Coca-Cola invests $750,000 in UTPA academics and athletics
Posted: 06/05/2012
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The University of Texas-Pan American will be able to help more Broncs achieve their dreams of becoming the first in their families to graduate from college, thanks to The Coca-Cola Foundation.

The University of Texas-Pan American received two major gifts June 5 from Coca-Cola. The Coca-Cola Foundation awarded The University of Texas-Pan American Foundation $500,000 for scholarships for first-generation college students and Coca-Cola Refreshments gave $250,000 to UTPA Athletics for a video board to be installed in the UTPA Fieldhouse. Pictured from left to right are: Velinda Reyes, UTPA director of corporate and foundation relations; Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, UTPA provost and vice president for Academic Affairs; Lydia Aleman, UTPA associate vice president for University Advancement; Dr. Kenneth Buckman, UTPA associate provost for the Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning; Dr. Robert S. Nelsen, UTPA president; UTPA Mascot Bucky Bronc; UTPA student Yamely Jahzel Barrios; Luis Rivera, Coca-Cola San Antonio/Austin vice president of sales operations; Carlos Ramos, Coca-Cola regional customer care director; and Chris King, UTPA director of Athletics.

The Coca-Cola Foundation has awarded The University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA) Foundation a grant for $500,000 - payable over four years - for the Coca-Cola First Generation Scholars Program. The UTPA Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the University through fund raising and other charitable contributions.

In addition to the scholarships, Coca-Cola Refreshments also showed its generosity to UTPA by providing for a $250,000 video board to be installed in the UTPA Fieldhouse this summer.

During a news conference June 5 on campus announcing the investment, UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen said he is grateful to The Coca-Cola Foundation's commitment to the University and Rio Grande Valley students. He joked that the contributions of Coca-Cola Refreshments and the Coca-Cola Foundation made every Dasani water and Diet Coke he ever drank worthwhile.

"These scholarships are going to go to first generation students, students whose parents never went to college, who never had that opportunity," Nelsen said. "Every child we help, every student we help, every first-generation student is one less family that will be in poverty, one more family that will lift this Valley and help us in all ways. Coca-Cola Foundation and Coca-Cola know that and they're willing to reach out and help."

Nelsen was joined by Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, UTPA provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, as well as Valley natives and UTPA alumni Carlos Ramos and Luis Rivera, who both represent Coca-Cola Refreshments, in making the announcement.

Those who attended the press conference also heard from Yamely Jahzel Barrios, a junior at UTPA who is a University Scholar, who spoke about the benefits of receiving a renewable scholarship.

Barrios, who graduated from La Joya High School in 2010 and will graduate from UTPA in May 2014 with a bachelor's degree in business administration and a Master of Science in Accounting, said that receiving a renewable scholarship similar to the Coca-Cola First Generation Scholarship relieved the financial burden from her and her family on paying for school and allowed her to focus on her studies.

"My story is just one of the many you will find here in the Rio Grande Valley," said Barrios, who serves as president of UTPA's Accounting Society. "There are students who don't have the external motivation, but have the internal motivation to go out there and succeed, and the fact that you are supporting us with the means to receive higher education is outstanding. On behalf of the student body here in Bronc Country, I would like to thank you. We appreciate your generosity immensely."

Ramos, a Coca-Cola regional customer care director who earned his bachelor's degree from the University in 1984, said he knows firsthand the importance of scholarships to college students. Ramos received a scholarship to attend then-Pan American University.

"It made me feel like somebody knew about me and believed in me," he said. "That scholarship made me feel worthy of this."

Rivera, Coca-Cola's San Antonio/Austin vice president of sales operations who earned his bachelor's degree in 1974 and master's degree in 1982 from the institution, said his experience at the University helped guide his career growth.

"The purpose of our grants is to help local communities build better futures, whether they are advancing education and health or sustaining the environment for generations to come," Rivera said. "Organizations like The University of Texas-Pan American truly deserve our assistance and I am very proud to contribute to these efforts."

The Coca-Cola First Generation Scholarship program has given more than $23 million in scholarships to support first-generation college students. The program has reached more than 2,000 students at about 450 campuses throughout the country, according to the company's website.

Rudy Beserra, vice president for Latin Affairs for Coca-Cola Refreshments who serves on The Coca-Cola Foundation and The UTPA Foundation, called the partnership between the beverage giant and the University a great fit.

"Coca-Cola Refreshments is proud of the relationship and association we have with UTPA," Beserra said. "Coca-Cola prides itself in aligning itself with respected Latino brands and there is no better respected brand than UTPA in the Latino community, especially in South Texas. This is just part of the process of making UTPA not only a local, but a national and global destination."

Beserra added that Coca-Cola is committed to supporting Latino communities, including making sure more Latinos graduate from college.

"I feel blessed to work for a corporation that truly gets it," he said. "That's what we pride ourselves in, not only do we want to be a good corporate citizen but we invest in communities, which we really care about, and we really care about this part of Texas and we see growth potential in the students and the community."

Starting in the Fall 2012 semester, scholarships will be made available to entering freshmen who are the first in their immediate families to attend college. To be eligible, applicants must have a 3.0 grade point average and maintain a 2.8 grade point average throughout college. The scholarship is renewable for up to four years and will offer up to $6,000 per recipient each year.

UT Pan American Division of Student Affairs, through the Scholarship Office, will screen applicants, and develop an application process with the Division of Academic Affairs and its Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning, which will oversee the program.

UTPA expects to have 1,500 incoming freshmen who qualify as first-generation students. The program will have five students per cohort per year.

Scholarship recipients will have access to services the University provides, including tutoring, mentoring, career advisement and community resources such as information on child care, financial assistance programs and employment and internship opportunities.

Students will also receive mentorship and tutoring from retired faculty members who are a part of the UT Pan American Retirees Association.

The video board - which is the largest in the Rio Grande Valley at 34.45 feet by 11.81 feet, including two 6-foot by 2.5-foot and 12-foot by 2.5-foot sponsor panels - will show live action and fans, instant replays, highlights, commercials, live stats and more.

"We want to thank Coca-Cola Refreshments for making this possible," UTPA Director of Athletics Chris King said. "This video board is a major upgrade to our facility and will help to enhance the experience for our fans, student-athletes and coaches at our home volleyball and basketball games. It will also serve as a great recruiting tool for our coaches."

The scholarship program and video board are the latest contributions from Coca-Cola Refreshments. In 2001, Coca-Cola Refreshments and foundation gave UTPA a $100,000 gift that provided initial funding for UT Pan American's highly successful University Scholars program.