The University of Texas-Pan American kicked off the official opening Sept. 17 of its new Valley Outreach Center (VOC), which will operate a Community Go (Go to College) Center and continue to provide other services to schools and the community in support of Rio Grande Valley students going to college.
The ribbon cutting celebrated the VOC's move to a renovated former McDonald's restaurant adjacent to its prior location in the UTPA Annex located on Closner Blvd. in Edinburg. The event also highlighted the support provided by the Rio Grande Valley McDonald's owners and operators, who contributed $30,000 of the building's sale back to support VOC programs and also provided additional resources for 1.5 million trayliners distributed this year in area McDonald's restaurants promoting college enrollment and financial aid information.
Dr. John Edwards, vice president for Enrollment and Student Services, along with Dr. Paul Sale, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, greeted the nearly 100 guests and talked about the importance of creating a college-going culture among Valley students and their parents.
The renovated facility with nearly 4,000 square feet of space includes a class and conference room as well as a 25 station computer lab overseen by a full-time computer lab proctor. The lab is available for academic use by UTPA and Valley students and families to obtain college access information.
Fred Del Barrio, president of the Rio Grande Valley McDonald's Owner/Operators Association, said his group was proud of their contribution toward the initiative and its potential impact on the future.
"McDonald's founder Ray Kroc once said, 'When you're green, you are growing; when you are ripe you start to rot.' This is a project where all of us can stay green, keep growing and see our children look forward to a lifetime of educational possibilities," he said.
A project of the University's Department of College Access and Support Programs, the VOC, which has been in operation since 2004, supports the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board's College for Texans and Closing the Gaps campaigns by promoting high school completion, pre-college preparedness and college access and financial aid information through three primary programs.
Miriam Ochoa, a counselor at BETA Academy in Edinburg, attended the ceremony with some of her school's 30 G-Force members. She said her school's Go Center has increased parent involvement and with its emphasis on peer-to-peer mentoring, the students have taken a leadership role.
"They (students) are the doers and shakers. They are the ones that keep this going," she said.
Other VOC activities include an intervention program that focuses on seventh and eighth grade females and their mothers. The Mother Daughter Program provides personal growth and leadership skills while promoting higher education and career options. This past academic year, this program served 160 mother daughter teams in 16 schools located in eight different Valley school districts.
The VOC also develops and co-sponsors academic enrichment camps for pre-college age youth through its Pre-College Academic Programs. During this past summer, 600 rising ninth grade GEAR UP students participated in two weeks of the residential camps in 12 areas including clinical lab science, engineering, communication and geographic information systems, among others.
Edwards said he hoped this was the beginning of a great partnership with McDonald's.
"It takes all of us working together to create a better Valley, a better South Texas," he said.
For more information, call 956/292-7597 or go to the VOC Web site at http://voc.utpa.edu.