The Rio Grande Valley has changed quite a bit since alumnus Richard Garza (BBA '72) graduated. He returned to the area only three years ago toward the end of his long corporate career in the Dallas area with two major beer companies - Miller and Coors.
"Like a lot of young people then, I left the Valley ready to explore the world," said Garza, who became a major brewery representative when he was only 24 years old. "I stayed away for 36 years."
Garza, as well as many more Broncs, were given the opportunity to reconnect at The University of Texas-Pan American Alumni Association's Alumni Mixer and canned food drive event Dec. 20 at The Social Club in Edinburg.
About 300 UTPA alumni and friends celebrated the end of the year and showed their support for their community by donating hundreds of cans of food.
The event included cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, music, a photo booth and a silent auction that offered items including romantic dinners for two, a day at the spa and enough barbecue to satisfy a king. The Alumni Association also raffled off gift baskets to those in attendance.
Garza said his whole experience at then-Pan American University was very special.
"The kind of education we got back then with the amount of money that we paid was just ridiculous. I used to come to registration and sign up for 15 hours, at $8 an hour, that was $120 and my books were about $44," he said.
Charlotte Lloren (BS '08) traveled from Houston to reconnect with fellow Broncs.
"It's nice to see the various generations," said Lloren, who graduated with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and is now working as a software engineer for a fuel and gas company in Houston.
Lloren said the mixer was the first alumni event she attended since graduating.
Edinburg resident Tresha Pepito (BBA '07) attended the mixer to meet up with old friends before she moved to Hawaii in January for a new job.
Both Lloren and Pepito said they were active in clubs during their time at UT Pan American, which made their time at the University that much more enjoyable.
"I was trying to get other UTPA friends to come out," said Pepito, who earned her bachelor's degree in economics. "It's a fun event."
Cecilia Gonzalez (BA '12) also was appearing at her first event as a alumna. She was accompanied by her husband Daniel Chapa, a junior at UTPA majoring in electrical engineering. Gonzalez just graduated Dec. 15 with a certification to teach English and a minor in Spanish. The San Benito native hopes to teach English in a junior or senior high school.
"I want to come back to Pan Am and get my master's as well," she said. "I want to do college level and hopefully become a professor."
She said she felt it is important to stay involved with the University as an alum and liked that the event asked for a donation of a canned good.
"Every person has their own story and their own struggles," she said. "I think this (alumni association) is a great way to get the students united as a community and to know that certain people have gone through the same things that they have gone through. It's great to meet people here and hear their stories. There are people here from all walks of life but everyone here worked toward the same goals."
Alumni also heard from UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen, who updated them on The University of Texas System's plans to unify UTPA, UT Brownsville and the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen to create a larger, emerging research university and shared the good news of UTPA joining the Western Athletic Conference in all sports beginning July 1, 2013.
For more information on how to join the UTPA Alumni Association, call (956) 665-2500 or visit the Office of Alumni Relations website.
See more of the Alumni Mixer in this photo gallery.