The University of Texas-Pan American honored the first graduates of its Master of Social Work program in Laredo with a hooding ceremony on Dec. 8 at Laredo Community College.
Five students, all from the Laredo area, comprised the first cohort of students to complete their graduate studies in social work through the University. They are expected to graduate during UTPA's Fall 2010 Commencement Dec. 18. A hooding ceremony is an event many colleges hold to honor their students who have completed their master's degree work. Faculty members place hoods worn on graduates to mark their educational achievement. The hoods - which are ornamental scarves - are worn by graduates as part of their academic regalia during commencement ceremonies.
The hooding ceremony was held before the graduation ceremonies to give those graduates time to celebrate in private with their loved ones, said Dr. Héctor Díaz, professor and chair of UTPA's Department of Social Work.
UTPA formed a partnership with the community college about two years ago to offer classes at the community college's campus and online. At the time the partnership began, the Laredo area had less than 10 social workers who had training at the master's level and Texas A&M International University, located in Laredo, shuttered the only social work program available in that region.
"This group of graduating students represents a clear example of what can be accomplished through good will, effective inter-institutional collaboration and the commitment of students to their professional and academic success," Díaz said.
UTPA also has a partnership with The University of Texas at Brownsville. There are about 19 students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate social work programs in Laredo and 16 students in Brownsville.
"We're meeting an educational need," Díaz said.
Students graduating from the program's first cohort said they are grateful for the opportunity UTPA provided them to continue their education without leaving home.
"I believe that continuing my education in social work is a great way of helping my clients while furthering my education," said Susana Villanueva, one of the students from Laredo who is graduating with a Master of Social Work degree this fall. "If it wasn't for them (UTPA and Laredo Community College) I wouldn't have been able to earn my master's degree."
As a working mother of three children, Sandra Selina Vazquez could not travel far for her education.
"Having the program available here made it possible to pursue my educational goals," said Vazquez, a Laredo resident.
Vazquez said she also appreciated having faculty available in Laredo in addition to the distance learning.
"Even though there was a learning curve involved, it became much easier when we were able to have someone here locally. Knowing that we had someone we could contact made a difference," she said.
UTPA's Fall Commencement will be held Dec. 18 at the McAllen Convention Center, 700 Convention Center Blvd. (near Ware Road and Expressway 83), McAllen, Texas.