UTPA teams with STARS to provide scholarships for students
Posted: 10/17/2011
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Cynthia Tran says her desire to become a doctor stems from her interest in science and the complexity of the human body.

UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen, pictured left, stands with The University of Texas at Brownsville President Juliet Garcia, South Texas College President Shirley Reed and L&F Distributors owner and STARS founder Joe LaMantia Jr. to promote the scholarship's upcoming fundraiser.

But the senior studying biology and biochemistry at The University of Texas-Pan American has a more important reason in mind for pursuing a degree in medicine. "I believe medicine is a field in which a physician is able to help someone by caring for them in the most intimate way possible," she said.

Tran, whose parents are immigrants from Vietnam but now live in Corpus Christi, is a STARS (South Texas Academic Rising Scholars) scholarship recipient at UT Pan American. For her, the scholarship has helped alleviate the burden on her and her parents of funding her education and allowed her to focus on her studies without taking an outside job.

"Generosity from the donors means much more to student and families than monetary assistance. It helps students to remain focused and motivated to do well in school," said Tran, an honors program student. "Additionally, selection for a scholarship helps students and their families realize that success and education is possible for anyone, regardless of socioeconomic status."

The STARS program was founded in 2002 by Joe LaMantia Jr., owner of L&F Distributors in McAllen, with the goal of making higher education accessible to the students of South Texas and to allow them to attend the college or university of their choice. Based on grassroots support from businesses, organizations and individuals, the nonprofit STARS Scholarship Foundation of South Texas, whose board LaMantia currently chairs, has assisted nearly 8,000 deserving students to obtain their dream of higher education.

In 2005, UT Pan American joined the STARS Matching Program in which the University provides $100,000 to be matched by the STARS Foundation making available $200,000 to help meet the financial needs of qualified students to attend UTPA. To date, more than 980 STARS scholarships totaling more than $1.6 million have been awarded to UTPA students. A long list of South Texas higher education institutions participate in the STARS Matching Program to help maximize scholarships available to students who want to attend their school.

"For many of our students these scholarships may be the difference of whether or not they are able obtain a college degree," said Dr. Martha Cantu, acting vice president for Student Affairs at UTPA. "It is caring individuals like Mr. LaMantia that really do make the dream of a college education a reality for many Rio Grande Valley students. He is to be commended and is deeply appreciated and the reaffirmation of UT Pan American to match the $100,000 only makes our partnership stronger."

On Nov. 3, 2011 the STARS Foundation will host its 2011 Rio Grande Valley STARS Extravaganza, a premier entertainment event brought to the area by event sponsors whose contributions go toward STARS scholarships. This year, the extravaganza will feature the six time Grammy award-winning trio Lady Antebellum in concert at the State Farm Arena in Hidalgo. Past STARS concerts have featured such artists as Martina McBride, Sugarland, Toby Keith and Brad Paisley.

Because of support given to STARS in 2010, the foundation was able to provide more than $2 million in scholarships for this academic year.

The STARS scholarship is helping UT Pan American graduate student Daisy Solis, 23, to achieve her goal of working in the federal government's intelligence community, which includes the FBI, CIA and DEA, among other agencies.

"I've always wanted a work in a special agent type of career," said Solis, who is the first to graduate from college in her family.

Solis received the STARS scholarship two years in a row, the first time in her senior year at the University of Texas at Brownsville, where in May 2010 she earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice and an associate's degree in forensics investigation. At UTPA, the STARS scholarship she received last year helped her as she pursues a master's degree in interdisciplinary studies with a concentration in global security studies and leadership.

"It really helped me with resources I need for my classes. As a grad student I had to rely on loans to pay for my tuition and with the STARS scholarship I didn't have to get as much of a loan," said Solis, who also works on campus with the Mother-Daughter outreach program.

Solis said having access to scholarships like STARS makes students want to achieve its academic requirements so they can apply and helps to ease students' financial worries.

"When you don't have that financial stability you stress out. I am a worry wart and if I have too much on my mind I can't concentrate on my studies. It eases the process of getting everything done on time," she said. "STARS is a great organization for what they do for the students around here.

Tickets for Lady Antebellum Live are available at the Ticketmaster website and outlets, at the box office or by phone at 800-745-3000. For more information on STARS, contact or go to their website.