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Newsweek Magazine has described the American Brass Quintet (ABQ) as the “high priests of brass.” The New York Times hailed the ABQ as “positively breathtaking.” Recently, this premier chamber music ensemble and icon in the brass world was named the 2013 recipient of Chamber Music America’s highest honor, the Richard J. Bogomolny National Service Award for significant and lasting contribution to the field.

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The internationally-acclaimed American Brass Quintet will perform at the City of Edinburg Auditorium Oct. 22. The concert, which begins at 7:30 p.m., is free and open to the public.(Photo by Peter Schaaf)

The Rio Grande Valley community will have a chance to hear this internationally recognized group free of charge at a concert scheduled for 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 22 at the City of Edinburg Auditorium. The concert is sponsored by The University of Texas-Pan American, the City of Edinburg and Edinburg Arts.

The ABQ’s 53-year history includes performances in Europe, Central and South America, the Middle East, Asia, Australia and all 50 of the United States; a discography of more than 55 recordings; and the premieres of more than 150 contemporary brass works. In commemoration of the ABQ’s 50th anniversary in 2010, Summit Records released a double CD – “State of the Art—the ABQ at 50″ – of works written for the ABQ in the last decade.

Equally committed to the promotion of brass chamber music through education, the ABQ has been in residence at The Juilliard School since 1987 and at the Aspen Music Festival since 1970. Since 2001, the ABQ has offered its expertise in chamber music performance and training with a program of mini-residencies as part of its regular touring season. Designed to offer young groups and individuals an intense chamber music experience over several days, ABQ mini-residencies have been embraced by schools and communities throughout the United States and internationally.

“The American Brass Quintet is a legacy unparalleled in the brass field,” said Dr. Pedro Martinez, chair, UTPA Department of Music and Dance. “I hope our students and the Valley community take this opportunity to hear their extraordinary music-making.”

For more information, contact Martinez at (956) 665-3182 or martinezp@utpa.edu.

Original Post by Office of Public Affairs on Oct 18th, 2013.

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Join the University Theatre Productions for a “Double Screecher Horror Night,” just in time for the Halloween season with two special shows – “Diner of the Dead” and “The Woman in Black.”

Running Oct. 23-26, 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 27, 2 p.m. at the Albert L. Jeffers Theatre is the “Diner of the Dead.” The story follows a group of locals inside a diner as they witness a disaster from their perspective in their own small town.

“The Woman in Black” is heart-stopping play within a play that has been an English favorite since 1983 and has been touring in Mexico for the last 25 years. “The Woman in Black” can be found roaming in the UTPA Studio Theatre (next door to the Albert L. Jeffers Theatre with limited seating) from Oct. 23-26, 10 p.m. and Oct. 27, 5 p.m.

Both theaters are located in the Arts and Humanities Building on the corner of University Drive and Sugar Road. Open seating, $5 per person, is available per performance. No children below the third grade will be admitted.

For more information, call the University Theatre Box Office at (956) 665-3581.

Original Post by Theatre Productions on Oct 17th, 2013.

Faculty members from The University of Texas-Pan American and The University of Texas at Brownsville embarked on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity Oct. 4 when they met at the Academic Program Working Groups Kick-Off to begin the process of recreating the academic programs for the new university in the Rio Grande Valley.

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Pictured left to right at the Academic Program Working Groups Kickoff held at UTPA recently to create the academic programs for the new university in the Rio Grande Valley are Dr. Alan Artibise, UTB provost and vice president for Academic Affairs; Dr. Robert S. Nelsen, UTPA president; Dr. Julio León, special adviser to the UT System vice chancellor for Academic Affairs; Dr. Juliet V. Garcia, UTB president; and Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, UTPA provost and vice president for Academic Affairs.

More than 129 faculty members, who gathered at the UT Pan American campus in Edinburg, will serve on 13 discipline-based working groups to envision the academic programs for what will be an emerging research institution of the first-class that will also include a medical school. Both universities’ top administrators and college deans also attended the first meeting.

Each working group has equal faculty representation from UTPA and UTB. They are charged with being innovative in making recommendations on the types of academic programs that will best serve the needs of students and the Valley community and best reflect the guiding principles for the new university approved earlier this year by The University of Texas System Board of Regents.

“Step out of the 20th century mold and break it. We are looking for new ways of doing things ,” said Dr. Julio León, a special adviser to The University of Texas System’s executive vice chancellor for Academic Affairs, who was hired to guide the transition to the new university, dubbed Project South Texas.

To set the stage for thinking outside the box, León presented a video from a recent conference supported byTime Magazine, the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in which prominent national leaders in education gathered to discuss and present revolutionary solutions to the critical problems of cost, access and quality in higher education. The conference panel’s presentation in the video was “Reinventing the University for the 21st Century.”

At the meeting, working group members were also given a welcome letter from the UTPA and UTB provosts, membership lists for each Academic Program Working Group, and the charge and guidelines for the working groups’ recommendations, all posted at the Project South Texas website.

They also heard from UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen and UTB President Juliet V. Garcia who talked briefly about the tasks the groups have been presented and their visions of the new university.

