The Texas Pre-freshman Engineering Program (TexPREP) at The University of Texas-Pan American offered Valley students some exciting hands-on opportunities this summer to learn more about the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
The program, in its 28th year at UTPA, serves approximately 350 students throughout the year and includes an intense seven week program each summer. TexPREP was recognized in the "BEST Practices K-12 Science Education Compendium" by the Bayer Corporation in 2008 and in 2010 as one of the top K-12 STEM programs in the nation.
TexPREP program director Dr. Stephen Crown, a professor of mechanical engineering, said students enter the program as seventh or eighth graders and described it as competitive with 500 applicants this year.
"Every year we do something called a mega project, which is a large scale project. The first year they do helicopters, the second year they do robotics, the third year students do underwater remote operated vehicles and the fourth year students do a solar car. We also do smaller projects, like building a bridge," Crown said.
It is Hailey Treviño's third year coming to TexPREP. The junior at La Joya High School described how her team came together during the summer program to build a bridge using only popsicle sticks and Elmer's Glue.
"You have to use 140 popsicle sticks, nothing more or less. Our goal was to make it maximum 100 or 150 pounds ... we need a foundation that's going to be strong and it's going to withstand a lot of weight," she said.
Treviño said she enjoys coming back each year to participate in TexPREP.
"I love the thrill. I love the college professors. I love coming back to see my friends. I love a challenge and building ...enginering, it is a challenge," she said.
This year, Oxy USA Inc. contributed $5,000 to support two of the program's 21 mentors who are engineering majors at UT Pan American and provide a vital link connecting students in pre-engineering programs to the study of engineering and other STEM fields in college. TexPREP mentors guide participants, provide tutoring, and serve as role models to inspire students to go to college and pursue STEM careers. Oxy Inc. has partnered with the University since 2011 to support student programs and scholarships. This is the second consecutive year that the company has supported TexPREP.
TexPREP mentor and first year program coordinator Juan Ramirez Jr. is a senior mechanical engineering major at UTPA. He said he was a TexPREP student himself before entering college. This summer Ramirez helped the students build a mouse trap car using a mouse trap to propel the car to go forward.
"I kind of like that you mentor, teach them things, and it's fun. I guess the cool thing is if you do it right ... they'll like it and you know later on you'll see them as engineering majors, science majors and you're like 'oh yes, I did a good job mentoring them, they understood it well, they liked it and look where they're at,'" Ramirez said.
Crown said a new element added this year to TexPREP allowed fourth-year students to take two classes in Summer Session II and receive college credit.
"We always hear a push that we need more scientists, engineers, mathematicians if we're going to stay globally competitive and I'm excited that TexPREP is a small part of that," Crown said.
Learn more about TexPREP in the video below or at the TexPREP website.