With a world of possibilities and educational offers open to them, 28 valedictorians and salutatorians chose to attend The University of Texas-Pan American this fall. Twenty-two of those students graduated from local Rio Grande Valley high schools.
The top three graduates from Los Fresnos Senior High School also chose to attend UTPA. Samantha Rendon, 2004 valedictorian of the high school, said she selected the University because of the scholarship opportunities and programs offered, in particular, the UTPA/Baylor College of Medicine Premedical Honors Program she was accepted to.
"UTPA is a beautiful school with very friendly people. I have no doubt I made the right decision," she said.
However, those schools did not offer her a prime location to home and "unconditional acceptance to a top-notch medical school" if she earned a 26 on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and maintained a high grade point average.
"The main reason I chose to stay in the Valley was because it was not too far away from my parents, but it was far enough to give me the freedom I wanted to make my own decisions," Rendon said. "I also like it here. The people are friendly and I like knowing my way around."
David Rivera, a freshman majoring in computer science, who graduated as the 2004 salutatorian from Brownsville Lopez High School chose to attend UTPA because of its size, location and its potential for growth.
"I wanted to attend a university that wasn't too big or too small. I also wanted to stay in the Valley, but close to a growing city such as McAllen," Rivera said. "I noticed that UTPA was growing and becoming a more diverse university that would open my life to new challenges."
Rivera was offered scholarships at University of North Texas, Texas A&M University, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, Wabash College and The University of Texas at Brownsville. He decided the growth potential and financial opportunities which UT Pan American offered were substantial enough to persuade him to choose the University.
"UTPA offered me scholarships and financial aid that was able to pay for all of my tuition and dorm costs," Rivera said. "They also granted me scholarships based on my academic performance."
"I chose to come to UTPA because it is well-known for its occupational therapy program," Renaud said.
She was also offered a UTPA "Excellence" scholarship from General Motors.
"The main reason why I stayed in the Valley is because this is where I plan on pursuing my career in occupational therapy," Renaud said. "I want to help people here in the Valley."
Viridiana Martinez, a freshman majoring in electrical engineering and 2004 salutatorian of Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Senior High School, said she selected UTPA because of the close proximity to Mexico, the scholarship she received and the top-rated engineering program.
"The University Scholars Program has been very helpful to me," Martinez said. "I can concentrate directly on my studies and not worry about my financial situation."
The state of Texas rewards students who graduate first in their class by paying for their tuition for one academic year when attending any public college or university in Texas.
Of the 28 top graduates, 18 completed federal financial aid applications and received a total of $156,956 in federal, state, institutional and agency aid. Also, 17 of the students were offered at least one of UTPA's renewable scholarships.
UTPA offers several distinguished scholarship programs which may be renewable for up to four years as long as the students continue to meet the renewal criteria. Such scholarships include University Scholars, which pays tuition and fees for four years; UTPA Housing, which assists with on-campus housing expenses; and the Baylor Premedical Honors Program which pays tuition and fees for four years, with an opportunity to have tuition and fees paid at Baylor College of Medicine if the student meets the requirements set by Baylor.