is not spoken about enough in public until it’s a crisis,” said Mari Fuentes-Martin, associate vice president and dean of students at UTPA.

Speakers at the event included Mauro Ruiz, the DSHS program manager for Health Services Region 11, Assistant Dean of Students for Support Services Eugenia Curet and Dr. Francisco Fernandez, the founding dean of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley medical school.

“One in four Americans in the United States suffer from a mental illness,” said Fernandez via Skype. “That’s 64 million individuals in our society that suffer from a mental illness.”

In addition, a panel of seven individuals that each deal with mental health issues in his or her given field was present to provide feedback and answers to attendees of the event.

Community members at the event were divided into tables and allowed time to discuss mental health issues among themselves before a “facilitator” from each table posed questions to the panel on behalf of their group. One topic discussed was the need for mental health outreach efforts targeted at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.

“When we look at depression and suicide rates in the LGBT community, it’s higher than in the non-LGBT community,” said panelist Christopher Albert, a clinical psychologist with UTPA Counseling and Psychological Services. “There are some special issues there, additional stressors such as discrimination. I think also within the mental health community there’s not maybe a full understanding of how to help those who identify as LGBT. And I think that’s coming around, I think we’re getting better at that.”

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, most research suggests that LGBT individuals are at higher risk for depression, anxiety and substance use disorders.

Curet added that being LGBT also raises the risk of suicide due to bullying from peers.

“Those children who kill themselves while in school, many of them had been bullied (for) being gay,” said Curet, who received the Leadership on University Campuses and in the Community Award from the Texas Suicide Prevention Council in 2013. “It has prompted children as young as 8 years of age to kill themselves.”

Another topic discussed was the stigma and stereotypes associated with mental illnesses.

“The thing about mental health issues is they are not so easily seen,” Albert said. “It’s definitely not as easily understood by many and it’s harder to have that as a conversation piece.”

In an August 2013 article by Psychology Today, studies show that stigmatising attitudes toward people with mental health problems are widespread and commonly held. The most commonly held belief is that people with mental illnesses are dangerous, the article said.

“The overwhelming majority of people with mental illness are much more likely to be victimized than they are to be the perpetrator of crimes,” said panelist Terry Crocker, the chief executive officer at Texas Tropical Behavioral Health.

The article in Psychology Today goes on to state that these stigmatizing attitudes can result in feelings of shame for the mentally ill individual and lead to poorer treatment outcomes- an issue that attendee Javier Segovia takes seriously.

“(The event) was very informative,” said Segovia, a senior majoring in social work. “Lots of great brochures, experts…it brought together many individuals who are passionate about mental health. It’s a very small step to breaking stigma and helping the people of the RGV.”

Albert echoed Segovia’s sentiments and said continued conversation is paramount to bringing change.

“Hopefully with conversations like these we can continue the momentum and (attitudes about mental health) will change,” Albert said.

The next “Speak Your Mind Texas” event will take place July 21 at Medical Center Health System in Odessa, Texas.

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News briefs: Week of July 14

July 14th, 2014

Texas Bar Foundation awards grant to UTPA

The Texas Bar Foundation awarded $16,000 to UTPA’s Law School Preparation Institute in late June.

The $16,000 grant will help 10 LSPI students with the cost of books, Law School Admission Test preparation courses and will also provide a stipend to students while enrolled in the five-week summer course. LSPI, which began in 2001, has increased the acceptance rate into law school for its graduates to 90 percent. The national acceptance rate is 60 percent.

Through LSPI, students are prepared for the LSAT and introduced to legal research and writing. They also review selected law cases to help develop their analytical, argumentative and critical reading and writing skills, according to a UTPA press release. The admissions process into law school is also discussed in the course and students receive assistance selecting and applying to law schools.

LSPI’s team of instructors includes UTPA faculty members Jerry Polinard, a political science professor, and philosophy lecturer Erik Anderson..

The Texas Bar Foundation is the nation’s largest charitably funded bar foundation and has awarded more than $15 million in grants to law-related programs since it first began in 1965, according to the press release.


Regents approve UTRGV medical degree program

The University of Texas System Board of Regents unanimously approved the creation of a doctor of medicine degree at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley July 10.

