The University of Texas-Pan American officials joined South Texas representatives of the McDonald's Corporation Nov. 17 to announce the donation of $30,000 by McDonald's to the University to help establish a grassroots network of community-managed college recruiting centers, called Go Centers, in high schools across the Rio Grande Valley.
Go Centers are an outgrowth of the College for Texans campaign launched in 2002 by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in an aggressive effort to ensure that more Texans go to college. The campaign aims to enroll an additional 500,000 academically prepared students by 2015 in Texas universities and community and technical colleges. Go Centers, managed by groups of collegiate and high school peer educators called the G-Force, provide college enrollment and financial aid information, resources and technical assistance to students and parents.
Several Valley McDonald's owners/operators and UTPA collegiate G-Force students as well as high school G-Force members from Hidalgo High School and BETA (Business Education and Technology Academy) were also guests at the ceremony.
"Today we are celebrating an extraordinary partnership with an extraordinary company," said Cárdenas, who described McDonald's as one of the most responsible, socially conscious corporations in the country.
Cárdenas described how higher education changed her life and encouraged students to be determined to continue their education beyond high school.
"The universities in the state of Texas are here to enable you - the students - to make your dreams a reality, to change the world, to make it better. Go wherever you want to go. Just focus and say that is where I am going," she said. "Today, we start a new partnership to take this message of hope and this message of focus to our high schools."
The $30,000 gift from McDonald's Corporation will be used to pay for wages and travel for the UTPA Collegiate G-Force students to visit designated high schools and mentor their assigned high school G-Force members as well as for costs to host high school G-Force training sessions at UTPA. The gift and partnership between the University and McDonald's to continue to expand "go to college" goals and the Go Center initiative followed the purchase by the University of a former McDonald's site on South Closner Boulevard in Edinburg, adjacent to the UTPA Annex. The building will be renovated for use as the UTPA Valley Outreach Center/Go Center, currently operating out of the Annex.
Edwards said UTPA's rich tradition of promoting college studies to families and students in the Valley through initiatives such as the Mother/Daughter and TRIO programs, GEAR UP and partnerships with Region One and Tech Prep, among other programs, will continue through the recent establishment of the Valley Outreach Center and further Go Center start-ups. UTPA has started seven Go Centers in 2005 and are actively involved with 24 others across the Valley either already established or in preparation to be launched.
"The Valley Outreach Center at the University was started as a focal point of the College for Texans campaign and part of the College for Texans campaign is to establish Go Centers in the high schools. Now McDonald's has become a big part of the effort of taking that 'Go to College' message to the high schools," he said.
"We want for people to not only go to college but succeed in college because that raises the educational level of our state...and gives businesses much greater opportunity to succeed...and a better life for everyone," he said.
In the future, Brown said he hoped to see mobile Go Centers - taking Go Centers out into the streets, to shopping centers and to schools without Go Centers. He said UTPA has been a model for the development of Go Centers and recently the SBC Foundation has provided funds to equip mobile centers in Houston, San Antonio and Dallas. UTPA recently submitted a Mobile Go Center funding proposal to the Texas Guaranteed Student Loan Corporation Public Benefit Grant program.
McDonald's partnership with the University reflects the often heard quote of Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald's who said, "None of us is as good as all of us," said Del Barrio, who heads up an association that represents 49 stores from Rio Grande City to Brownsville. Del Barrio described the other charitable efforts by McDonald's in the Valley including the Book It reading program, the Ronald McDonald House in Harlingen and the Ronald McDonald House charities, and the Student of the Week scholarship program with KRGV-TV Channel 5, Burt Ogden Motors and Texas State Bank.
"These are just some of the things that we do to give back," he said, noting the importance of a good education for Valley youth and the need for those to succeed to return and serve as role models.
Felipe C. Salinas, director of College Access and Support Programs, who oversees many of the outreach programs at the University supporting the "Closing the Gaps" and "College for Texans" campaigns, said renovation on the McDonald's site should begin soon with an estimated September 2006 completion date. Salinas said UTPA has presented McDonald's a "wish list" of several other partnership project proposals in support of the College for Texans campaign and the Go Center initiative.
"We remain strongly committed to the belief that together, McDonald's, UTPA and the College for Texans campaign can bring valuable college access information and encouragement to many more of the Rio Grande Valley's young people and make a long-term positive difference in the economic and cultural development of our region," he said.
For more information, contact the Valley Outreach Center at 956/292-7597.