The University of Texas-Pan American honored its valued relationships with other countries of the Americas during its annual weeklong celebration April 11-15 of Pan American Days hosted by the Office of International Programs (OIP).
A luncheon of the Pan American Round Table kicked off the week April 11 with a focus on the organization's scholarship support to students and the friendship and understanding it promotes among nations.
In his welcome to Round Table members, UTPA Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, told them how important they are to the University and the community.
"With your support of our incoming UTPA freshmen with scholarships, you send out a great message to our border communities that we must continue to work together to further our knowledge, our understanding and partnership between the peoples of the Americas," he said.
The Pan American Round Table is a nonprofit women's organization with member tables at the local, state and international levels. In Texas alone, there are 109 tables, including seven in the Rio Grande Valley: Alamo-San Juan-Pharr, Brownsville I, Brownsville II, Edinburg, McAllen, Rio Grande City-Roma and San Benito.
"We come together in friendship to gain knowledge and understanding among the members of tables throughout the United States, Canada, and many Latin American countries," said Lilly Tórrez, past McAllen Round Table director and past Area C Pan American Round Table director.
Tórrez, a retired UTPA librarian, said there are many former educators and community leaders in the Valley tables who meet to enjoy programs on the Western Hemisphere countries, social events and also attend a yearly convention and biennial alliance convention.
She said the organization also provides thousands of dollars in scholarships to deserving female students, with each Roundtable offering a different number of scholarships, amounts and criteria to qualify. From the local Edinburg and McAllen Round Tables alone, close to $50,000 in scholarships has been awarded to students in the past five years.
Dr. Yvonne Quintanilla, OIP director, said besides significant support for scholarships the Round Table members have proved to be invaluable contacts to help establish international partnerships with other universities in the Americas, most recently helping to initiate a travel abroad opportunity in Argentina for three UTPA students.
"It is a beautiful organization. We've met personally all these women from other countries and we keep up with what's going on there. One-on-one is such an important way of knowing people, it really promotes a lot of understanding," Tórrez said.
During the week, faculty members from a number of UTPA's colleges also offered daily presentations on their research ranging from identifying factors for vitamin D deficiency in Hispanics to the environmental crisis in the Gulf of Mexico. The University also welcomed renowned artist Anna Nicholson from Puerto Rico who conducted workshops for University students and had her artwork on display at the Charles and Dorothy Clark Art Gallery on campus.
On April 12, Alma de la Garza, member of the Pan American Round Table and UTPA's International Women's Board, moderated a ceremony to present the 2011 Provost Awards for Pan American Studies. The awards are given to an outstanding faculty member in each of UTPA's colleges who excel in their disciplines while promoting Latin America and the Americas through their teaching, research and service.
The following were presented with the annual award by Provost Rodríguez: Dr. Robert Bradley, Department of Art, College of Arts and Humanities; Dr. John Sargent, Department of Management, College of Business Administration; Dr. Jenifer Joy Esquirdo, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, College of Education; Dr. Sandra Hansmann, Department of Rehabilitation, College of Health Sciences and Human Services; Dr. Kenneth Summy, Department of Biology, College of Science and Mathematics; and Dr. Dejun Su, Department of Sociology, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Due to the split in the College of Science and Engineering in fall 2010 into the Colleges of Science and Mathematics and the College of Engineering and Computer Science, the latter college did not have an honoree this year.
During the week's final day, visiting scholars at the University from countries across the world were honored and entertained by UTPA mariachi members at a Scholar Tea in the Clark Gallery. Current scholars, including two from the prestigious Fulbright Scholar program, are from China, India, Mexico, Turkey, Brazil and New Zealand. While here, the scholars participate in research and/or teach with University faculty and work with students and staff.
President Robert S. Nelsen told those gathered that we all become smarter, more tolerant and better human beings from the shared cultural experience that hosting visiting scholars provides.
"Thank you for coming. Thank you for bringing your knowledge. Thank you for being a part of us," he told the honored guests.
Mrs. Dicle Yurdakul Sahin is ending her approximate four-month stay as a visiting scholar at the end of the month before she heads to the University of Rhode Island for an additional 30 days. The graduate student at Izmir University of Economics in Izmir, Turkey has been working on her doctoral thesis research regarding consumer behavior with Dr. Fuat Firat, professor of marketing, whom she met at a conference last June in the United Kingdom.
"I did not experience the culture shock I was expecting because the people are very friendly here," she said. "I did not feel like a stranger here."
Sahin said she enjoyed the Valley's mixture of cultures and its food and music. She said the University's campus far exceeded her expectations giving her many opportunities to interact with not only faculty but graduate and other students, whom she found filled with "energy."
"The sharing of knowledge and different points of view really broadened my perspective and this is what I really enjoyed most during my visit here," Sahin said. "I feel much more tolerant. I don't think there is just a black and white now. I needed to see the gray. It has been a great experience."
Rodríguez said the visiting scholars program is important because it brings new cultural perspectives to the University and allows the interaction with a number of countries to enrich the culture, values and students' knowledge about the world.
Quintanilla, whose office coordinated the week's events, said Pan American Days has become a valued UTPA tradition.
"It is an event where our students, faculty, staff and community come together to celebrate our University's global milestones and its enduring partnerships with the Americas," she said.
For more information on Pan American Days or the Office of International Programs, visit their website.