UTRGV, which will merge UTPA and the University of Texas at Brownsville, will open its doors in August 2015. The university’s medical school will accept the charter class of 50 first-year medical students the following year in July 2016.

The Board of Regents have approved $54 million from the Permanent University Fund for the creation of a medical school building in Edinburg. Medical education programs will take place at several locations throughout Hidalgo and Cameron counties, including the UT Rio Grande Valley Smart Hospital in Harlingen.

The Smart Hospital is a 15,000 square-foot, simulation teaching hospital built with $10 million dispensed by the Board of Regents.

“The South Texas region is different and unique geographically, culturally and medically, from the rest of Texas,” said Dr. Francisco Fernandez, the medical school’s founding dean in a UTS news release. “Our medical students will have the opportunity to be part of community-based projects aimed at addressing specific health needs, including incidences of obesity and diabetes that are significantly higher than the rest of the state and nation.”


Regents approve UTRGV admissions standards

The University of Texas System Board of Regents approved admissions criteria for first-time students, transfer students and graduate students at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley July 10.

According to a UTS news release, “Per state law, the top 10 percent of each high school graduating class in Texas will be automatically admitted. All other entering freshmen will undergo a holistic review, which means a combination of factors will be considered, including but not limited to class rank, rigor of high school course work, prior college credit, leadership experience, community involvement and ACT and SAT scores.”

While UTPA currently holds these admission standards, UTB guarantees admission to students in the top 25 percent of their high school class with no minimum score required of the SAT or ACT .

The standards were recommended by the UTS Task Force on the UTRGV Inaugural Admissions Process, which included representatives from UTPA, the University of Texas at Brownsville and the UT System.

Students already enrolled at UTPA or UTB before fall 2015 are entitled to automatic admission to UTRGV. Transfer students need to either have an associate’s degree or earned at least 24 semester credit hours with a minimum GPA of 2.0, according to the news release. The admissions criteria for graduate programs at UTRGV will vary by degree. A complete list of graduate admissions criteria is posted on the UT System website.

UTRGV President Guy Bailey said in the news release that leaders will work closely with community colleges around the Valley to provide a smooth transition for transfer students and to help students who may not initially meet the admission standards. In addition, UT System staff members are meeting with high school counselors from the area so that they can help students be better prepared to meet admissions criteria.

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Chancellor Cigarroa, UT-RGV President Guy Bailey visit UTPA

July 14th, 2014

Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, the chancellor of the University of Texas System, visited the UTPA Student Union Theater June 25 with University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley President Guy Bailey for an update on UTRGV and announced the ad interim presidents for both universities during the transition year.

The open forum, which was open to faculty, staff and students, aimed to address the progress that’s been made and day-to-day operations for UTPA and the University of Texas at Brownsville for the 2014-2015 academic year in preparation for UTRGV come August 2015.

Havidán Rodríguez, provost and vice president for academic affairs at UTPA, will serve as the University’s interim president. William Fannin, current vice president for business affairs at the University of Texas-Permian Basin in Odessa, will serve as UTB’s interim president.

Rodríguez and Fannin will assist Bailey in preparation for the launch of the new university. They will begin their duties after current presidents Robert Nelsen and Juliet Garcia step down Aug. 31. President Nelsen will be a tenured faculty member and adviser to the UT System while President Garcia will serve as executive director of the UT System’s Institute of the Americas. Rodríguez and Fannin’s terms will extend until the new university receives accreditation. After sharing updates on the transition process, Cigarroa and Bailey took questions from the audience, which mostly consisted of issues about job security.

When asked about the process of selecting staff for the new university, Bailey said it will depend on the position.

“For most positions, we won’t do national level searches,” Bailey said during the open forum. “Are we looking for minimal qualifications? No. It’s going to be a very complex institution (so) we need people with the highest skill levels and not the lowest skill levels to make this work.”

