Celebrating 20 years at The University of Texas-Pan American, the Texas Pre-freshman Engineering Program (Tex PREP) continues to provide academic enrichment for Valley students year after year.
Twenty-five institutions in the state offer the program, and according to Dr. Rudy Reyna, Tex PREP coordinator for sites in the state of Texas, UTPA is among the best.
"I think the commitment the University has to providing the facilities and the leadership - the commitment they have to this program is one of the things that sets them apart," he said.
Reyna believes Tex PREP students are well-positioned to succeed academically, citing eight valedictorians who graduated in the San Antonio area this past May and were former Tex PREP students.
"What it does is it exposes them to a very rigorous academic program. They're doing high school and college-level courses when they are generally at a younger age," Reyna said. "It creates confidence, it motivates them, and they feel like they can do it."
Founded in 1979 at UTSA, the program was brought to UTPA in 1986 and became a year-round program in 2001.
"The mission of Tex PREP is to identify achieving middle and high school students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and to increase their potential for careers in these areas," said Dr. Miguel Paredes, director of Tex PREP and professor of mathematics at UTPA. "The program also exposes students to a university environment, the development of time management and study skills, and activities that improve self-confidence."
"More than just studying about these subjects, Tex PREP provided a very practical system where, as students, we were able to get first-hand experience with many different exercises that required the use of special labs or tools, therefore making academics fun and entertaining," Garcia said.
Students who participate in the eight-week summer program come to campus Monday through Friday in the afternoons to attend classes in STEM areas, compete in weekly projects, and participate in a group mega project. Weekly projects have typically included competitions in egg drop, bridge-building, race cars, kite-building, and designing division banners. Mega projects, on the other hand, are intended to produce an impact in the community, conveying the message of what Tex PREP is about.
Mega project teams include about 30 to 40 first, second, and third-year students who have a common interest in developing a project with educational content related to the Tex PREP mission, goals or its academic curriculum. Some of this year's mega project teams undertook such tasks as: building rockets, constructing a go-cart, creating a video of the summer program, designing a yearbook, and even putting together a play titled "Sit Down and Listen."
In honor of the anniversary, former Tex PREP students formed a committee to organize activities for the summer which included a soccer game between Tex PREP students and faculty/staff, a dance, a talent show that premiered before the play, and a video about the program that was played during the graduation ceremony. The committee has even put in an application to form an official club at UTPA and has currently received temporary status.
"I knew that it would give me that extra edge as far as school goes. You learn so much in just one summer, and in three years you learn even more," Perez said. "This summer I learned you've got to stick with stuff. You've got to try and try, and you'll eventually succeed and complete whatever you want to complete."
Daniel Torres, a sophomore at La Joya High School and second-year student, said the program gives students the opportunity to experience new things and learn a lot at the same time.
"I learned algebraic structure, which was something I never even experienced before. I learned how to use tools that I never even knew existed, and I got to build a new go-cart," he said. The program was a perfect fit for Torres, who enjoys building things and wants to become a mechanical engineer. "I wanted to have a chance to prove myself and actually build something," Torres said.
Tex PREP serves students in 12 school districts in the counties of Willacy, Hidalgo, and Starr and is sponsored by the following organizations: state of Texas, NASA, Shell Oil Foundation, UTSA, and Valley school districts such as Donna, Edcouch-Elsa, Hidalgo, La Joya, La Villa, McAllen, Mercedes, Mission, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo, South Texas, Weslaco, Sharyland, Valley View, and IDEA Academy.
For more information on how to get involved with Tex PREP, call 956/381-3634 or log on to http://w3.panam.edu/~texprep/index.html.