The University of Texas-Pan American has formed its first development board to strengthen its relationship with the community and work together on improving the quality of life in South Texas.
The board, comprised of loyal and accomplished alumni and friends from the region, state and nation, had its first meeting Thursday, Aug. 16, at UTPA's Community Engagement and Student Success building, to discuss advancing the institution's goals for itself and the Rio Grande Valley. As one of the most respected volunteer organizations affiliated with UTPA, the board will serve as an advisory group to the president.
UT Pan American's vision is to be a premier institution of higher education and to serve the region's rapidly growing population. Next week, UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen will unveil the University's Strategic Plan that will set the goals and priorities of UTPA over the next 10 years.
"As the University rolls out its Strategic Plan, 'Bronc Country -- The Engaged University,' the establishment of a Development Board at UT Pan American takes on special importance. This board and its distinguished members will be critical in implementing and supporting the plan," Nelsen said. "I am deeply grateful that they will be joining with us on our quest to have a maximum, positive impact on the Valley and its residents."
With state funding steadily declining, private support has become even more vital for UT Pan American to continue to improve its programs, recruit students, retain excellent faculty, and enhance the future of the Valley. Currently, less than 30 percent of UTPA's budget is being provided by the state, compared to 60 percent in previous years. The severe budget cuts and the threat of additional cuts in this upcoming legislative session have led University administrators to take a hands-on approach to increase private gifts to the institution.
Veronica Gonzales, UTPA's vice president for University Advancement, said she hopes that the board will help tell the story of the University, its successes and its needs and that by working together, private donations to support research, scholarships, outreach programs and other University initiatives will grow.
"UTPA is striving to transform the Rio Grande Valley by providing a quality education to as many students as possible, but we cannot do it alone," Gonzales said. "We are thrilled to partner with members of our new development board, all well-respected individuals who are committed to education and to our students. Together, we will work to improve the lives of our students and the prosperity of our community."
Melissa Martinez-Smith, vice president of Frank Smith Toyota, was selected as one of the founding members of the board. She said she is excited to be part of Nelsen's vision for the University.
"I am very proud that we have UTPA in our area. It is a fine University. I think that Dr. Nelsen is doing a fabulous job in being innovative and progressive with his thinking and any way I can move UTPA forward to the next level, I'm thrilled to do," Martinez-Smith said.
Val LaMantia Peisen, partner in L&F Distributors, who was also tapped to serve on the board, said she is looking forward to uniting the community with the University to continue improving the Valley's educational opportunities and workforce.
"I really want to be part of this board because I think that education is extremely important, and if we raise the bar at our colleges, we raise the bar everywhere," LaMantia Peisen said. "Education has come a long way in the last 20 years, and as the quality of the education rises with UT Pan American and STC, so do the employers and our employees."
As an employer, LaMantia Peisen said she sees the value in education. L&F Distributors raises millions of dollars each year to benefit the STARS scholarship fund, of which a large portion supports scholarships for students attending UT Pan American.
The company also hires interns from the University and other area institutions to work in its information technology department. And L&F Distributors has several employees who are also continuing their education at UT Pan American and other schools, which the company supports, she said.
"It's very important that the business community get involved because we are the end user, and without a good, strong educational system, the business community lacks a professional and educated workforce," she said.
That is why the board will be charged with encouraging the community to become more involved with the University through serving on committees and other organizations and/or raising money, she said.
"I'd like to see our community, not just Edinburg, but all the communities, get more involved with the University and really understand what the University has to offer and how it can help this region," LaMantia Peisen said.
Daniel Martinez, a managing partner and CEO of one of the state's leading sales tax consultant companies, said he also welcomes the challenge of serving on the Development Board.
"I feel it is important so that the University can get ideas and opinions from different people and different parts of the state. I think that the goals would be to not only grow the University but make it better known throughout the country as a great place to study and get an education," Martinez said.
The board members will raise awareness throughout the community of the broad value and impact UTPA has on the local economy and will lend support to the president, deans and other administrators, to increase private donations to the institution and promote development goals.
The University has selected the following members and continues to identify more potential partners. Current members include:
• Daniel Martinez Jr., Richmond - CEO of Dan Martinez & Associates, L.P., State Tax Specialists
• Kirk A. Clark, McAllen - artist and owner of Charles Clark Chevrolet
• Carlos I. Garza, investor
• Cullen R. Looney, Edinburg - attorney at law
• Val LaMantia Peisen, McAllen - partner in L&F Distributors, one of the largest Anheuser-Busch distributors in the state
• Melissa Martinez-Smith, Mission - vice president of Frank Smith Toyota
• Sandra Gonzalez, McAllen - philanthropist and wife of Dr. Victor Gonzalez, a licensed ophthalmologist
• Josie Cappadona, Linn - UTPA Foundation International Women's Board (IWB) Executive Council member and past president
• Danny Gurwitz, McAllen - partner with Atlas, Hall, & Rodriguez LLP
• Joe Brown, McAllen - president and CEO of Border Capital Bank
• Jodi Hamer, McAllen - COO of Hamer Enterprises Inc., an accounting software company
• Elvia Saenz, McAllen - co-owner of Saenz Medical Pharmacy
• Jesus Saenz, McAllen - co-owner of Saenz Medical Pharmacy
• Renee Betancourt, Edinburg - attorney of Betancourt Law Firm and attorney representing the Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District
All partners will serve one three-year term with the option to be reappointed for an additional term.
For more information on the UTPA Development Board, contact the Division of University Advancement at (956) 665-5301.