More than 800 dignitaries, members of the U.S. Congress and government officials packed the foyer and halls of the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C. to meet with The University of Texas-Pan American President Dr. Blandina Cárdenas during the inaugural celebration of the University's "Spring Fiesta."
The purpose of the "Spring Fiesta" - hosted by Cárdenas in conjunction with Hinojosa - was to increase the visibility of UTPA in the nation's capitol. Roland S. Arriola, vice president for External Affairs, said the event marked "UTPA's coming out party as one of the leading Hispanic-Serving Institutions in the nation. Events like these help us build new relationships with key decision-makers in government, corporate boardrooms and private foundations."
"Within a few years we expect this event to become the premier University-sponsored event in Washington, surpassing the event sponsored each year by the University of Southern California. Next year, we expect to have many of our faculty members, deans and foundation board members make the trip," Arriola said.
More than 50 members of Congress and numerous representatives from various federal departments and the private sector were in attendance to hear Cárdenas talk about her favorite subject - UTPA.
"Thank you for taking the time to come here to learn about a spectacular University on the brink of making a significant contribution to the major challenge in education facing this country the creation of a critical mass of people of Hispanic origin who will have the bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees to solve problems in our country and build on the assets of our nation for the long term," Cárdenas said.
She told attendees many of the University's success stories and that UT Pan American would graduate approximately 3,800 students this school year.
"These students come from the poorest families in our country. Many of them are young people whose families, just a few years ago and often still, harvest the food we put on our tables," Cárdenas said. "They are young people who are truly heroes for America. They work one and often times two jobs, not only to get an education, but to contribute to the well-being of their families."
At UTPA, students from less than privileged circumstances are winning national competitions in engineering, auditing and music, she said. They also have the lowest default rate on student financial aid and on loans in the state of Texas.
She asked the members of Congress present for their support in helping UTPA become a research institution.
"UTPA is an institution that is building its capacity, and with your help...we can create the master's and doctoral programs that will take the problem-solving capacity of our students and put it at the service of our research, science, medical, education and economic institutions," Cárdenas said. "With your help UTPA's potential help to the United States has no limits."
Hinojosa, an alumnus of UTPA who received his MBA from the University, said he was pleased to see so many of his congressional friends participate in the event which highlighted UTPA nationally.
"For me, representing The University of Texas-Pan American - my alma mater - is a cause for celebration," he said.
With a student enrollment of more than 17,000, Hinojosa said, he was proud UTPA is educating the largest number of Mexican-American students in the country.
UTPA, in conjunction with Hinojosa, also established the nationally renowned Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology (HESTEC) initiative. HESTEC Week, which will be held Sept. 26-Oct. 1, provides middle and high school students the opportunity to explore careers in science, math, engineering and technology; participate in hands-on workshops; and listen to role models discuss their achievements in fields such as aerospace, computers and biotechnology.
"Now in its fourth year, HESTEC is engaging and preparing our community's young students to pursue careers in science, technology and engineering," Hinojosa said.
While in Washington, representatives from the National Geographic Education Foundation announced it was joining HESTEC for the first time as a sponsor and presented a $75,000 check to create a new addition to UTPA's weeklong event. The donation will establish the HESTEC Geography Summit, which will feature interactive exhibits, presentations and hands-on activities. The goal of the summit is to increase awareness among middle school students about the various tools used in geography and applications to their lives.
"The HESTEC Geography Summit will help middle school students see where geographic knowledge combined with science and technology understanding can take them," said Arriola, who serves as chairman of the National HESTEC Planning Committee. "We want students to see how people use tools of geography, like geographic information systems, to make decisions about their own community."
UTPA representatives also met with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) during the trip to Washington, D.C. to discuss an internship program model to help increase student participation in internships as well as a partnership for a regional activity during HESTEC Week.
"The meetings were productive for me because it allowed me to get together with the groups we work with and discuss how we can strengthen our partnership to help students succeed," Velinda Reyes, interim director of UTPA¹s Career Placement Services, said.
UTPA officials also learned how students can be more marketable in the college selection process through meetings with representatives of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, which represents more than 400 colleges and universities committed to Hispanic higher education success in the United States, Puerto Rico, Latin America and Spain.
Bret Mann, executive director of UTPA's Center for Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (CEED), said the trip was extremely productive and explained it was crucial to have the members of Congress present.
"The more Congress is aware of our programs and what we do, the greater the possibility of receiving funds and partnering with other universities," he said. "UTPA students, faculty and staff have great stories to tell and people need to hear their stories."