Nelsen touts UTPA's solid foundation for transition to new University in convocation speech
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Posted: 08/20/2013
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The University of Texas-Pan American President Robert S. Nelsen began his convocation speech today with breaking news.

Members of UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen's cabinet listen as he addresses the Univeristy in his 2013 Convocation speech Aug. 20.
"We have a news flash. As of yesterday, we became a doctoral serving University," he said to loud applause. "For so many years we have been a comprehensive university and that is O.K. But that means even before the new University arrives, that we have arrived, that Pan Am has arrived," he said.

Nelsen praised the many accomplishments during his four years at Pan American made possible by the students and alumni, staff and faculty. He described the exemplary building renovations, modernized processes, reaccreditation of programs, increased research commercialization and improved athletics and financial standings as great acheivements. He also cited increased enrollment that could take the University, for the first time, to 20,000 students.

"Yes, we have a very solid foundation for the new University," he said to faculty, staff and students who gathered in the Student Union Theater and those who viewed online.

The merger of UTPA and the University of Texas at Brownsville, allowing for the first time for those institutions to have access to The University of Texas System's Permanent University Fund, will transform the Valley, he said, and thanked the Valley legislators, UT System Board of Regents Chair Gene Powell and UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa for their roles in making it happen. Nelsen then reviewed the 15 Goals/Guiding Principles for the new University presented at UT System's Project South Texas website and what they mean.

"They are important - they are going to help in defining the new University," he said.

Nelsen also reviewed the new University's transformation timeline over the next two years. It ends at August 2015 when the New University's inaugural class will enroll. The medical school, which will serve about 200 students a year, will mean 350 to 375 more doctors in 10 years for the medically underserved region, Nelsen said, but will require $30 million to $40 million a year to meet its expected budget.

"I am not an economist, but if we can move our University from a deficit to where we are now I'm not worried about that in the future at all. What I am is a believer and I'm a dreamer. When I came to the Valley I never thought that PUF would ever come here. Now I'm dreaming and believing in a new $98 million dollar Science building and a new $46 million dollar Business Administration Building," he said. "A 'Field of Dreams,' that's the Valley."

UTPA Physical Plant employees show their Bronc Pride at a reception held following President Robert S. Nelsen's 2013 Convocation speech Aug. 20. Nelsen praised the Physical Plant staff for renovating old buildings the University acquired into a community engagement center, a visual arts building and an alumni center.
Nelsen also reiterated the University's core purpose of ensuring students are receiving an excellent education and not dropping out of school. To that purpose, he cited specific initiatives undertaken by the University divisions over the next year to reduce their time to a degree and improve retention. Those initiatives include a new University College, a Center for Excellence in Teaching, and the implementation of a new nearly $700,000 Department of Education grant to increase success by Hispanic students. Divisional strategic goals are also underway to improve student advising and recruitment, streamline registration and payment processes and increase student engagement and experiential learning experiences.

"We cannot get lost in our dreams. I still believe that our core purpose is to graduate as many students as we can, as quickly as we can, with the very best education we can provide them," he said.

The convocation ended with a question and answer session of submitted questions during which he asked the University community to stay positive and look forward to all the great things the new University will do for the Valley and its children.

"Let's put the new University in our hearts," he said.

Following the convocation speech, Aaron Barreiro, a junior and the Student Government Association president, said he is excited about being part of history and seeing the creation of new opportunities in higher education for students.

"So many opportunities are being provided here that leaving doesn't have to be an option anymore," he said.

Faculty Senate chair Tom White, associate professor of criminal justice, said although there is uncertainty with the merger, it will be exciting to see how the two universities will meld into one. Another faculty member, Dr. Javier Kypuros, presidential fellow and associate professor of mechanical engineering, said he appreciated how Nelsen was frank and forthcoming with the faculty and staff while remaining positive about the coming changes. He encouraged faculty to start collaborating with faculty in Brownsville on their programs and organizations.

"I hope people focus on the opportunity and not on the challenges," he said.

Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities Dr. Dahlia Guerra called the merger a huge undertaking but said she was inspired by Nelsen's leadership.

"I love the way the president puts everything into perspective. He inspires us all to look toward the future and perhaps to not lament so much about what we are losing but to concentrate on what we are gaining for our community and for our students," she said.

For more information on the New University see the Project South Texas website at