Phil Ethridge, an associate professor in the criminal justice department had a two-part question. The first asked where the money was coming from for the buyout that was offered to faculty in May and the second asked if faculty who will remain at UTPA during its last year would receive merit raises. Bailey stated that he did not know what the current budgetary situation is because current leadership is working on the budget. Vice Chancellor of Academic affairs Pedro Reyes asked UTPA Vice President of Business Affairs Martin Baylor, who responded that faculty would not receive raises in 2015. Cigarroa spoke up and said that the process is still ongoing.

“I’m still in the process of reviewing budgets,” Cigarroa said. “The board of regents has to authorize the budget for the system so we’re still basically in the budget making process, and leadership is continuing looking at all this and basically make the best budget under your fiscal responsibilities to advance the campus forward.”

Bailey stated that an important thing for people to keep in mind is the impact the new university will have on the Rio Grande Valley.

“When you think about merging two cultures, you have two institutions who have done incredible things. You want to honor and respect that and it’s very important to recognize that you couldn’t be thinking about UTRGV if you had not had UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville and had they not accomplished what they’ve accomplished,” Bailey said. “If you remember, this institution started in the 1920s as a community college and if you look at its evolution it’s changed over time, same with Brownsville. We’re looking at another stage at the evolution of the institution.”

Greg Gilson, an associate professor of philosophy, asked about the role the liberal arts and humanities were going to have at UTRGV.

“One of the things we want to make sure is that our students… not only come out (of school) well trained in biology, psychology and engineering, but that they’re good critical thinkers as well,” Bailey said. “The thing about liberal arts when preparing for a job or a career… we need to keep in mind always that vision of preparing people not just for their first job but their last one as well.”

When asked about new research being done at UTRGV, Bailey stated that although it is important, students should be the priority.

“We don’t ever want to lose sight of the fact that our greatest product and the greatest thing (are) students,” Bailey said. “There is no success of an institution without the success of students so we’ll be sensitive to the fact that yes we want enhance our research significantly, but we want to give students an opportunity to be a part of that research and for our students to graduate and have a good education as well.”


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Cracking down on sexual harassment

June 19th, 2014

The number of sexual harassment cases in U.S. universities has increased by 50 percent over the course of 10 years, according to a report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics released June 10.

UTPA is one of 60 colleges and universities nationwide named in the U.S. Department of Education’s list of schools under investigation for harassment complaints and/or their handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints under Title IX.

Title IX bans gender discrimination at schools that receive federal funds. The law also guarantees females equal access to sports in addition to regulating how universities handle sexual violence, according to the Department of Education.

According to a statement by the Department of Education, this is the first time it has released a list of all open investigations currently under review. The list, which was released May 1, includes universities and colleges in 27 states and the District of Columbia with two in Texas, the other being Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Being on the list does not necessarily mean that the university in question is guilty of any wrongdoing.

“We are making this list available in an effort to bring more transparency to our enforcement work and to foster better public awareness of civil rights,” Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon said in a press release May 1. “We hope this increased transparency will spur community dialogue about this important issue.”

Under federal law, sexual violence is considered a physical sexual act committed against a person’s will or where a person is unable to give consent, including sexual coercion, rape, sexual abuse, sexual battery and sexual assault.

According to Sexual Assault Awareness Month, in the month of April it is estimated that for every 1,000 women who are attending a university or college, there are 35 incidents of rape each academic year. The total number of sexual assault incidents in Texas in 2012 was 17,835 as reported by the Texas Department of Public Safety. There were a total of two sexual offenses at UTPA in 2012 and one at a residential facility, or college dormitory.

The federal agency first disclosed the names of universities under investigation early last month, with 55 schools initially, but the number of campuses currently under review has increased to 60. The list is comprised of institutions under investigation as early as 2010.

The schools included range from large public institutions such as Arizona State University and the University of Michigan to private universities such as the Catholic University of America and Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. There are also Ivy League universities such as Harvard, Dartmouth and Princeton.

When an investigation is settled, the Department will release information upon request regarding whether the Office for Civil Rights has reached an agreement to address compliance concerns at a specific university or found insufficient evidence of a Title IX violation.

A press release by UTPA May 1 stated that the University is taking the responsibilities under Title IX seriously and condemns sexual violence, misconduct and harassment by or against any member of the UTPA community. The press release also stated that the University would attempt to treat all litigants, who are individuals involved in a lawsuit, with dignity and respect to reach a verdict that is fair to all parties in a timely manner.

