Dr. Blandina Cardenas, new president of The University of Texas-Pan American, beamed with excitement as she was welcomed to her new home by the sound of the UTPA Mariachi and the hugs of the University community. Cardenas - chosen among six finalists by The University Texas System Board of Regents - visited the campus Tuesday, June 22, the day after being named to the position.
"I am very happy to be here today. It's like coming home in so many ways. I was not born in the Valley, but the Valley has been in my heart for more than 30 years," Cardenas said. "Following in the steps of Dr. Miguel Nevárez is an honor and a challenge. It is a huge responsibility and I promise to approach it with the same passion and creativity."
As part of the daylong celebration, Rio Grande Valley delegates joined the new president for a luncheon where they extended their support and loyalty to her and the entire University.
"I think you will find from me and the entire delegation that we have supported The University of Texas-Pan American," said State Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa. "We worked very well with President Nevárez and will continue to work with you closely to give you the proper funding."
Delegates explained to Cardenas how important the University is to the community and how it has played a role in expanding the economy in the Rio Grande Valley.
"We are on the verge of something great," said State Representative Aaron Peña. "This institution is the engine for the change that is to occur. We are committed to this institution and we expect great things from it."
Cardenas told legislators her first job as president is to listen and assess, and then build on strategic planning. Also attending the luncheon was State Representative Miguel Wise and Veronica Gonzalez, state representative-elect.
After the luncheon, Cardenas attended a "Meet the President" forum before a standing room only crowd of students, staff and faculty members in the Student Union Auditorium. Upon entering the auditorium, Cardenas waved her arms high in triumph.
Each group also gave Cardenas presents ranging from a UTPA license plate holder to engraved plaques - each of which Cardenas held up proudly for all to see.
Quabbaj said the faculty expected the new president to make UTPA an even greater University by her leadership.
"We (faculty) pledge to work along side you in furthering the educational mission and great academic excellence of this University that we all love and hold dear," Quabbaj said.
In welcoming the new president, Ramos said the staff was ready to assist their new "Commander in Chief."
"At this time you offer us a new beginning, a time to expand what we are doing effectively, a time to try new directions and a time to redefine our goals and mission. What you offer us is an open door to our future."
Representing the students, Schwarz said while UTPA is located on the border, its regional perspective has no borders and the University is ready and prepared for change and growth.
"The students, staff, faculty and the entire Rio Grande Valley is looking to you (Cardenas) to lead us into a future with the fullest potential," he said.
In accepting the position, Cardenas said "only a fool would fail to be filled with a sense of awe, a sense of humility and a sense of the awesome responsibility of leading The University of Texas-Pan American."
Cardenas praised Nevárez's passionate devotion to UT Pan American and the foundation he left for higher expectations.
"He has devoted his life to bringing this institution to this level without blemish. I say to Miguel Nevaraz - amigo, gracias."
"I want to know what you want as individuals, as organizational units - what are your dreams? I want each of you to find that one thing that you can contribute - and what it would take to accomplish it."
She stressed the importance of teamwork and supporting one another in accomplishing goals.
Raul Mendoza, a graduate student in school psychology from Edinburg, said his first impression was that she was very goal oriented.
"I am impressed with her five year goals and that she wants to meet with the different groups," he said.
To show their support for the new president, Dr. Juliet V. Garcia, president of The University of Texas-Brownsville and Dr. Shirley Reed, president of South Texas Community College, were in attendance at the forum. Garcia said she anticipates more collaboration between the two universities in the future.
"We should, as much as we can, think, plan and act as one to each other's mutual benefit," Garcia said.
Before ending her presentation, Cardenas touched upon UTPA's goal of becoming the doctoral research institution in South Texas. Cardenas said there will be a need to relate the research to the community's needs and we will need to be able to describe the added value research affords the Rio Grande Valley in economic, cultural, social and student development.
"Supporting research means that we are adding to the knowledge base which allows us to solve the problems and build up the assets in the community, state and nation. Over the next five years we are going to come together and put in place a rate of change and improvements like the State of Texas has never seen before," she said.