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RGV legislators to be honored as Presidential Pillars
Posted: 03/28/2014
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We've come a long way since December 2012 when UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and then Chair of the UT System Board of Regents Gene Powell unveiled plans to transform higher education in the Rio Grande Valley with a new UT University.

Governor Rick Perry poses with the key leaders in the Project South Texas initiative before he ceremonially signed the copies of Senate Bill 24 authorizing the creation of the new university in South Texas.

The new university, now called The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, combines The University of Texas-Pan American and The University of Texas at Brownsville into a single bicultural, biliterate, bilingual University with a new school of medicine. For this bold vision for South Texas to become a reality, it took teamwork from the University of Texas System, the two universities, communities, and especially our friends at the Texas Capitol - the South Texas legislators.

This tremendous endeavor would not have been successful without the dedication and support of a few good men - the Rio Grande Valley legislative delegation - Senators Juan "Chuy Hinojosa, Eddie Lucio Jr. and Representative Rene Oliveira along with Representatives Ryan Guillen, Armando "Mando Martinez, Eddie Lucio III, Sergio Munoz Jr., Terry Canales, Robert "Bobby" Guerra, and Oscar Longoria.

"If we had not had the team we had, the right delegation at the right time working with the senate it would not have happened," Oliveira said of the journey to pass the new university legislation.

For their immense dedication to the people of South Texas, UT Pan American is proud to honor these 10 individuals with the first Presidential Pillar Award presented by UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen. The legislators will be recognized March 29 as part of the sold-out 2014 Alumni Ball.

"It was important for us to recognize the extraordinary dedication, and vision of our RGV legislative delegation in the passing of the legislation to create the new university - UTRGV - and to finally be able to create the medical school here in South Texas. This single act will transform the Valley forever," Nelsen said. "Thank you to all of the RGV delegation, for your continued support."

The Valley delegation worked together and fought hard to convince their colleagues at the Capitol why this new university was so important for South Texas but even more important for the state of Texas. Together Representative Rene Oliveira and Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa introduced bills in the Texas Legislature in Spring 2013 to create what was then called the "New University for South Texas."

"We knew we had to stay united and we had to show unity, and we knew we had to take a regional approach to be successful," Hinojosa said. "So teamwork was key."

May 2013 was a defining moment in Texas history when Senate Bill 24 passed unanimously by both the Texas House and Senate, demonstrating a united commitment to higher education in the Valley. With the passage of this bill, the New University, and in turn the Valley, would be eligible to receive Permanent University Fund, also known as PUF. This gives South Texas access to nearly $200 million that can be used for the construction of new facilities.

Putting his stamp of approval on this historic piece of legislation, Governor Rick Perry signed Senate Bill 24 into law to create the new higher education institution that he calls a "game-changer for South Texas."

The new university, named The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley by the UT System Board of Regents in December 2013, gives the Valley one voice for higher education in South Texas. UTRGV, which officially opens Fall 2015, is slated to become one of the largest Hispanic serving institutions in the United States.

"To me this sent a clear message that we were finally going to be united, not UTB here and UT Pan American there.... It was finally going to be one university serving the entire region and to me it united the Valley. This is one issue that has brought us together more than any other issue that I have worked on in the last 27 years," Lucio said.

The UTRGV school of medicine will open in Fall 2016. Dr. Francisco Fernandez, professor and chairman of psychiatry and neurosciences at the University of South Florida College of Medicine in Tampa, was selected in February as the founding dean.

To stay up to date with the latest happenings on the new UTRGV, visit www.utsystem.edu.