|Pictured is Ari Marcial, an eighth-grade student at Edcouch Elsa Jr. High, launching a water rocket during Tex Prep.|
"Before they make a decision we want to inform them so they can make an informed decision," said Dr. Miguel Gonzalez, associate dean of the College of Science and Engineering. "It's very important what we're trying to do with this. I believe it's key to provide students with information about making decisions about their career path."
This summer 26 middle school students from the area will receive the full college experience, taking classes where they'll learn about the various engineering programs the college offers, participate in hands-on activities and stay in the University's dormitories.
"It's more of a matter of getting them to see what you can apply in math and science and showing them it's something that is within their reach," he said.
Gonzalez said many times students feel they are not able to become engineers because they think the work would be too hard.
"You have that stigma," he said.
UTPA and Region One ESC focused on enlisting students who are interested in science but were not affiliated with other school programs that send students to similar camps, such as Texas Pre-freshman Engineering Program, the "Ideas to Reality: How Engineering Can Change Your Lives" camp the University hosted with the Texas Manufacturing Assistance Center (TMAC), and the Bernard Harris ExxonMobil Summer Science Camp.
Programs such as these help strengthen the pipeline for students entering careers related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), said Cynthia Aguilar, the Texas STEM coordinator for Region One ESC.
"We don't have many Hispanic engineers, we don't have many engineers, period," said Aguilar. "We want to motivate students to focus on STEM careers. We want to ensure all students get this exposure."
Aguilar said her son attended a similar program years ago at Texas A&M University and that inspired him to earn his Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from The University of Texas at Austin.
Since most Rio Grande Valley students attend UTPA and other higher education institutions in the area, more programs like these camps should be available to Valley students, she said.
"The majority of our kids go there, why shouldn't we have those opportunities for them," Aguilar said.
Celebrating its silver anniversary, Tex Prep is a three-year, seven-week program that exposes middle and high school students to the demands of science, technology, engineering and mathematics-related fields through participation in activities and projects. This year, students built mouse trap carts, popsicle bridges and water bottle rockets. Tex Prep 2010 started in June and runs through July 23.
"Ideas to Reality: How Engineering Can Change Your Lives," initiated this year, offered high school students from the Career and Technology Education program at Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District the opportunity to learn about manufacturing by attending classes and participating in hands-on activities. The 20 or so students who attended the weeklong event in June learned about product innovation-rapid prototyping, robotics, advanced lean manufacturing techniques and entrepreneurship.
The University also began hosting the Bernard Harris ExxonMobil Summer Science Camp this week for the second year in a row. About 50 middle school students have been attending daily educational activities such as building rockets and designing energy-efficient homes during the two-week-long camp.
Hosting such camps is important not only to help students better understand the subjects they're learning in school, but to help the local economy, Gonzalez said. More jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics-related fields will become available in the Valley and the country in the coming years, and the Valley especially needs engineers, he said.
"In the end it's delineating better paths to support the work force in the region," Gonzalez said. "It all makes a difference."