For La Grulla resident Alma Alicia Martinez, the news of The University of Texas-Pan American expanding its educational services and facilities to the Starr County area is a blessing for her and the many students that travel more than 100 miles back and forth each day to accomplish their higher educational goals.
Martinez, a first generation college student and a junior bilingual education major, said she is looking forward to attending classes in the UTPA-Starr County Upper Level Center, which will begin offering classes Sept. 1.
"It fills me with pride that UTPA is expanding to Rio Grande City for the sake of our education and future," Martinez said. "It was about a year ago when I first heard some discussions about UTPA coming to Rio Grande City, and now it has become a reality for us and a promise for our children."
Martinez said once she begins taking classes in the temporary new extension center, she will no longer have to worry about the wear and tear on her vehicle or the amount of money spent on gas to drive to Edinburg.
UTPA President Dr. Miguel A. Nevárez said the more than 3,300 square foot extension center in Rio Grande City will not only help alleviate some of the commuting problems for the Starr County students, but also provide higher education opportunities to all the citizens in the western region of the Rio Grande Valley - including Starr, Jim Hogg and Zapata counties - an area that has been identified as economically and educationally disadvantaged.
"The extension center in Rio Grande City provided by UTPA is designed to meet the educational needs of the area," Nevárez said. "We are committed to providing Upper Rio Grande Valley students with a first class education in their own backyards and in turn boosting the county's economy."
It's estimated in the first year of operation, the center will contribute $4 million to the local economy and in five years that figure should jump to $25.8 million.
The Starr County Upper Level Center houses three classrooms and a faculty office where UTPA will offer upper level division courses in interdisciplinary studies - elementary and bilingual education - and criminal justice.
In the future, the University is looking to expand their upper level course offerings to meet student demands in the areas of nursing, accounting, business administration and others.
"I would like to congratulate the citizens of Starr County. We promised to bring quality education to this area and I hope we can get all the students in this area educated," said James R. Langabeer, UTPA vice president for Business Affairs.
Langabeer said the facility is located on five acres of land leased to the University by Dario Garza, a Rio Grande City developer, who offered UTPA the land for four years at a $1 a year. The facility is located in the 755 Country Estates, a subdivision north of Rio Grande City within the city limits.
Garza also donated $10,000 to the University for scholarships. The Three-D Scholarship Fund will benefit education students.
"Some individuals in Starr County decided they wanted to have our presence on their land because having a university presence does bring value to your land and community," Langabeer said. "Also leasing the five acres of land for a $1 a year brings value to the University as well."
Langabeer said the long-term goal of the facility is for it to become a full-fledged permanent extension of UTPA and eventually flourish to a 40,000 square foot building.