Nelsen said the faculty chosen have the ability to think in new ways and be transformative.

“We believe in you and trust you to actually create something new, something that will revolutionize the Valley,” said Nelsen, who asked them to obtain input and collaborate with their departments on what they will recommend.

Garcia said she wanted the faculty groups to not think that they had to have all the answers.

“Our work is long term. You have to just stir your creative juices and imagine where we want to go,” she said.

During the meeting, the faculty also heard from Provosts and Vice Presidents for Academic Affairs Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, UTPA, and Dr. Alan Artibise, UTB; UTPA Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Dr. Kristen Croyle; and UTB Associate Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs Dr. Janna Arney. They reviewed the responsibilities of the working groups, meeting logistics and reporting and the need for collaboration, coordination and communication.

Breakout sessions held by each group in which their leadership and next meeting date were determined was followed by a reception.

Dr. Diana Dominguez (MA ’93), UTB associate professor of English and a member of the Trans-Disciplinary Working Group, sees the creation of the new university as a game-changer that will benefit the Valley.

“I love this place and I see this as an opportunity to really change how people look at us and the opportunities we can give the people here, especially the students,” she said. “It really excites me to be able to create these global connections … and help our students understand that they are part of a global world. This is a chance for them to expand their horizons beyond what they ever dreamed of.”

As a member of the Bicultural Working Group, Dr. Sonia Hernandez (BA ’98, MA ’01), UTPA associate professor of history, described the transition as a challenging but exciting time. She said her group has been given an earlier deadline than others to develop a vision of how being bicultural will work for the new university and to share that with the other groups.

“We have a lot of strengths. We need to think about what we offer, what UTB offers and what we or UTB don’t offer. We see this as an opportunity to craft something that will make us not only unique and different but will also serve the needs of the community … and transform our community and beyond,” she said.

To learn more, view the Academic Program Working Groups Kickoff video.

Project South Texas – Academic Workgroup

Original Post by Gail Fagan, Public Affairs Representative on Oct 15th, 2013

In the first of several events planned by The University of Texas-Pan American to celebrate Hispanic/Latina(o) Heritage Month, the University hosted a screening of “Justice for My People,” which tells the story of Mexican American physician, World War II veteran and noted civil rights leader Hector P. Garcia, a Pan Am alumnus famous for founding the American GI Forum.

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Pictured left to right at the Sept. 30 Hispanic Heritage Month celebration at UTPA of the life of Dr. Hector P. Garcia are Mexican American Studies student Alan Padilla; Dr. Maritza De La Trinidad, UTPA assistant professor of history; Cecilia Garcia-Akers, Garcia’s daughter; Jose Maria Vasquez, America’s Last Patrol and G.I. Forum member; and Dr. Francisco Guajardo, UTPA professor of educational leadership.

A panel discussion at the screening featured Garcia’s daughter Cecilia Garcia-Akers, who talked about his life and legacy, and Dr. Maritza De La Trinidad, assistant professor of history, who described briefly the history of Hispanic civil rights activism in the U.S. The event was organized and moderated by Mexican American Studies student Alan Padilla. The audience, which included a large contingent of Elsa-Edcouch High School students, also heard from Dr. Francisco Guajardo, UTPA associate professor of educational leadership.

“In his story, I find the inspiration to explore my own story … what does his story mean to you, how can that provoke, motivate or inspire you to figure out what you are all about,” Guajardo said following the screening.

Garcia (1914-1996) gained national prominence for his work on behalf of Hispanic Americans, helping end segregation in schools, hospitals and public facilities in Texas and nationally, and went on to serve as alternative ambassador to the United Nations and as a member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1984 and named to the Order of St. Gregory the Great by Pope John Paul II in 1990.

Akers described her father – who was known as “Dr. Hector” in Corpus Christi where he practiced – as compassionate, never having an enemy, and always working to help others. She and her husband Jim have established the Dr. Hector P. Garcia Memorial Foundation to expand awareness of his legacy and the continued relevance of his fight for equal rights for all.

“Tremendous sacrifices were made so that you all can go to school here, so that you all can get a college education, that you all can do well, and be successful…,” Akers said regarding her father’s impact on future generations. “He knew if you weren’t educated, you were not going to succeed.”

Hispanic Heritage Month activities at UT Pan American will continue on Oct. 2 with the screening of the documentary “Prejudice & Pride” and a discussion with its producer John J. Valadez. The event will be held at 7 p.m.

Valadez will be back on Oct. 3 at 11 a.m. to show and discuss his documentary “War & Peace,” which tells the story of how Latinos were able to make gains in civil rights after World War II.

On Friday, Oct. 18 civil rights activist and labor leader Dolores Huerta – co-founder of what would become the United Farm Workers – will speak at 10 a.m.

All the events will be held in the Student Union Theater.

Original Post by Gail Fagan, Public Affairs Representative on October 1, 2013.

When The University of Texas-Pan American’s (UTPA) famed Mariachi Aztlán needed to travel to Washington, D.C. last year to perform at the Smithsonian Institution’s Folklife Festival, Southwest Airlines extended a generous wing and provided flight accommodations for the group.

