The University of Texas-Pan American was presented a $5,000 check July 22 by representatives of the Shell Exploration and Production Company continuing the eighth year of support by the Shell Oil Foundation to the University's Texas Pre-freshman Engineering Program (Tex PREP).
Prior to the check presentation, Senior External Affairs Representative Kelly op de Weegh and Operations Manager Tomas Hinojosa, both from the Shell Exploration and Production Company, met with UTPA Tex PREP director and mathematics professor Dr. Miguel Paredes and heard about Tex PREP, which has 225 student participants this year, from four students in the summer program.
Tex PREP, originated by The University of Texas at San Antonio in 1979, is an academic enrichment program for Rio Grande Valley middle and high school students interested in careers in mathematics, science, technology and engineering. Developed as a three-year, year round program with students entering as incoming high school freshmen, Tex PREP includes role modeling, mentoring, hands-on experiences and career awareness. Tex PREP concludes the summer session of classes with the development and/or construction of "mega projects," involving the first to third year participants.
"The mega projects that start this year are going to be very special," said Paredes, noting 2006 marks the 20th year of the Tex PREP program at UTPA. "We are doing some new things that we have never done before. We are initiating work to form an advisory board for example. We are also doing some special contests and things related to the history of Tex PREP and how we have evolved over the years."
This year's mega projects, some delayed by the threat of Hurricane Emily Paredes said, included the construction of a skateboard ramp, the construction and launching of model rockets, the compilation of a Tex PREP yearbook and the adaptation and production of the book - "The Man who Counted: A Collection of Mathematical Adventures" by Brazilian mathematician Malba Tahan, into a play. The mega projects group together students from all three years so they develop a sense of being and working together Paredes said.
As a co-leader of 20-member team of students initiating a new project this year - the construction of the skateboarding ramp - Miguel Trevino, a junior at the Science Academy, said he enjoyed working with the tools involved in his project.
"I am very interested in building things and I like hands-on activities, using tools, wood and anything else," he said. The half pipe ramp, which is eight feet wide and 24 feet long, was built in two sections by Tex PREP students and after testing was given to Alta Palmas Park in Donna.
Other students describing Tex PREP mega projects included Annail Gutierrez, a sophomore at Sharyland High School, yearbook project; Armando Morales, junior at La Joya High School, play project; and Daniel Solis, sophomore at Mercedes High School, model rockets project. All the students indicated they enjoyed the opportunity to meet people from other schools and the experience the Tex PREP program gave them.
"Our (Shell's) priority is improving the education and the experiences as well as the exposure students have to science, math and engineering. Our company would not exist if it weren't for students with this kind of creativity and passion," op de Weegh said.
Hinojosa and op de Weegh indicated Shell will need people with all kinds of skills and hopes to establish some internship and apprenticeship opportunities with the company for students at UTPA and South Texas universities in the near future. Shell will also sponsor an exhibit for the first time at UTPA's 2005 Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology Week September 25-October 1.
The Shell Oil Foundation, the nonprofit charitable arm of the Houston-based petroleum giant, was established in 1953 funded by donations from Shell Oil Company and other forms of income. According to their Web site, the Foundation's mission is to help foster the general well being of communities where Shell Oil Company employees live and work and to provide educational opportunities that prepare students and faculty to succeed while meeting the needs of the ever-changing workplace.
For more information on Tex PREP, log onto to the Tex PREP Web site at www.math.panam.edu/texprep/