The kites flying over the science quad at The University of Texas-Pan American were not bought at the local discount store but designed and constructed by students participating in the 2003 Texas Pre-freshmen Engineering Program (Tex PREP), June 20.
Directed by Dr. Miguel Paredes, UTPA mathematics professor, Tex PREP is an academic enrichment program for middle and high school students from the Rio Grande Valley. Tex PREP, a program with 20 sites in Texas and in its 17th year, is geared to students interested in careers in mathematics, science, technology or engineering.
Tex PREP was designed as a three-year program for students starting as freshmen. Paredes said the participation and retention has improved in his seven years as director.
According to the results of a follow-up conducted by the program, 90 percent of the Tex PREP students have gone on to college and 75 percent of those have graduated.
The year round program includes an eight week series of summer classes, this year from June 9 to Aug. 1. It is led by university professors, high school teachers and program assistants - college students majoring in science or engineering fields. Successful participants in the summer program are encouraged to attend Saturday sessions in the fall and winter.
Aside from kite building, other short term activities include designing and building toothpick bridges, solar water heaters, water bottle rockets, gliders, mouse trap cars, and mini catapults, all employing some of the principles learned in the classes and from guest speakers on physics, problem solving and other math/science related curricula. Students are also exposed to time management, study skills, mentoring and career awareness.
Third year participants develop mega projects to cap off their Tex PREP experience.
Rey Garcia, a junior at McAllen Memorial High School and a third year Tex PREP participant, said he enjoys the projects, especially the ones involving engineering. Garcia said Tex PREP has helped him advance in his math classes.
"In Tex PREP you take advanced courses - courses that I have not even taken in my school yet. Also, I have fun with a lot of friends I have met through the three years here," Garcia said.
As a leader of one of the 2003 mega projects, Cassandra Robles, also a third year Tex PREP student and a junior at Med High School in Mercedes, is helping edit, direct and act in a play concerning the dispute over who really discovered calculus - Gottfried Leibniz or Issac Newton.
"Attending Tex PREP has exposed me to college and introduced me to new things I might never have learned, like auto cad in engineering. I have also met people from all over the Valley," Robles said.
"Since Tex PREP is offered as a three-year program, it is set up so the third year students serve as leaders, second year as field engineers and first year as workers," Paredes said.
There are eligibility requirements and a tuition fee to participate in the program. However, various funding sources and federal student stipends have covered all fees required by UTPA Tex PREP participants.
Sponsors include the Lower Rio Grande Valley Workforce Development Board, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Shell Oil Company Foundation, The University of Texas-San Antonio and UTPA.
Additional funding has come from a special state legislative appropriation and from partner school districts including Donna, Edcouch-Elsa, Hidalgo, La Joya, La Villa, McAllen, Mercedes, Mission, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo, South Texas and Weslaco.
For more information on Tex PREP, contact Paredes at 956/381-3634, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or log on to www.math.panam.edu/texprep/