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Alumni of UTPA PA program start scholarship to honor Frank Ambriz
By Jennifer Berghom, Public Affairs Representative
956-665-7192
Posted: 10/03/2011
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Elena Santoy and fellow physician assistants who graduated from The University of Texas-Pan American's Physician Assistant Studies Program (PASP) credit their success to Frank Ambriz, the program's director and founder.


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UTPA alumni are setting up an endowed scholarship in honor of Frank Ambriz, director of the Physician Assistant Studies Program (PASP). Pictured from left to right are UTPA alumni Martin Rocha and Roy Contreras; Associate Vice President for University Advancement Lydia Aleman; Ambriz; UTPA alumna Elena Santoy; PASP Clinical Associate Professor Jack Runyan; Associate Professor of Clinical Laboratory Sciences Karen Chandler; and UTPA alumna Susan Simmons. Not pictured are UTPA alumni Laura Garcia Kakar and Esteban Palacios, who were both instrumental in establishing the scholarship; and Director of Stewardship and Annual Giving Yvette C. Padilla, who facilitated the alumni in establishing the scholarship.

"If it weren't for Mr. Ambriz we wouldn't be here," said Santoy, who graduated from UT Pan American in 2003 and works as a physician assistant in Donna.

Ambriz was instrumental in the creation and continuation of the program and many current and former students said he also was a major influence in their decision to come to UTPA.

To honor the man responsible for their success, Santoy and a group of other alumni from the program have established the Frank Ambriz PASP Endowed Scholarship. The group included Roy Contreras ('96), Laura Garcia Kakar ('08), Esteban Palacios ('98) and Susan Simmons ('03).

The scholarships will go to first-year physician assistant students to help pay for their education. UTPA and its alumni are in the process of raising funds to start the endowed scholarship. The goal is to raise $10,000 for the first year. Scholarships will be made available a year after that.

"It’s all about reciprocity, giving back to your alma mater for providing you with a wonderful education," said Yvette Padilla, director of stewardship and annual giving. "UTPA relies heavily on philanthropy to maintain its status of providing quality education."

Alumni, current PA students, faculty, Ambriz's family and University officials all crowded into the executive room of the International Trade and Technology building to surprise Ambriz Sept. 22 with the formal announcement and celebration.

Santoy and fellow alumni Roy Contreras, Martin Rocha and Laura Garcia Kakar (via teleconference) all shared stories about how Ambriz helped them through the PA program and thanked him for his involvement in the creation and continuance of the program and for training them to be successful physician assistants.

Ambriz also helped his students find money to pay for books, supplies and other needs for school. The alumni said they hope the scholarship will help students pay for their education.

"We really owe him a huge amount of dedication and respect," said Contreras, who was in the first class of graduates in 1996.

Kakar, who owns sleep clinics in the Dallas area with her husband, credits the training she received from Ambriz with her success and said it was because of him she decided to study at UTPA.


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Frank Ambriz, director of UTPA's Physician Assistant Studies Program (PASP), is greeted by current and former students, his family and University faculty, administrators and staff Sept. 22 as he enters the executive board room of the International Trade and Technology Building. A group of former PASP students are establishing an endowed scholarship in his honor.

"I met Frank when I was interviewing for PA school back in 1995," Kakar said. "He's a very laid back, low-key person, but I could tell he was so full of knowledge and just a wonderful person; I read that from him the first time I met him. He has been one of my mentors and I've appreciated every opportunity I've had to interact with him and learn from him."

Ambriz said he never expected his former students to start a scholarship in his honor.

"I'm speechless, but it's something that hopefully will benefit the students and allow them to concentrate on their studies and not have to worry about financial aid," he said. "The most important thing is that they succeed and become a story for us to tell down the road."

At the meeting, he told his current and former students that it is their success stories that have kept him at UTPA and recalled one in which a former student of his found a tumor in a patient that went undetected by three physicians.

"It makes me proud," he said.

The Physician Assistant Studies program started at UTPA in 1994 as a cooperative program with The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston to provide more needed health professionals in the Rio Grande Valley. It is the only physician assistant program in the state that is not based at a medical school.

The program has expanded over the years, first into a bachelor's program in 1999, then a master's program within the College of Health Sciences and Human Services in 2008. Also in 2008, the University began offering a bridge to the master's program through distance learning/online courses for professional physician assistants with bachelor's degrees to earn their master's.

In 2009, UTPA and The University of Texas at Brownsville/Texas Southmost College (UTB/TSC) signed an agreement to accept five UTB/TSC graduates each year.

To make a gift or receive more information, contact the Office of Development at (956) 665-5301.