For the past 25 years, the Texas Prefreshman Engineering Program (Tex Prep) held each summer at The University of Texas-Pan American has promoted the fields of science, math and engineering to middle and high school students.
This summer 360 Rio Grande Valley Tex Prep students will learn from two of the program's alumni, both now teachers at area high schools and Tex Prep instructors.
Completing the Tex Prep program in high school was an achievement that led to success for Luis Quiroz and Arnoldo Salinas. Both men graduated from UTPA with a bachelor's in mathematics. Quiroz is a geometry teacher at Donna High School and Salinas is a math teacher at La Joya Senior High School. They agree that participating in Tex Prep was a definite motivation in pursuing their math degrees.
As result of his participation in the program, Salinas also had the opportunity to meet the late Dr. Miguel Paredes, UTPA math professor and Tex Prep director, who hired him as a tutor while working toward his bachelor's degree.
"The job involved tutoring, piquing my interests in working with students, as I do now with Tex Prep," Salinas said.
Tex Prep, in addition to its educational benefits, also gives students the opportunity to meet students from other Rio Grande Valley schools. Quiroz and Salinas said that the memories they remember the most are about meeting new people.
The impact the program had on both men is what encouraged them to return to Tex Prep as instructors who can share their experiences and make a difference in students' lives.
"This program is a program that will make a difference in your future and will open your eyes," Quiroz said.
The Tex Prep program, open to middle and high school students, is a three-year, seven-week program that exposes them to the demands of science, technology, engineering and mathematical fields by allowing them hands-on experience with activities and projects. This summer students are building mouse trap carts, kites, popsicle bridges, water bottle rockets and egg drop devices.
At UTPA, students also have the opportunity to participate in a year-round program allowing them to prepare for a "Mega Project." The project varies by year, but this year students have been supplied with robots to re-program, preparing them for a robot dance competition.
Dr. Stephen Crown, UTPA mechanical engineering professor and Tex Prep director, said with technology constantly changing, science, math and engineering programs have grown, making it necessary for students to obtain skills that will allow them to hit the ground running when they enter college.
"It's critical that these students come in prepared...and know what they want to study," Crown said. "It's important that they get the best chance they can get to be successful, and this program prepares them for that."
Crown said that the involvement in Tex Prep plays a key role in the number of students that go to college. Approximately 100 percent of those involved in Tex Prep graduate from high school, 90 percent attend college and 85 percent receive a bachelor's degree.
Humberto Muñoz, a freshman entering the Science Academy of South Texas, is attending Tex Prep this summer for the first time and is already thinking beyond his high school graduation in 2014. He said he hopes to earn a bachelor's degree in either math or a computer-related field.
"Math and computers have always been an interest and my mom has sacrificed a lot to make sure that I advance," Muñoz said. "So I'll probably get my bachelor's and aim higher."
Muñoz said that Tex Prep has made his decisions about his future career interests easier and is grateful for the experience. He has enjoyed being on the UTPA campus, where he plans to attend after high school graduation. Muñoz will be participating in UTPA's dual enrollment program in mathematics during high school.
Alex Hinojosa, an eighth grader at Cantu Junior High School in Mission, has similar interests in math and science and aims high to achieve his goals.
"I came to Tex Prep to learn advanced subjects that will get me ahead," Hinojosa said. "Now that I've experienced the college life here and have enjoyed it, I'll probably come back to UTPA for college."
Hinojosa said he is learning a lot from Salinas and Quiroz and finds it fascinating that they are now teaching students who are in the same place they were at one point.
"They achieved what they wanted to achieve with Tex Prep, and that is what we all should do," Hinojosa said.
For more information on Tex Prep, call the Tex Prep office at 956/381-3634 or visit www.utpa.edu/texprep.