Representatives from Shell Oil presented The University of Texas-Pan American with a $5,000 check from the Shell Oil Foundation during a visit to the campus June 30 continuing their past support of the University's Texas Pre-freshman Engineering Program (Tex PREP). Shell has been one of Tex PREP's sponsors since 1997.
Meeting with current Tex PREP student project leaders and junior program assistants were Helen K. Bow, media relations representative, Shell Oil Company; Stacy L. Hutchinson, senior public affairs representative, Shell Exploration & Production Company; and Kelly op de Weegh, external affairs representative, Shell Exploration & Production Company.
"We are very proud to support this program at UTPA," said op de Weegh.
Tex PREP is an academic enrichment program for Rio Grande Valley middle and high school students interested in careers in mathematics, science, technology and engineering. Designed as a three-year, year round program with students starting as freshmen, Tex PREP concludes an eight-week summer session of classes with the construction of "mega projects," usually headed by a third-year participant. Other classroom activities and smaller projects are also included in the summer classes. More than 200 students are enrolled in the 2004 summer portion of the program at UTPA.
"We learn the process of designing something of your own and then seeing it in action. Watching it is an indescribable feeling," he said.
Jay Guevara, a senior at Veterans Memorial High School in Mission, will head up the group working on a castle module. It will be built as a two-level play house for kids that can be disassembled and moved. After initial set-up in the same park, it will be later moved to the new daycare center being planned at UTPA. "We have to make sure it is safe. We sand down any sharp edges, make sure that holes aren't too wide to fall through and that chains are rubber-coated, for example," he said.
Having worked on this type project last year, Guevara said he learned to make the design simpler and easier and quicker to move this year.
Other mega projects include a play performance of author Gary Soto's 'Nerdlandia" led by Zuni Gonzalez, a junior at Med High in Mercedes, and the construction and race of two pedal karts, this year between a boys and girls group, headed by Armando Salinas, a sophomore at La Joya High School.
Dr. Miguel Paredes, professor of mathematics and UTPA's Tex PREP director, said the pedal kart project is popular and has evolved.
"The first year the pedal karts barely took off, the second year they moved and this year we are anticipating a real take-off. They are using the base of prior years and have advanced a lot. There is a group there that would like this to be a real car someday with an engine," he said.
Each project leader oversees a group of 30 to 90 students which they said can sometimes be hard to manage. They cited areas such as time management, proper work distribution and having ample supplies for each participant as some of the problems they have faced.
"You have to make sure each group gets what they need to be successful," Bhatti said.
Paredes said the funding for these mega projects from the Shell Oil Foundation is significant because it gives the Tex PREP students the opportunity to develop leadership abilities in heading various sized teams.
"The students are involved in these projects for at least one year, and during this time the students exercise their communication skills by reporting on their progress to their peers, the faculty and their funding agency representatives," he said.
Upon learning about the projects and challenges faced by the mega project leaders, Shell representatives said they appreciated exposure to the real-life experiences the students were obtaining in Tex PREP.
"You'll have those types of challenges throughout your life, so this is excellent experience for you," op de Weegh said.
For more information on Tex PREP, e-mail Paredes at email@example.com or log on to the Web site at www.math.panam.edu/texprep/