"UTPA is here 4 u" was one of the text messages sent by The University of Texas-Pan American President Dr. Blandina Cárdenas to nearly 1,000 Rio Grande Valley GEAR UP students as she welcomed them to Student Leadership Day - the second day of the 2008 Hispanic Engineering, Science, Technology (HESTEC) Week at the campus.
"I've decided that if I want to communicate with you I've got to talk to you in your language," Cárdenas said as she was handed her cell phone from Bucky the Bronc, UTPA's mascot. As Cárdenas simulated typing, her audience of primarily 10th grade students was thrilled to see her messages in "text speak" appear overhead for all to read.
Pointing out that two trillion text messages will be sent in the world in 2008, she said in the past it was said that a person would need to be trilingual and be able to speak in English, Spanish and computer languages. Today, she said, it's Spanish, English, computer and text.
"By the time you are at UTPA we will probably be offering entire classes through Ipods. We are working on that already. Right now 14,000 of our 18,000 students at UTPA are taking part of their college work on the Web. What's next - how will your children be communicating?" she asked. "You have the chance to be a real leader, to shape the future. I want you to start thinking that you could be among the engineers, the scientists, technology experts and business people who will be creating these inventions of tomorrow. You just might be the one to come up with a next, better, high-tech form of communication."
Cárdenas encouraged the students to take advantage of and be inspired by the presentations, workshops and competitions planned for them throughout the day.
During Student Leadership Day, students heard from successful Hispanic scientists, corporate leaders, and educational leaders, among others, about a wide range of career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. The UTPA and Region One Education Service Center GEAR UP programs, the second and third largest GEAR UP grants respectively in the country, supported the day. GEAR UP is a national program designed to significantly increase the number of students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education.
"UTPA is here to help you make your dreams come true," she said. "We believe in you and in your promise and potential."
Bringing a circus clown's perspective to learning science, New York City entertainer Lisa Loo (actual name Lisa K. Lewis) amused and amazed the audience using magic tricks, illusions, juggling and plate and rope spinning to demonstrate some of basic scientific principles such as centripetal and centrifugal force, air pressure and gravity.
Loo is a graduate of the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Clown College and also has a degree from Brandeis University and a Master of Arts in clown/circus history from New York University. In addition, she is fluent in American Sign Language. She has entertained at many school and corporate events across the country and performed in such venues as the Michigan State Fair, Houston Rodeo, and Lincoln Center's Out of Doors, among others.
"You are going to see a huge variety of tricks. Some of them will be circus tricks, some of them will be magic tricks, but all of them can be explained by science," she said of her show "The Magic of Science."
Following a demonstration of balancing items as diverse as a peacock feather to a 10-foot ladder on one hand and conducting a stick balancing competition among two students from the audience, Loo explained how balancing items is one way to overcome gravity and not have an item fall.
"Everything has a center of gravity and most things can be balanced. Here are three things you need to know - hold your hand straight or your finger flat, always watch the top of the item being balanced and move your hand around to keep the bottom under the top," said Loo, who urged the students to practice and try out what they learned during her show on other family members at home.
Three students attending Student Leadership Day from Hannah High School in Brownsville - Amber Sanchez, Kayla Cantu and Vanessa Scott - indicated they were pleased with Loo's presentation.
"Her presentation was very creative and fun. I liked it," Sanchez said. "I didn't get bored."
Attending her first HESTEC, Cantu said it was a different way of learning how science works. Asked if she had an interest in science, she said, "now I do."
Scott, who already plans to be an ATF agent, said she knows she will need to study math and study science in school to achieve her career goal. She said she appreciated the sense of humor in Loo's show.
"She was really funny and it made us enjoy the presentation and learn better," she said.
Region One GEAR UP specialist Rita Cedillo, who accompanied students to the event, said GEAR UP's involvement in HESTEC helps to interest the students in science and math and encourage them to stay in school, graduate and enter higher education.
"I really enjoyed the president's texting because it is so true. She got the kids attention and the kids were able to relate with her. She showed it can be used for their benefit and not just be a distraction. With Lisa Loo, she showed how to use magic in science. The kids were engaged and really enjoyed it. If she had asked how many want to go to a clown university I think we would have had a lot interested. But as a long as they want to get a career and remain focused, that is what we (GEAR UP) want," she said.
Students also attended various breakout sessions by such esteemed companies as Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, Ford and Raytheon, among others.
In the Raytheon presentation, titled "Math Moves U," students played an interactive game with Raytheon employees and engineers Juan Bazan, Yvonne Pena, Julio Brenes, and Sarah Penfield.
"We've created this program - Math Moves U - to get students more excited about math. I know math has a reputation of being kind of boring, but we're going to make it fun," Penfield said. "You need math in all different parts of your life and for all different careers, whether you're interested in music, fashion or sports."
The interactive game where students teamed up with Raytheon engineers to battle it out for prizes featured challenging mathematical word problems, as well as questions about pop culture. Penfield told students they could continue to challenge themselves by visiting the Math Moves U Web site at www.mathmovesu.com.
Charisma Rodriguez, a 15 year old from Hanna High School in Brownsville, said this was her third time coming to HESTEC and she enjoyed the breakout session by Raytheon.
"I thought the game was pretty fun," Rodriguez said. "Usually they are lectures, so it was nice to get to participate in something that was interactive. Math is always fun, it's just always hard for me to grasp the concept and the theory."
Juan Marquez, a sophomore from Mission High School, said it was his first time attending HESTEC, and he thought the event was awesome, especially for someone who likes math and science as much as himself.
"I love science and math so when I came to this session I wanted to participate and learn, not sit in the back," Marquez said. "Today's game showed me that there is so much more that I can learn about math."
Student Leadership Day ended with a high-energy motivational presentation by keynote speaker Aric Bostick, who is best known as "Mr. Enthusiasm!" and for his ability to ignite a passion in students to start living their dreams.
Bostick, a former speech teacher and graduate of Texas State University, shared with students his personal story and talked about how he decided to become a motivational speaker and make a difference in young lives.
"Living your dream is a decision. It is about deciding that what you want is possible, and not just talking about it, but doing something about it," Bostick said. "They have identified you as leaders in life, and leadership is not a position it is an action. It is never what you say it is what you do."
Bostick told students to always be excited about their lives and about who they are, even when they feel like the entire world is against them. He also asked the audience not to be afraid of change in their lives.
"A lot of people don't realize that change is a decision. It is the moment that you decide that my life is going to be different starting today. Don't wait until your senior year to start thinking about what college you are going to go to, or what you want to do when you grow up," Bostick said.
HESTEC 2008 continues Wednesday, Sept. 24 with Latinas Day at the UTPA Fieldhouse. For more information on HESTEC, visit www.hestec.org or call 956/381-3361.