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January 20, 2009

Dear Colleagues and Friends of The University of Texas-Pan American:

In her inimitable style, Professor Emerita Marian Monta has always given me the best advice about leading UTPA. “We want you to kill for UTPA,” she said when I underwent surgery last year, “not die for it.” In light of the pressures of the last few months, I took some time after graduation in early December to reflect long and hard on her words, and I concluded that I need to take greater care of this somewhat battered, mended heart. UTPA needs an intensely focused, passionate President, not one who needs to take it easy.

In late December, I informed Interim Chancellor Kenneth Shine of my desire to retire from the University effective January 30th. I look forward to writing a bright new chapter in my life – and to taking it a little easy.

We have much reason to be optimistic about the future of UTPA and our community. A historic inauguration that is taking place in Washington today can take us to a new level of common purpose and shared destiny and broaden the perspectives of all Americans about the leadership potential that exists in every community. We have a brilliant and caring new Chancellor of the UT System who knows South Texas and will help our dedicated Board of Regents to select the right UTPA leader for the coming years.  My expectation is that these two powerful role models and your next President will inspire our students to public and community service and leadership as never before.

In the last four and one half years, you have demonstrated an inspiring dedication to making UTPA better on a daily basis.  I will tell your new University President that the leaders, students, faculty, staff and friends of UTPA are capable and willing to do extraordinary things if given the freedom and the encouragement to pursue them.  Indeed, in a very short period together we have accomplished far more than many resource-rich institutions have done in twice the time. In many cases, building on work begun before I came, we banded together, focused and accelerated our efforts. During this time, we have:

o    Increased the number of students receiving degrees on an annual basis from 2,024 to over 3,200, a 58% increase.

o    Increased graduate degrees awarded from 537 to 678, a 26% increase.

o    Increased the six-year graduation rate to 36.7%, above the 35% national average for peer institutions.

o    Awarded our 1000th engineering degree and our 100th doctorate.

o    Increased the number of nursing graduates by 95%, with stellar passing rates on the licensure exam.

o    Sent 159 UTPA students to medical school, 21 to dental school and countless more to doctoral programs at prestigious universities.

o    Increased the freshman to sophomore retention rate from 68% to 71.5%

o    Moved the sophomore retention rate from 53% to 56%.

o    Increased the number of undergraduate students publishing or presenting juried scholarly work from 39 in 2005 to 275 in 2008.

o    Significantly increased the number of master’s degree students writing theses.

o    Increased the number of internships from 200 in 2005 to 340 in 2008.

o    Increased Study Abroad opportunities.

o    Increased Financial Aid from $84 million to over $111 million.

o    Added our fourth Ph.D. Program, the Ph.D. In Rehabilitation Counseling.

Our Student Government Association, other student organizations and Student Support Services have created a robust and serious student engagement climate that has blossomed over the last four years.

o    Most UTPA divisions now have a student consultation process, and disciplined, conscientious participation by students is the norm rather than the exception.

o    Students play a major role in the process of tuition setting, strategic planning and stewardship.

o    Students lead impressive and highly professional initiatives on the environment, textbook-related costs and civic engagement.

o    More and more UTPA students are competing at state, regional and national levels and coming home with impressive victories.

You have given life to the concept of a “Learner-centered Research University.”  Faculty who are passionate about teaching and student development have reached new levels of scholarly productivity and are gaining national recognition.

o    The number of faculty publishing “most cited” articles is increasing rapidly.

o    Faculty scholarly productivity has increased 38% in the last four years, as measured by the number of articles, books and other scholarly work produced.

o    The number of faculty seeking research funding has increased from 63 in 2004 to 101 in 2008.

o    Collaborative and entrepreneurial work has grown substantially.

o    The North American Advanced Research and Education Initiative brings together more than 60 academic, corporate, public, private and civic, organizations in an effort of regional human and economic development.

o    Creative use of technology for instruction has increased three-fold, from 394 in 2004 to 972 today.

Wherever I go I will tell people of the extraordinarily intelligent and dedicated staff at UTPA. In the last four years, you’ve built new and modernized existing buildings, developed a shuttle service and enhanced our emergency response system. You’ve modernized UTPA’s technology infrastructure for both business and academic functions, developed and embraced business processes that decentralize authority and responsibility and improve service and support to students and faculty. You’ve brought exciting exhibits, speakers and events to campus and hugely strengthened our relationships with our P-16 partners, South Texas College and Texas State Technical College. You established our UTPA Transfer Center in McAllen. Our outreach and engagement of community is enhanced by HESTEC, FESTIBA and our excellent programs in COSERVE. GEAR-Up and other P-16 programs are stars. Our Starr County Upper Level Center is transforming lives. You help to tell the UTPA story and nurture relationships that bring much-needed support. The best physical plant team in the country has deflected the damage of hurricanes and made our campus even more beautiful.

I do not want to move on without recognizing some very special people. The UTPA Foundation, the International Women’s Board and the UTPA Alumni Association have been outstanding partners in our efforts to advance the University. I will always be grateful for their generosity of spirit, friendship and support. The Valley Legislative Delegation, and in particular Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, have been stalwart supporters and good friends. And as many of you know, it would be difficult to exaggerate the tenacious attention and hard work that Congressman Ruben Hinojosa dedicates to UTPA and our students. 

I am particularly grateful for the extraordinary professionalism, caring and dedication of the staff of the Office of the President. The matters that come to this office range from the bizarre to the frightening to the sublime. Their dedication and competence allowed me to walk out of that office on most days with a smile. They made me look good and the job easy.

I am confident that the progress we have made will continue because we have expanded and deepened leadership in every division of the University. Indeed the great promise of UTPA lies in the emerging leaders who serve as Department Chairs, Deans and Directors. You are led by outstanding Vice Presidents who are first and foremost good human beings who care about you and the work you do together.  Their consistent willingness to work as a team to advance our shared mission has been exemplary. I hope they think we have also managed to have some fun along the way.

Thank you for four and one half beautiful years. Be good to each other as you have been to me. I wish you all the very best.






President's Signature
President's Signature
Blandina Cárdenas