In one day the Rio Grande Valley received over $72 million in funds to be directed at creating a long-awaited home for the arts, as well as support for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and health-care education at UT institutions.
The University of Texas System Board of Regents approved a $30 million plan to expand educational programs, recruit faculty and bolster operations in the lower part of the RGV while also approving the construction of a nearly $42.7 million Fine Arts Academic and Performance Complex at The University of Texas-Pan American.
“With over one-third of all UT System students attending institutions in South Texas…investments such as the board is making in this region are vital…to a chronically underserved area of the state.” Regents’ Chairman Gene Powell said in a news release.
The decision comes almost two months after a controversial 30-day special session held in June where the 82nd Texas Legislature slashed funding for programs in health and human services and education.
After all that painful budget cutting in the past year, the Valley is getting a helping hand, as Thursday the Regents unanimously approved an action plan recommended by UT System Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa. And UTPA had some input sometime ago, as it turns out.
“When I first got here there was a retreat where all the presidents got together,” President Robert Nelsen said. “The Chancellor came forward and asked us what are some of the things we want to focus on to make sure we succeed. We then came up with several initiatives. One was keeping Austin at the level they’re at, another was emerging research universities and making sure they got Tier One. But one was to do something for education in the Valley. We just kept morphing a plan. It was once a booklet of 40 pages and then it became three pages. We finally had something for the Regents.”
As part of the “Framework for Advancing Excellence throughout The University of Texas System,” the recommendations of the Task Force on Productivity and Excellence and the Task Force on Blended and Online Learning, the LRGV plan reflects important steps forward in increasing productivity and improving academic quality.
Within the framework the board also committed $234.6 million for projects across the 15 other institutions and System Administration.
The Chancellor’s framework was initially presented at a Board of Regents meeting in May while Powell, a Weslaco native, formed the special task forces
“The initiative is based on the principle that higher education can continue to make a marked difference in this vital region of Texas, but there is still much to do,” stated the recommendation from Laredo native Cigarroa. “The LRGV region has potential for further economic development…but is challenged by explosive population growth, a lower per capita income, and educational opportunities that do not meet the demand.”
BREAKING DOWN THE NUMBERS
According to Matthew Flores, spokesperson for the Board of Regents, funding comes from two places, permanent university funds and institutional funds. According to UTPA President Nelsen, very little of the latest funding will come from the first area.
“Most of the money is coming from interest,” he said. “That means all of the interest the University is making off funds that we have invested in other projects. A little bit (of Permanent University Funds) will only go to the simulated
As part of a joint endeavor with UT-Brownsville the 15,000-square-foot simulated teaching hospital at the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen, a branch of the UT Health Science Center San Antonio, will simulate care in the real world through planned events that are coordinated with the curricula of the programs involved, according to
The new facility will include 20 fully functional simulates hospital beds and designated teaching areas for Trauma/ER, Obstetrics and Pediatrics and Medical/Surgical simulations. Approximately $10 million has been allocated for the hospital and $4 million for biomedical research program, another joint endeavor including UTB, Regional School of Public Health in Brownsville, and the Laredo Regional Campus.
The multi-campus and community-based research program is expected to leverage existing research strengths among its entities and lay a foundation for students to engage in STEM and
Such a move improves the chances of locating a future medical school in the South Texas region, an idea discussed during the 81st Texas Legislature in 2009. Currently a number of medical students from UTHSCSA complete clinical rotations at the RAHC in Harlingen. However because there is a limited number of existing residency opportunities in South Texas, the LRGV plan will focus $1.5 million in order to expand these
The Regents or Cigarroa did not take the goal ‘of faculty recruitment’ lightly, in that with the biomedical research program another $4 million has been allocated to establish UTeach programs in STEM education
UTeach is a teaching recruitment program that prepares students who are pursuing their degree and who may have an interest in teaching. Both UTB and UTPA in collaboration with Texas State Technical College and South Texas College will team up to eventually train 200 LRGV teachers and serve over
“You work with cohorts of kids over the years and so you identify yourself as a teacher early on in a STEM field,” Nelsen said. “By the time you leave, you’ve worked fours years with students, you know whether or not you want to be a teacher. It’s a great opportunity.”
In addition, $9.5 million is allotted to establish a faculty recruitment program to attract STEM educators and researchers looking for teaching opportunities in the area.
“We’re looking for starters,” he said. “These will be people with national reputations. We need new faculty and to have the quality of high-caliber faculty such as these is really going to
Lastly $1 million has been appropriated to augment philanthropic efforts at UTB and UTPA through the Strength in Numbers program.
The proposed center to replace the University’s existing Fine Arts Auditorium and Fine Arts Annex will be a modern, state-of-the-art facility that will add nearly 14, 500 square feet of space to current capacity. Completion of the projected 1, 000-seat theater is expected by
This is a project that has been on again, off again, for some time. But now it appears headed for fruition. So are some other University plans, as the chancellor’s plan was music to the ears of the
“I’m thrilled, I really am,” Nelsen said. “We’ve been through some tough times, some really tough times. The sheer fact that they’re willing to invest in us and believe in the Valley makes