The purpose of the UTPA Police Department’s Office of Victim Services is to assist victims of violent crimes and aid detectives who investigate offences, according to their main website. Their goal is to reduce the psychological and emotional trauma that results from a violent crime.

“The location of the assault or the perpetrator do not matter,” said Dean of Students Mari Fuentes-Martin. “So if the assault occurs off campus by a non-student, we would still provide options such as referral to a specialized sexual assault medical exam, counseling options either on or off campus, assistance with missed classes (or) tests and options to file criminal or student conduct charges.”

All universities, colleges and schools K-12 that receive federal funds must comply with Title IX. Schools that infringe on the law and fail to address the problems recognized by the Office of Civil Rights can lose federal funding or be referred to the Justice Department for further action.

The list indicates open investigations as of May 1 but does not reveal case-specific details or facts about the institutions, aside from when the investigation was opened. The list will be updated regularly and made available to the public upon request.

According to the Department, by releasing its list they hope to advance a vital goal of President Barack Obama’s White House Task Force to protect students from sexual assault by bringing more accountability to the federal government’s enforcement around this matter. Obama established the Task Force Jan. 22 with a mandate to strengthen federal enforcement efforts.

“I just think that the skepticism that sexual assault victims face and the lack of support they receive from institutions helps to create a climate in which women don’t speak up and where sexual harassment isn’t challenged,” said Stephen Merino, an assistant professor of sociology at UTPA. “One of the interesting things that happened as a result of that California shooting was the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter and many women speaking openly about instances of rape or sexual assault.”

About 16 percent of sexual misconduct complaints are fully investigated by the Office of Civil Rights and one in 10 of those investigations find a school to be in violation of Title IX as stated by the Michigan Policy Network.

The UTPA Office of Victim Services helped create the Coalition Against Violence and Exploitation Project in 2013 with the intention of decreasing sexual and domestic violence against men, women and children in addition to increasing awareness of how serious this problem is in the RGV.

The CAVE Project began by organizing a Campus Violence Prevention Project and looked to address sexual assault, intimate partner violence, stalking and domestic violence. The goals of CAVE are support, research and prevention.

“(When a) person at UTPA is notified of a sexual assault, we are responsible to provide specialized services to that student,” Fuentes-Martin said. “Our first priority would be to ensure that the student is medically and emotionally taken care of.  Secondly, options to prosecute the alleged perpetrator criminally and/or the student code of conduct.”

Public Affairs Representative Gail Fagan said the University has no further comment at this time.

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Locked and loaded

June 19th, 2014

A Ball State University study published June 2 found 95 percent of university presidents are against concealed weapons on campus with 91 percent citing accidental shootings of students as the primary concern for their opposition.

The study states college campuses have traditionally been gun-free zones, but recent shootings in schools, such as the Santa Monica College shooting, and lobbying from pro-firearm groups have pressured politicians to permit concealed handguns on college campuses.

The Santa Monica College shooting took place June 7 when a 23-year-old shot and killed five people. The assailant fired about 100 shots in attack lasting around 10 minutes. He fired at pedestrians, a bus, passing cars and police. He had more than 1,300 rounds of ammunition, according to The Los Angeles Times.

According to CNN, there have been at least 15 school shootings since the December 2012 Sandy Hook Shooting where 20 children and six adults were killed. The most recent occurrence took place at an Oregon High School June 8. However, Ball State’s study shows that a college campus is the most protected place for students, as stated by Jagdish Khubchandani, co-author of the study.

“Currently available data indicates that college campuses are one of the safest places in communities for college-age students and college leaders want to keep it that way,” Khubchandani said in the study.

Frederick Ernst, a psychology professor at UTPA, said acts of violence are impulsive and significantly more likely to occur when guns are available.

“Clearly it is easier to secure a single building of the sort used on the vast majority of elementary, middle, and high school campuses,” Ernst said. “(But) college campuses are significantly more complex.”

