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Students gain leadership skills at "Got Intelligence?" Summer Institute
Posted: 08/10/2009
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Forty academically top-ranking Rio Grande Valley high school students spent their days August 3-7 learning valuable new skills to apply in their future studies and careers during the third annual "Got Intelligence?" Summer Institute sponsored by the University of Texas-Pan American Integrated Global Knowledge and Understanding (IGkNU).

Sandra Huerta (left) and Denisse Vargas (right), both 10th grade students at IDEA Quest College Prep in McAllen, learn how to use GPS technology during the third annual IGkNU "Got Intelligence?" Summer Institute held Aug. 3-7 at UTPA.
Held on the UTPA campus, the institute is designed to educate students on concepts of national security and the Intelligence Community and incorporates activities where students learn basic skills required to utilize geospatial technologies, such as GPS (Global Positioning System) and GIS (Geographic Information Systems), and to enhance their writing, critical thinking and analytical skills.

According to IGkNU Program Coordinator Citlalli Garcia, the institute also aims to expose students to multiple disciplines and how they can be applied to face issues of national security in the United States.

"We expose them to information science, engineering, geology, geography, chemistry, biology, psychology, rehabilitation students and cross-cultural communications," she said. "IGkNU realizes that as the challenges of the new century unfold this multi-disciplinary approach to problem solving and analysis will be in higher demand by government agencies, private industry, consulting companies and think tanks. We want our students to be prepared to take leadership roles in these fields."

Institute attendance is cost-free to the participants, who are selected in a competitive application process based on GPA and letters of recommendation from high schools in school districts across the South Texas region.

"Got Intelligence?" Summer Institute participants Alec Silva (left) and Beatriz Medina (right), both 12th grade students at IDEA College Prep in Donna, learned more about the field of engineering as they teamed up to build a solar-powered car on the last day Aug. 7 of the third annual weeklong institute.
Relying on the training she received during the institute's first day on using a GPS unit, Med High School senior Aleyda Cantu Munoz, from Donna, joined in with others to play a high tech game of hide and seek, in which students used the GPS to locate a number of items hidden on campus.

"Today we learned how to manage the GPS. The teacher hid some items on campus and gave us coordinates so we could find them. We found a magnet behind a security post," said Munoz, who along with medicine also has an interest in an intelligence career. "I have read about it but here it is more in depth and detailed. It was very helpful to hear from actual Intelligence Community representatives."

Besides attending presentations on the agencies and job opportunities from Intelligence Community representatives, students also learned about different academic disciplines from UTPA faculty members and graduate students. In addition, students were able to investigate their career interests by taking a Meyers Briggs Test and to hear about the best practices on putting together a résumé.

Participants also got to apply their GIS skills in mapping water quality measurements from samples they took at locations ranging from nearby drainage ditches to the Rio Grande at Anzaldua Park in Mission, where they were able to meet with Border Patrol officers.

Roger and Anita Palmer, owners of Dallas-based GISetc: Educational Technology Consultants, who taught the students the GPS and GIS technology during the institute, said it's important for today's students to learn how to manage information.

"Students will be better able to understand the world of data and be able to bring it to something that is manageable or to see the patterns so they can take a lot of information and make something simple out of it," Roger Palmer said.

The institute's final day activities included a renewable energy engineering workshop, where the students designed and created their own solar-powered model cars and wind energy generators, which they subsequently competed against one another.

Dr. Constantine M. Tarawneh, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, looks on as Elizabeth Scoggin, an 11th grade student at Business Education and Technology Academy in Edinburg, tests her wind energy generator her team designed and built during a renewable energy engineering workshop held at this year's IGkNU "Got Intelligence?" Summer Institute.
As he worked with a team of two other students to put their solar-powered car together Robert Crumley, a junior at First Baptist School in Brownsville, said he appreciated the opportunity to come on campus and learn outside his high school environment.

"It was really cool to be able to meet and interact with several professionals from agencies around the country. I got more information through the week on different aspects of the Intelligence Community and how our nation uses intelligence to protect itself," Crumley said. "I also had a lot of fun using the GPS and GIS systems."

Although Munoz said she never had much interest in engineering, the institute's last day focus on having students create a solar-generated car made her think about the problems real engineers face.

"They have to think about the gears, the wheels, the body of the car, the shape of the car. I liked learning about the different fields," she said. "This program was such an eye-opener. You learn so many things."

Funded by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, IGkNU is a UTPA collaboration created to prepare students to be the next generation of leaders not only in national security and intelligence fields but also as global leaders at large. IGkNU's programs focus on advanced interdisciplinary studies, research, cross-discipline team communication and critical thinking skills and include curriculum in Global Security Studies and Leadership as well as curriculum development support, speakers series, research and grant support, foreign language and culture classes, and study abroad experiences for undergraduate students.

For more information on IGkNU, go to http://www.utpa.edu/igknu.