UTPA kicks off first day of HESTEC Week
Posted: 10/13/2003
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Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology Week at The University of Texas-Pan American launched off Monday, Oct. 13 with a variety of events and speakers for educators from across the Rio Grande Valley to enjoy and learn from.

More than 1,000 educators, school administrators and GEAR UP directors were in attendance at the second annual HESTEC Week - which was hosted by UTPA in conjunction with the Office of U.S. Congressman Rubén Hinojosa - to listen to keynote speakers, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige and Academy Award winning actress Rita Moreno, and participate in numerous breakout sessions to learn about the latest teaching techniques in the areas of math and science.

Actress Rita Moreno speaks during opening day of Hispanic Engineering Science and Technology Week (HESTEC) Oct. 13.
UTPA President Dr. Miguel A. Nevárez welcomed the educators to the opening day of HESTEC and told them attending events like HESTEC is a great opportunity for them to make a difference in the mind's of their students and inspire them with what they learn at HESTEC.

"With the Hispanic population booming and the face of the nation changing, you have a great burden to prepare our Valley students for these math and science careers. We are counting on you and nuestros hijos (our children) are counting on you," Nevárez said. "During this HESTEC Conference today, I hope that you will be inspired to rise to the challenge, to go back, encourage and motivate your students to see the bigger equation - that math and science aren't just required courses anymore, but rather a preview of high-tech possibilities and infinite opportunities."

Quoting General Omar Bradley, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige greeted a gymnasium full of Valley educators by saying "teachers are the real soldiers of democracy. Others may protect it but teachers create it."

Paige, the first school superintendent and first African-American ever to serve as U.S. Secretary of Education, said there were many problems facing education today, but said the current administration is dedicated to provide the best education for every child in America.

"President Bush understands the importance of education and therefore, as President, made it his top priority. Under the bold reform of "No Child Left Behind, a bi-partisan act of Congress, the tools will be provided to make sure every child has a great education," Paige said.

Paige said good jobs in the future will require quantitative abilities but recent studies reveal bad news about math and science proficiency by U.S. students.

He said only 17 percent of our 12th graders are proficient in math and only 18 percent are proficient in science. However, only four percent of Hispanic 12th graders are proficient in math and just seven percent in science.

Secretary of Education Rod Paige speaks to a group at a press conference during Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology Week on the UTPA campus. Also pictured is Congressman Ruben Hinojosa, far left.
"This is a serious situation," Paige said. "In fact, it is a national emergency. If we are to compete and continue to lead the world in technology, if we are to continue to be a beacon of freedom, then we must educate all our children and a good education includes math and science. If they (students) leave school undereducated or uneducated, we have failed them, the public and ourselves."

Moreno, 71, best known for her performance as Anita in the 1961 motion picture "West Side Story," and the winner of all four of the most prestigious acting awards - the Oscar, the Emmy, the Tony and a Grammy - shared with the audience her memories of growing up in New York in a Puerto Rican family to her rise to fame, and the barriers and stereotypes she had to overcome to make it in show business as a Latina.

"I just think it's pretty special that there are so many programs here geared towards minorities, and that does not happen often," Moreno said. "I'm very proud to be a part of HESTEC."

During her visit to UTPA, Moreno took the opportunity to have a question and answer session with University students and HESTEC participants at the Albert L. Jeffers Theatre.

During its first day, HESTEC also brought together some of the most influential professionals in technology at the UTPA Scientific Symposium.

Students and faculty members learned about the latest advances being made in science and technology.

Dr. James Tour, professor of chemistry for the Department of Chemistry and Nanoscale Science and Technology at Rice University, spoke about "Nanotechnology: From NanoTrucks to NanoComputers."

"You may or may not have heard of nanotechnology, but we have all practiced it," Tour said. "What we do is take organic compounds and functionalize them. If we can make compounds look more like people, then people will better understand them."

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa hosted the Hispanic Science Literacy Roundtable during HESTEC.

The roundtable - which included 14 panelists from various organizations - was organized to discuss the need to get more Hispanics interested in the fields of engineering, science and technology.

"Educators and parents must instill the aspirations in our students of today to fill the jobs in science and technology of tomorrow," Hinojosa said. "HESTEC is a model for other schools to follow by bringing the 'think holders,' from around the country, together to address this issue."

Annie Whatley, minority education program manager at the United States Department of Energy, spoke of the department's role in attracting more students to the various fields.

"Department of Energy is a vast resource for developing partnerships with institutions like The University of Texas-Pan American," she said. "We have many internship programs. We have a program called the Hispanic College Institute that supplies scholarships for three years and $80,000. We also have an Office of Science that gives extensive support to teachers for their classrooms."

Student representatives of the South Texas GEAR UP programs were also given the opportunity to talk about their interests in the fields of math, science and technology.

"I really like the field of math. I chose engineering because I knew I wouldn't be bored doing something I like and I find easy," said Emanell Vigil, sophomore at PSJA Memorial High School. "I knew I wanted to be an engineer since I was in the seventh grade. I became interested when GEAR UP came to my school. It motivated me to go into engineering back then."

The Hispanic Science Literacy Roundtable was one of the many activities held during HESTEC.
Congressman Hinojosa, Paige and other Congressmen including Gene Green, District 29, Houston; Ciro Rodriguez, District 28, San Antonio; and Solomon Ortiz, District 27, Corpus Christi answered questions during a press conference and discussed how they hoped events such as HESTEC could be replicated in other Hispanic Serving Institutions across the country.

Also during HESTEC, a check for $100,000 was presented from NASA to the UTPA College of Education for the second year of a three-year grant project called Project PEERS.

"The purpose of Project PEERS is to mentor middle and high school students toward careers in science, technology, engineering and math subjects," said Dr. John McBride, Project PEERS grant coordinator.

HESTEC continues Tuesday with special activities for Valley students including, a visit from Olympic Gold Medalist Speed Skater Derek Parra; a live NASA downlink from the International Space Station and a solar car competition.