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UTPA student team competes nationally to raise awareness about national debt
Posted: 02/05/2014
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UPDATE: The link to the UTPA Up to Us video has been changed. Please view their You Tube video at this link and help our UTPA students raise awareness and win this challenging competition.

A trillion dollar bills laid end to end would reach the sun. Now imagine the distance you will travel to lay out more than 17 trillion dollar bills - that is the amount of the U.S. long term national debt, which increases by an average of $2.52 billion per day.

The UTPA Up to Us competition team will be measured on their awareness campaign about the national debt until Feb. 21. Pictured left to right are Dr. James Bourdreau, assistant professor of economics and team adviser, and team members Christopher Villarreal, Fabiola Urgel, Edna Pulido, Luis Basurto and Carlos Aguayo.
A group of passionate students at The University of Texas-Pan American want their community - young and old - to learn more about this issue critical to their and the nation's future.

"We live in one of the lowest income areas of the country. We are aware that a problem exists and feel a responsibility to inform people about the national debt and how to manage their personal finances," said Fabiola Urgel, a junior majoring in economics. "We want to prove that our generation cares about the current situation that harms our economy and our country."

Urgel is a member of a five-person student team - all members of UTPA's Economics Society student organization -that was selected last fall among 23 other college and university teams to participate in the "Up to Us" competition, a partnership between the Clinton Global Initiative University, Net Impact, and the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. Its challenge: to create greater awareness and engagement on their campus and in the community regarding America's growing debt and how it impacts future economic opportunities and investments as well as to spur action toward solutions.

"Up to Us provides the perfect opportunity to educate our community and make them aware of the fact that every decision that the government makes in regards with spending will affect them, maybe not today but in the near future," said Urgel, who is UTPA's Up to Us team leader. Other participating schools include the University of Texas at Austin, Duke University, University of California, Berkeley, and George Washington University, among other top higher education institutions.

UTPA's team was selected among more than 100 applicants based on the proposal it submitted on why the team wanted to participate and what the team's approach would be to inform and engage the campus and community. The team's efforts to raise awareness about fiscal and economic issues will be measured and assessed from Jan. 21 to Feb. 21 by Up to Us organizers and a judging panel. The winning team will receive $10,000 and the opportunity to meet former President Bill Clinton, the founder of the CGI University.

Other team members - all economics majors - include Luis Basurto, Christopher Villarreal, Carlos Aguayo and Edna Pulido. The team's adviser Dr. James Boudreau, assistant professor in the Department of Economics and Finance, said he heard about the contest from a colleague and thought it would be good project for the Economics Society to participate in.

"UTPA's Economics Society is a campus organization dedicated to the study of economics. Given that the national debt issue has several macroeconomic causes and implications, it seemed natural that the students would be interested. I asked them and they were," Boudreau said.

State Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa (right) was one of the speakers at the UTPA Up to Us campaign's inaugural event Jan. 24. Other speakers included Dean of the College of Business Administration Dr. Teofilo Ozuna, Student Government Association President Aaron Barreiro, and Vice President for Academic Affairs/Provost Dr. Havidán Rodríguez. The UTPA student team is competing with 23 other universities for a $10,000 prize based on views of a You Tube video the team created and the number of visitors to a Facebook Up to Us quiz on the national debt.
At the campaign's inaugural event Jan. 24, State Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa joined other campus leaders and Up to Us team members who spoke before a crowd of students from UTPA and the Business, Education & Technology Academy (BETA) in Edinburg.

Hinojosa described the role of taxes and borrowing on the national debt as well as his concerns about the growing gap between the wealthy and working class families.

"At the federal level the issues are very partisan ... one that we are grappling and wrestling with. There is always a fight between raising taxes to support government and running huge deficits. We need to look at government and look at services we need and those we do not need," said Hinojosa, who also described the budget process in Texas and impact of tools such as bonds used to finance projects in the state. "You need to stay involved and you need to participate in the political process. Do not be afraid to talk to your legislators and Congressmen."

Besides events featuring experts to talk about the debt, the awareness and engagement campaign the UTPA team has designed includes presentations in local high schools and on campus, local TV and radio appearances, a social media campaign and a play.

The team's original play, "The Debt Ultimatum," written by UTPA student Jessica Peña, will have three showings free and open to the public in Room 107 of the Arts and Humanities Building on Feb. 7 and 8 at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 9 at 2 p.m.

Two of the most significant measures of the team's success will be the number of people who will log on to watch the team's original Up to Us YouTube video where the members become aliens who learn about the impacts of perpetual borrowing. Students and the general public are also urged to log on to take a five-question Up to Us Facebook quiz on how much they know about the debt.

Other events planned during the month include Debt Free Friday on Feb. 14 and a Debt Conference on Feb. 18.

BETA senior Samantha Mendoza said she appreciated the opportunity to learn more, especially from college students who serve as role models for her.

"I will definitely try and get personal friends from school and outside of my school to visit the links they gave us because I not only want a school from the Valley to win but I also want people from the Valley to understand the subject and to develop an understanding of what is going on in the world," Mendoza said.

You can learn more and help the UTPA team win by viewing the YouTube video and taking the Up to Us Facebook quiz. For more information, you can go to the Up to Us website or contact Urgel at feurgel@broncs.utpa.edu or Boudreau at boudreaujw@utpa.edu.