The researchers who conducted the study, “University presidents’ perceptions and practices regarding the carrying of concealed handguns on college campuses,” sent out 900 questionnaires and received 401 total responses. The responses by college chief executives concluded that 79 percent did not own a firearm and 57 percent grew up in a home without a gun. They also found that about 5 percent of university presidents had a valid permit to carry a concealed handgun.

The study showed 98 percent of college presidents also believed students felt safe on their campuses and thought students and faculty would feel unsafe on school grounds if guns were allowed. Bianca Medrano, a senior rehabilitation major, believes otherwise.

“As someone who frequently attends evening classes at UTPA I can honestly say that I do not feel safe as I walk towards my car,” the 21-year-old said. “I carry a small can of pepper spray with me to make myself feel better, but most of the time I am honestly afraid, especially with the kidnapping that happened not too long ago on campus. UTPA needs to look into hiring evening security.”

In the U.S., all 50 states have laws regarding concealed weapons. Texas is one of 21 states that bans carrying a concealed weapon on a college campus, as reported by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

According to UTPA President Robert Nelsen, people are not allowed to carry handguns on school grounds and failure to follow the rules would result in the individual being penalized.  He also stated that a law passed in the recent legislative session now allows people to have weapons in their cars.

“The punishment depends on the nature of the offense,” Nelsen said. “We try to handle as many problems as we can internally, but if anyone were ever to threaten to use a weapon or worse yet, use a weapon on campus, we would certainly involve law enforcement.”

In 2013 there were at least 19 states that introduced legislation to allow concealed weapons on campuses. The legislation passed two bills in Arkansas and Kansas allowing faculty to carry concealed handguns. The bill, however, allows college-governing boards to pass measures banning weapons on school grounds.

“I do believe that professors as well as students should be allowed to carry a concealed weapon with them because there has been a large number of school shootings in just the last year alone,” Medrano said. “We have to be prepared for anything. I am a strong believer of the saying ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people,’ so as long as people know how to handle their weapons and have a permit I don’t see anything wrong with it.”

A 2012 United Nations Survey of Crime concluded that the U.S. remains a dangerous place based on the standards of other countries such as England and Wales. In addition, the survey stated little progress is being made on gun control, homicide rates and the state of individuals’ mental health.

“These statistics reveal a culture that has become alarmingly more violent and correspondingly desensitized to violence,” said Ernst, who received his doctorate from Ohio State University. “The Newtown killings were the most traumatic national experience of violence in what would have been unthinkable decades, if not only, years ago. My memory includes a shocking assassination of JFK, a shuttle explosion and 9/11, but for me the massacre of 20 5-year-olds, each shot at least three times, is the most horrific instance of heinous violence in my lifetime.”

According to a 2013 survey by Campus Safety magazine, schools have increased their security since the shootings at Sandy Hook. Some security measures that have been taken by school administrators throughout the country include bulletproof whiteboards, video surveillance, concrete school barriers and armed teachers.

President Nelsen, who opposes legislation that would allow concealed weapons on campus, said UTPA is prepared if a situation should arise.

“We are prepared for potential shootings on campus,” he said. “Our police go through extensive shooter drills as do many other administrators and individuals.”

Khubchandani’s study, which was published by the Journal of American College Health, also found that 7 percent of schools reported a crime on their campus in the past year where the perpetrator used a firearm and nearly 81 percent of presidents said they did not avoid places around campuses out of concern for their safety.

“If smoking can be regulated on campuses, I don’t see why carrying a gun can’t,” Ernst said. “Enforcing this, however, does create serious concerns… It would be wonderful if early education would create a universal mindset that guns on campus are not a good idea so that each person would, on their own, choose not to be armed.”

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So, I’m one of the bosses now?

June 19th, 2014

Like so many before me, I began my 16th year of life with a job application. I began my trek into the workforce at a franchised ice cream store and spent the last two years of high school running the show. At age 16, I was managing a business. At age 21, I took on a similar position at a local restaurant that was spearheading its inaugural year. I treated it as if it were my own. I moved up the ranks and eventually became the boss; the guy everyone turned to for answers, support and every now and then, a good laugh.

My position here at The Pan American has been no different in that respect. I started this gig as a doe-eyed 24-year-old who knew just as much about journalism as he did about the price of bananas in China: nothing. Now, as the newest co-editor-in-chief for TPA, I have found myself in a role that I never expected to be in. But something is in fact different this time.

