The road to a higher education has not always been easy for Brenda Lee Treviño. She enrolled in college after graduating from Roma High School, but soon made other issues her priority and stopped attending. However, her life changed when she became a mother.
"It wasn't until I married and gave birth to a beautiful daughter that I realized that earning a degree was the only opportunity I had to provide a good life for my daughter and be a good role model for her," she said.
Treviño was able to balance her full-time job, family and education by attending classes at The University of Texas-Pan American's temporary Starr County Upper-Level Center, which held an official groundbreaking ceremony Thursday, Oct. 15 for its new permanent facility located at 142 FM 3167, next to South Texas College's Starr County campus.
"It has been difficult for me, but with my family's support and UTPA being close to home, I have been able to manage my time and fulfill my dreams of becoming an educator. Aside from STC, UTPA has been the only university, who has opened their doors to students who encounter obstacles similar to mine," Treviño, who will graduate with a bachelor's in interdisciplinary studies and minor in bilingual education from UTPA in December, said.
When complete, this structure will provide students in the western Rio Grande Valley with a state-of-the-art educational center. The new building will have approximately 21,000 square feet of computer labs, classrooms, office space, math and science labs, smart or technology-enhanced classrooms and a resource center. UTPA's temporary center in Rio Grande City consists of four portable buildings with a total area of approximately 2,000 square feet.
"With the construction of this new facility we will be able to expand career opportunities for more Starr County residents," UTPA Interim President Charles A. Sorber said. "We will have expanded hours and we'll have expanded space for more classes. Technology will help make this dream a reality and will bring distance learning opportunities to the students."
STC President Dr. Shirley Reed also spoke at the groundbreaking and told attendees that she was proud to see two higher education institutions in a spot that was once a cantaloupe field 16 years ago.
"We are looking forward to a long-term partnership with UTPA," Reed said.
State Senator Judith Zaffirini (D-TX) said it was a struggle to secure the funding for the facility, but she was excited about the success after so many years.
"Today we celebrate this wonderful Starr County Upper-Level Center. It's not only a time to look to the past and acknowledge everyone who made a difference, but to look to the future at what we are going to do next," Zaffirini said. "We must ensure that the residents of Rio Grande City and the residents of every county nearby have access to associate's, bachelor's, graduate and professional degrees."
State Representative Ryan Guillen (D-TX) said the need for education is fundamental for all societies and that is why he and others work to provide the finest educational opportunities possible.
"This campus here in Starr County is a milestone that will continue to touch the future of our community. The economic and social impact of this campus will bring tremendous change to Starr County," Guillen said. "Our local students will make this campus their higher educational home. The vast majority of those who earn their degree here will stay here and help our community grow and prosper. They will shape the future."
Also in attendance was former State Representative Roberto Gutierrez of McAllen, who filed the legislation in 2001 granting the authority for UTPA to establish the Starr County Upper-Level Center.
Starr County Judge Eloy Vera and the county commissioner's court presented a check for $100,000 that will be used toward the construction of the new facility.
Each semester, more than 100 students take classes at the center which offers 14 undergraduate and two graduate classes in the areas of education, social and behavioral sciences, and arts and humanities.
UTPA has had a presence in Starr County since 1976 when education courses were first offered in Ro Grande City. It now offers undergraduate programs in EC-4 bilingual and generalist for education majors, criminal justice, and master's-level courses in educational leadership and reading. Additionally, interdisciplinary courses are offered in history, English and anthropology. There are plans to expand the course offerings once construction on the new facility is complete, particularly in nursing and business.
Construction materials for the new facility will also be purchased locally, most from within a 500-mile radius of the building site. The facility is also unique in that it will be constructed using green or sustainable methods. The landscape was designed to be water efficient and the roof will feature a highly reflective membrane to reduce the overall size of the mechanical system. Indoor and outdoor air monitoring devices will control the air quality in the facility and natural daylight will fill more than 90 percent of the occupied spaces.
For more information about UTPA's Starr County Upper-Level Center, call 956/488-0082.