Four UTPA First Generation Program members win laptops
Posted: 10/20/2004
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Four students, who are First Generation College Student Program members at The University of Texas-Pan American, won laptop computers Sept. 30 after entering a program incentive competition.

Program members from UTPA, the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas State Technical College were invited to compete for 20 laptops through the incentive program, which was funded by Cameron Works Inc. and Tech Prep of the Rio Grande Valley - a non profit organization that works with school-aged children and encourages them to pursue technical careers.

"We hope the laptops will serve as a resource to assist them with their continued academic success at UTPA," Felipe Salinas, UTPA director of College Access and Support Programs, said.

Winners were selected after an application process which included an essay and a letter of recommendation from a mentor. The four UT Pan American students chosen were Julia Cisneros, a freshman majoring in premedical biology; Stephanie Perez, a freshman majoring in pre-law; Carolina Medina, a freshman majoring in computer science; and Kimberly Casarez, a sophomore majoring in interdisciplinary studies. The winning students said the laptops have helped them academically, particularly with time management.

Pictured in front row from left to right are UT Pan American students and laptop recipients Julia Cisneros, Stephanie Perez, Carolina Medina and Kimberly Casarez. Standing in back row from left to right are Todd Holland, Tech Prep First Generation Program Specialist and Felipe Salinas, UTPA director of College Access and Support Programs.
"The laptop has helped me out tremendously. It is stocked with everything I need and more," Casarez said. "Now, I don't have to compete with the patrons at the library. I can just come home or take my computer with me and type out my homework whenever I want to."

The laptop computers are on loan to the students through May 31, 2005, but they will have the opportunity to own them if they continue to participate in the program, maintain satisfactory academic progress, remain in contact with their mentor and attend all sessions of UTPA's new Student Leadership Academy - an intensive leadership development program to help students acquire personal and professional skills.

First Generation College Student Program applicants must be from Cameron County, the first in their families to attend college, be freshmen or sophomores at UTPA and must have an income within a certain range as set by the Workforce Investment Act.

"We are hoping this program provides extra support and a closer connection to the campus since many of the students are commuters from Cameron County," Salinas said. "Hopefully the program will help them be more successful."

The program is part of a statewide initiative from the governor's office to interact with high school students who are potential first generation college students and with students already enrolled in their freshmen and sophomore years in college to ensure their retention in a college or university setting.

"The purpose of the program is to encourage more first generation students to go on to college, to support them the first few years with mentoring, leadership and services so they are more successful and they remain enrolled in the University," Salinas said.

The program currently has 18 members and requires students to meet with mentors who are juniors and seniors at the University, attend an extended orientation session as entering freshmen and go to mandatory tutoring. Members also receive financial compensation for their participation.

Casarez was required to attend tutoring her first semester at UTPA and admitted it helped her academically.

"I would not have gone if it was not mandatory, but it really helped," she said. "I have my good grades to show for it."

Many First Generation College Student Program members entered the program while in high school and transferred into the University's program when they enrolled at UTPA this summer, when the pilot phase of the First Generation Program began. In high school, program participants attended weekly meetings with counselors and mentors to discuss pre-college activities such as career advisement, financial aid counseling and college information sessions. High school program participants also receive a stipend while in the program.

Salinas said he hopes to encourage students who are participating in the First Generation project at the high school level to continue their involvement in the program if they choose to attend UTPA.