Rather than serving an ice cream cone or a plate of meat and potatoes to someone, I am serving a greater good. I am serving my community with news. I take pride in the work that I do, and I do it for the students.

I have taken my past work experiences and applied them to a career that suits me in every way. Not only do I receive gratification from informing the students of UTPA, but I also get the privilege of working with some of UTPA’s finest, the TPA staff.

With the creation of the new University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, the future of our name and of our newspaper is reduced to a guess. But with our heads held high, we will now begin the ascent into this final year as UTPA Broncs and I am here to co-pilot that flight. Using my past experiences as a guide, I can offer to my readers the softest landing possible.

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Texas attorney general candidate Sam Houston meets with Valley voters

June 19th, 2014

Greeted by more than 40 supporters, Democratic attorney general candidate Sam Houston visited Infusions Restaurant in McAllen June 12. The meet-and-greet fundraiser was part of a two-day campaign through the Rio Grande Valley. Houston made stops in Starr, Hidalgo and Cameron counties to listen to people and introduce his platform to Valley voters.

The Houston resident visited the RGV in 2008 when he ran as the Democratic nominee for the Texas Supreme Court. After the campaign, Houston maintained ties to the RGV through business associates from his Houston law firm and friendships made from his 2008 run.

Though he lost the race, he won 46 percent of the vote, the most any Democrat received for the high court in Texas on the 2008 ballot, according to election results. After securing the Democratic nomination in March 2014, his sights are now set on becoming Texas attorney general, and he will face State Senator Ken Paxton, R-Tx,  representing District 8, in November 2014.

Attendees were asked to donate to his campaign and had the opportunity to speak with the lawyer about his platform. After talking with guests for more than an hour, Houston gave a short speech, thanking friends and supporters from the RGV and detailing his vision for the position.

“It’s been an honor for me to spend a couple of days in the Valley,” Houston said. “We’re in the business of solving disputes. That’s what I like to tell people I’ve done for 26 years…I’m a lawyer and that’s exactly what we need in that office. Not a politician, and not someone who is a businessperson. We need a lawyer, and that’s the job.”

The position is currently held by Republican gubernatorial nominee Greg Abbott, whom Houston accuses of focusing too much on political ambition rather than public servitude of the office.

“Years ago, the attorney general’s office was looked at as the office of the people, or the office of all Texans,” the Houston resident said. “One of (Abbott’s) big policies was that, ‘I get up and sue President Obama.’ Look, we need to get away from that. We need to get to where the office is about being a lawyer and not about politics.”

Another position of Houston’s platform involves his plans for public education and the need for more funding after the $5.4 billion cuts made by the Texas Legislature in 2011.

“One of the reasons (budget cuts in education are) allowed to continue is the attorney general’s office basically defended this process,” Houston said. “I will work to find a solution to end that, not to continue it. I think as a public servant, it’s my obligation to make sure Legislature follows our state constitution and adequately funds public education.”

One of the guests at the meet-and-greet was Gary Mounce, an associate professor of political science at UTPA. Mounce attended the event to show his support, and invited his class to it, encouraging involvement in politics.

“If the Valley votes, if the Valley registers, if they turn out to vote in sort of, normal numbers, we can change the whole state,” Mounce said. “Mexican-Americans and the people of the Valley can change the whole state (and) make it more progressive.”

Leading up to election day Nov. 4, 2014, Houston said he hopes to reach voters in all regions of Texas, especially those hailing from the RGV.

“There are many parts of the state that are important, I consider it as important as any other, and that’s why I’m here,” the Democratic nominee said. “Anyone who wants to be a public servant (should) come down to where the people are and tell them their views whether they accept them or not.”

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UTPA, UTB degree changes

June 19th, 2014

The University of Texas System Board of Regents met May 15 to make changes to the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley curriculum in preparation for the official start of the new university fall in 2015. The board voted based on recommendations by UTPA and The University of Texas at Browsville administrators to create a list of UT-RGV degrees, which is available on the UT System website.

