The Texas Commissioner of Higher Education, Dr. Raymund A. Paredes, of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) was welcomed to campus Sept. 22 by UTPA President Dr. Blandina Cárdenas and Dr. Rodolfo Arévalo, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs.
Paredes, vice president for programs at the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, was accompanied by his wife, Patricia, and Robert Shepard, THECB member and vice chair, from Harlingen. Paredes was making his first visit to the campus since his appointment as Commissioner in April 2004.
Cárdenas said she and other UTPA administrators, faculty and staff planned to talk to Paredes about growth and managing growth and advancing the strategic goals of the University. Those goals include increasing the number of doctoral programs, increasing student access and success and producing high quality teachers of education.
The THECB, created in 1965 by the Texas legislature, is composed of 15 members appointed by the governor for six-year terms and provides leadership and coordination for the Texas higher education system.
A native of El Paso, Paredes holds a bachelor's degree in English and a doctoral degree in American Civilization from UT Austin and a master's in American Studies from the University of California. Previously Paredes held positions as director of Creativity and Culture at The Rockefeller Foundation and a senior scholar and adjunct professor at The University of Texas at San Antonio. Prior to that Paredes was associate vice chancellor for academic development for the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) where he also served as an English professor from 1973-2001 and in numerous other administrative capacities at UCLA and the University of California system during that time.
Before attending a scheduled working lunch with University officials, Paredes and Shepard met with faculty and students in UTPA engineering and premedical programs and were given a brief tour of an engineering research laboratory by Dr. Edwin LeMaster, interim dean of the College of Science and Engineering.
Dr. Scott Gunn, professor of biology and coordinator of premed programs - EMSAP, MSEMP and JAMP - as well as pre-dentistry programs, and Dr. Cindy Martinez Wedig, biology lecturer and coordinator of the Baylor Pre-Medical Honors College Program, introduced premed students who described their research interests and how participation in these programs helped them achieve their educational goals.
Baylor program students included sophomore Joseph Nichols and senior Natalia Maari. Students from the Early Medical School Acceptance Program (EMSAP) in conjunction with the Galveston UT Medical Center were seniors Wilfrido Dominguez and Yojaira Rodriguez.
"Students find that they get a really good premedical education at UTPA because we have such a great infrastructure for that field. Also, if it wasn't for the sense of community that we have among the premeds at this campus I don't know if we could replicate the kind of success that we have here elsewhere. It is the family atmosphere that exists in the Valley in the first place kind of translated into the University that helps make it so successful," said Nichols, who later told Paredes that his interest in becoming a doctor stemmed from an early childhood bout with leukemia.
Dominguez said he appreciated the research and clinical rotation experiences these programs provide.
"The amount of resources they give us is plentiful and gives us more opportunities to be successful in medical school and to get into medical school," he said.
Paredes said he had heard similar comments from dozens of medical students from UTPA on a visit to Baylor.
"They said essentially the same things about the sense of community, not only in terms of the whole Valley, but the learning community created among the students here that want to go to medical school. It was a very impressive group and I can see that you are carrying on the tradition," Paredes said.
Paredes, his wife, and Shepard also met UTPA Manufacturing Department Chair Subhash Bose, Dr. Miguel Gonzalez, interim dean of the School of Engineering and Computer Science, and three second-year manufacturing engineering students, all from Mexico - Luis Delatorre, Oscar Barrenechea and Felix Velazquez, who described their thesis projects.
"This University offers a lot of variety in where you can work, for example in the maquilas, where your knowledge goes beyond the classroom," said Velazquez, who is developing a web-based simulator for training medical officers in advanced cardiac support.
Barrenechea, an industrial engineer, said he had wanted to obtain a master's and found the master's in manufacturing engineering at UTPA which is closely related to industrial engineering.
"Since I came here in January 2003, I have had a lot of opportunities working with the industry through TMAC - the Texas Manufacturing Assistance Center - which is attached to the University. They do projects for companies on both sides of the border, "he said.
Before departing for lunch, Cárdenas described the Sept. 27-Oct. 2 Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology Week and its goals of increasing the interest of students and their parents in the fields of math, science and engineering and providing opportunities for professional development for Rio Grande Valley teachers in these fields.
Cárdenas also touted the commitment and the quality of engagement of UTPA faculty with the students as well as the success of various students in national competitions, such as accounting and music.
"Our students have the ability to do the work and they have the commitment to reinvest in the community. All we have to do is give them the opportunity," Cárdenas said.