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H-E-B partners with UTPA to bring portable planetarium to more RGV children
By Gail Fagan, Public Affairs Representative
(956) 665-2741
Posted: 04/25/2011
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H-E-B believes in its products, its services and its customers, as evidenced by its catch phrase "Here Everything is Better."

The University of Texas-Pan American and Rio Grande Valley school children will benefit from the company's enthusiasm for providing the best for its customers and the communities it serves. H-E-B recently donated $30,000 to UTPA enabling the University to double the number of visits to Valley schools by its portable planetarium in hopes that the on-campus field trips to outer space will spark students’ interest in pursuing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields and going to college.


UTPA Image
Carman Elementary School students joined a ceremony April 15 at their school to celebrate the donation of $73,000 recently by H-E-B to UTPA to support HESTEC and facilitate greater outreach of the University's portable planetarium to Rio Grande Valley schools. Pictured with the students are front kneeling Blanca Martinez, fifth grade teacher; and rear left to right Titina Bazen, fifth grade teacher; Albert Cantu, store director, San Juan H-E-B; Janice Odom, UTPA vice president for University Advancement; Michael Sweet, fifth grade teacher; Dr. Robert S. Nelsen, UTPA president; Laura Gump, vice president of operations for the H-E-B Border Region; Dr. Daniel King, PSJA ISD superintendent; Dr. Virginia Richter, PSJA ISD Area I and II administrator; Maria Jilpas, Carman Elementary School principal; and Dr. Steven Tidrow, chair, UTPA Department of Physics and Geology, who oversees the operations of UTPA's fixed and portable planetariums.
The 14-by 25-foot inflatable planetarium, which was purchased in 2008, will now be able to be transported to school campuses twice a week instead of once a week during the 2011 spring and fall semesters.

The announcement was made at a ceremony April 15 at Carman Elementary School in San Juan, where the portable planetarium was scheduled to have presentations throughout the day.

From April 2008 when the visits began to the end of March 2011, more than 52,000 RGV K-12 students in 116 schools have experienced the exciting 3-D presentations in the planetarium conducted on their own campuses. All presentations, which include subject matter related to what the children are studying, and, if time permits, one of seven space-related videos, are led by a knowledgeable and spirited paid staff of student planetarium presenters from UTPA who are also astronomy lab assistants at the University.

Laura Gump, vice president of operations for the H-E-B Border Region, joined UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen, PSJA School Superintendent Daniel King and other district, school and University administrators before an audience of fifth graders ready to enter the planetarium for the first presentation of the day at the school.

Gump, who leads 9,000 H-E-B employees in 46 stores between Del Rio and Brownsville, told the students they were very important to H-E-B and encouraged them to stay in school and graduate.

"You are our future. You are the future leaders of this country. You are the future business people, the future scientists, the future mathematicians. You have an awesome university here - UTPA - one of the best in the country for Hispanics," she said.

Gump said giving back to the community is a very important part of the H-E-B business model and sees the planetarium as a great tool to get students interested in math and science which is necessary for the United States to continue to be competitive.

"The planetarium spurs curiosity and that is where it all begins," Gump said.

Along with the donation toward the portable planetarium visits, H-E-B also contributed more than $40,000 to UTPA's annual initiative Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology (HESTEC) Week, which is also designed to generate interest in STEM by young students. H-E-B has also provided funding support toward UTPA's fixed planetarium on campus, now dubbed the H-E-B Planetarium. The total number of visitors — students and adults — to both the portable and the fixed planetarium is now over 109,000.

Nelsen expressed the University's gratitude to H-E-B, which he said has been a partner for a long time. He then asked the student audience how many planned to go to college.

"If you go to college you will earn $1 million dollars more than if you just go to high school," he said. "But you have to go to college. And you can't go to college unless you graduate from middle school and unless you graduate from high school and unless you do your homework."

He also told the students that UT Pan Am believed in them.

"H-E-B believes in you too," Nelsen said. "That's why they are willing to invest the money so that 100,000 kids can go to the planetarium, so that 100,000 kids in this Valley get the opportunity to see the stars, to see the possibilities."

Carman Elementary teacher Michael Sweet, who happens to be a finalist for this year's H-E-B Excellence in Education award, had his fifth grade class there ready to enter the planetarium. He said the planetarium provides an excellent hands-on visualization of the universe for students. It also makes them more aware of the University and what opportunities are open to them with a college degree.

"The kids love it and ask 'when they are going to come again,'" Sweet said.

For information on the portable planetarium and the H-E-B Planetarium, which is also free to visitors, go to the Planetariumwebsite.