Twelve degree programs from UTPA and UTB are being combined for the transition to UT-RGV, according to the UT System Office of Public Affairs. For example, UTPA’s bachelor of business administration in management information systems and UTB’s bachelor of business adminstration in computer information systems will be combined under the new name BBA in information systems. In an article by The Monitor, Kevin Lemoine, assistant vice chancellor for academic affairs for the UT System, explained that individual degree courses can be offered at both campuses or taught on campus at one university and online for the other.

“Consolidated degrees have a different title, or a new CIP (Classification of Instructional Programs) code, but the course work is essentially the same,” said Cynthia Brown, vice provost for graduate studies at UTPA.

Currently, five degrees are in the process of being phased out. Students who are already in these programs will be able to finish their degrees but new students cannot enroll in them.

The two degrees being eliminated at UTPA are the master of arts in theatre, which will be completely phased out by 2017, as well as the bachelor of arts in French studies by 2019. These decisions are not related to the UT-RGV merger as they were made prior to restructuring the curriculum according to Eric Wiley, UTPA professor and former theatre graduate coordinator. Three bachelor’s degrees being eliminated at UTB include entrepreneurship, public service and law and justice studies.

“When UT-RGV opens fall 2015, students continuing from UTB and UTPA will also be enrolled and their chosen programs of study will need to be available to them,” according to a release by the UT System Office of Public Affairs. “Approval of this inventory of degree programs represents the first official act of consolidation for UT-RGV. After consolidating a total of 168 programs at UTB and UTPA, UT-RGV will offer 137 baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral degree programs.”

Representatives from the UT System Office of Public Affairs said that the list of UT-RGV degrees is tentative as programs that are still being planned are not included.

“By merging like degree programs and eliminating under-performing programs, the focus of educational programs will narrow to a set of programs that, in theory, are all aligned with the new university’s mission,” Lemoine said. “This move also streamlines administrative and operational activities such as catalog updates, registration, course scheduling, degree audit systems, advising as well as state and federal reporting.”

An audit or assessment is made every five years by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, a nine-member board appointed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry. The audits determine if programs are meeting target goals for the number of students graduating with each degree, according to the UT System Office of Public Affairs.

As for what these changes mean for professors, the UT System Office of Public Affairs said  there are no anticipated faculty cuts due to degree program merging or phase-outs. Professors who teach courses in the degrees that are being phased out will teach similar courses, according to Brown. For instance, although UTPA’s bachelor of arts in French studies is being removed from the curriculum, there will still be French courses offered. The French studies degree is being removed because of under-enrollment, and according to the THECB website, only two baccalaureate degrees for French language and literature have been awarded at UTPA in the past five years.

“If a minimum number of degrees had not been awarded, then the university had to decide to either close the program, consolidate with another program if feasible or submit a plan to the THECB to grow the program,” Brown said. “If the University chose the third option, then the THECB evaluated the proposal and made a decision either to allow the program to continue or to require that it be closed.”

One of the missions stated on the THECB website is to “align higher education outcomes with current and future workforce needs,” ensuring that jobs are available for students once they graduate from Texas colleges and universities. Brown said UTB and UTPA followed THECB’s process until last year.

“Effective this past year, the THECB produces the reports and distributes them to the universities, but it is up to the governing board of each system to decide how to proceed,” Brown said. “This review has not yet occurred under the new process but will be followed by UTB, UTPA and eventually UT-RGV.”

By evaluating degrees, Brown said UTPA administrators can determine which programs students are interested in to best provide them with skills that are in demand in the job market. 

“We wanted to start UT-RGV by fulfilling the needs of the region and state and ultimately the entire country,” Brown said.

Brey Browne, a UTPA sophomore majoring in theater/TV/film is considering pursuing a master’s degree in the future. He said he understands why administration is eliminating degrees that are not enrolling enough students, but thinks  students will miss out on certain experiences.

“Some of the classes that would more than likely be cut are often the ones that let you express your creativity and switch things up, but people think they’re pointless to pursue because they don’t make you as much money compared to other high demand degrees,”  the 18-year-old said. “Overall my opinion about (UT-RGV) is for it to inspire more kids to do what they really want, not what is more efficient.”

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