UTPA to graduate first group of Master's in Social Work students in Laredo
By Jennifer Berghom, Public Affairs Representative
(956) 665-7192
Posted: 11/30/2010
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About two years ago The University of Texas-Pan American stepped in to meet a need the Laredo community had: more social workers.

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Later this month Laredo will have that need met when UTPA is expected to graduate its first crop of five Master of Social Work students. But first the University will honor its students with a hooding ceremony on Dec. 8. The hooding ceremony will be held at 6 p.m. at Laredo Community College's downtown campus' De La Garza Building, room 101.

"This group of graduating students represents a clear example of what can be accomplished through good will, effective inter-institutional collaboration and the commitment of students to their professional and academic success," said Dr. Héctor Díaz, professor and chair of UTPA's Department of Social Work.

A hooding ceremony is an event many colleges hold to honor their students who have completed their master's degree work. Faculty members place hoods on graduates to mark their educational achievement. The hoods are worn by graduates as part of their academic regalia during commencement ceremonies.

"It's a very symbolic ceremony," Díaz said.

The hooding ceremony is being held before Fall Commencement 2010 to give those graduates time to celebrate in private with their loved ones, the professor said.

Díaz said UTPA formed a partnership with Laredo Community College to offer classes at the community college's camps and online. UTPA also has a partnership with The University of Texas at Brownsville. There are about 19 students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate social work programs in Laredo and 16 students in Brownsville.

"We're meeting an educational need," Díaz said.

At the time UTPA began its partnership with the community college, that area had less than 10 social workers who had training at the master's level and Texas A&M International University, located in Laredo, shuttered the only social work program available in that region, Díaz said.

Other programs were available in San Antonio, but students would be required to travel to that city on the weekends for classes. Plus, students in Laredo preferred to study in Edinburg because of the border culture the two communities share, Díaz said.

Students graduating from the program's first cohort said they are grateful for the opportunity UTPA provided them to continue their education without leaving home.

"I believe that continuing my education in social work is a great way of helping my clients while furthering my education," said Susana Villanueva, one of the students from Laredo who is graduating with a Master of Social Work degree this fall. "If it wasn't for them (UTPA and Laredo Community College) I wouldn't have been able to earn my master's degree."

As a working mother of three children, Sandra Selina Vazquez could not travel far for her education.

"Having the program available here made it possible to pursue my educational goals," said Vazquez, a Laredo resident.

Vazquez said she also appreciated having faculty available in Laredo in addition to the distance learning.

"Even though there was a learning curve involved, it became much easier when we were able to have someone here locally. Knowing that we had someone we could contact made a difference," she said.

UTPA's Fall Commencement will be held Dec. 18 at the McAllen Convention Center, 700 Convention Center Blvd. (near Ware Road and Expressway 83), McAllen, Texas.

Visit the UTPA Department of Social Work's website for more information about the program.