In 1985 gas cost less than $2 a gallon, people made calls using pay phones, and The University of Texas-Pan American began a summer enrichment program that has inspired many middle and high school students like Zaragoza Briseño to pursue careers in science.
On Friday, July 23, the University celebrated the 25th anniversary of its Texas Prefreshmen Engineering Program (Tex PREP). The three-year, seven-week program for middle and high school students exposes them to careers related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) through hands-on activities. This year, 350 students from the Rio Grande Valley made bridges out of popsicle sticks, raced vehicles through mazes, among other activities.
Briseño, who attended the University's inaugural program and has gone on to work for AT&T and Johnson & Johnson, said while technology has changed over the years, the principles that led to the creation of new and improved devices have stayed the same, so it is important they learn as much as they can from school and programs such as Tex PREP.
He also encouraged them to surround themselves with good people who will encourage them to succeed.
"When you draw in the best people, it brings out the best in you," Briseño said.
UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen called Friday a special day and thanked students and their parents for participating in the program.
"It is because of the parents the children are here," Nelsen said. "Your children are going to be the leaders of this world."
Nelsen said that 99 percent of all students who have participated in Tex PREP have gone to college, whereas only 20 percent of all Valley students, 44 percent of Texas students and 61 percent of U.S. students have done the same.
"Think of how exceptional you are," he said.
Dr. Stephen Crown, professor of mechanical engineering and director of TexPREP, echoed Nelsen's sentiments.
"All I have to say is, 'Wow,'" Crown said.
UTPA officials also presented the first scholarship named after Dr. Miguel Paredes, the late UTPA math professor who led the Tex PREP program from the beginning until his death in 2007, to La Joya High School student Toribio Ramirez. Family members of Paredes were also present.
Ramirez, a 16-year-old entering his junior year, said he was honored to receive the $100 scholarship.
"It feels amazing," said Ramirez. "There are so many others here, in my opinion, who deserve this award as much as I do."
Ramirez said he plans to use the scholarship money to take some college classes next summer at UTPA.
To learn more about Tex PREP, visit www.utpa.edu/texprep.