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This year, Southwest Airlines is giving an encore performance by providing flight accommodations for 18 members of the award-winning mariachi, which will be performing with 11-year-old singer Sebastien De La Cruz Oct. 2 at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s (CHCI) 36th Annual Awards Gala in Washington, D.C.

De La Cruz — the “Golden Cowboy” — wowed audiences with his performances on “America’s Got Talent” and at games three and four during the NBA Finals in San Antonio.

Dr. Dahlia Guerra, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, and the mariachi program’s founder at UTPA, said the awards gala is the largest and most prestigious gathering of Hispanic leaders in the nation who will be celebrating the achievements of the Latino community. The evening’s festivities will include a performance by the UTPA Mariachi Aztlán followed by remarks from President Barack Obama and other prominent public figures. The University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa is expected to receive the CHCI Chair’s Medallion Award.

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The University of Texas-Pan American’s famed Mariachi Aztlán will perform at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s 36th Annual Awards Gala in Washington, D.C. Oct. 2. Southwest Airlines is the proud airline sponsor of UTPA Mariachi Aztlán.

“Southwest Airlines has very generously provided support for the upcoming UTPA student trip to the CHCI’s Annual Awards Gala in Washington, D.C.,” Guerra said. “This is a great opportunity for our University students and the musical heritage of the Rio Grande Valley to be represented at a level of national visibility as our mariachi musical ambassadors represent student excellence from UT Pan American. We are very grateful to Southwest Airlines for making this amazing opportunity possible.”

Members of the mariachi, too appreciate the generosity of Southwest Airlines.

“It’s an incredible experience, we get to travel a lot,” said Eddie Lopez, a second-year master’s student and member of UTPA Mariachi Aztlán. “It’s a lot of work and people sometimes don’t realize how much work it is with all the traveling we do and the playing and practicing. We have to keep up with our homework but it’s incredible when we get experiences like this. There’s nothing like it.”

This is the second time Southwest Airlines has helped the University. Previously, UTPA’s Mariachi Aztlán performed at the 2012 Smithsonian Institution’s Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C. and Southwest Airlines provided flight accommodations for 10 members of the UTPA mariachi.

UTPA was among 21 universities chosen out of more than 100 grant applications for the coveted performance spot in the Smithsonian’s celebration. The festival is produced in partnership with the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In the past few years the award-winning group also has performed in the White House for President Obama, captured the top prize at the Houston Rodeo Mariachi Invitational Competition, and played for a crowd of 74,000 people at a Houston Texans game.

Original Post By Office of Public Affairs on September 20, 2013

After sold-out shows in June, “Pachanga” is back and better than ever! Don’t miss the party! Presented by the University Theatre Productions, experience this original, high-energy dance battle comedy about feuding ranchers.

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Check out the production on Sept. 25-27, 7:30 p.m.; Sept. 28, 7 p.m. with a Spanish version at 9 p.m.; and Sept. 29, 2 p.m. at the Albert L. Jeffers Theatre, located in the Arts and Humanities Building on the corner of University Drive and Sugar Road.

“Pachanga” is a dance comedy produced by Eric Wiley, with songs by Anna Tirado, and features more than 22 dancers and a live band.

Ticket pricing includes reserve seating, $12; general admission, $8; non- UTPA students with school ID, $3; and UTPA students/faculty/staff, FREE plus one FREE guest with UTPA ID card.

For reservations, group reservations, to request a season brochure or more information, call the University Theatre Box Office at (956) 665-3581.

Original Post by University Theatre, on September 16, 2013.

San Antonio native Dr. Marci McMahon has always been drawn to Latina/o literature and early in her life she learned the power literature has in giving a voice to those who are not often heard in society and evoking social change.

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- Dr. Marci McMahon

Throughout her academic career, McMahon, an assistant professor in The University of Texas-Pan American’s Department of English and Mexican American Studies (MAS), has dedicated herself to help her often-underrepresented students find their voices.

“From a very young age, reading Latina/o and Mexican American literature like Sandra Cisneros’ ‘House on Mango Street’ felt very familiar. I felt I knew Esperanza, from Pam Munoz Ryan’s ‘Esperanza Rising.’ Those characters were my girlfriends. They were trying to find their own voices, trying to individuate, trying to find a space of their own – as a young girl I also wanted those things and could identify with them,” McMahon said.

Her inventive research and excellence in teaching has earned her the 2013 University of Texas System Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award. The $25,000 award is among the highest academic honor nationwide to recognize academic distinction in teaching by university faculty.

McMahon attended Incarnate Word — a Catholic high school in San Antonio dedicated to many local causes for social peace and justice. Volunteering for a group affiliated with Amnesty International as a teenager gave McMahon firsthand experience with the local problems in her community.

“My high school ingrained activism in us,” McMahon said, “It really made me aware of the economic and social disparities within my own community. We were able to work together with groups of individuals who had family on death row, trying to impact legislation and policy to end the death penalty.”

It was not until McMahon attended The University of Texas at Austin for her undergraduate degree that she began to apply the activism she learned in San Antonio to the classes she began taking in Mexican American Studies.

“I remember taking a class where we studied literature in the form of visual art,” said McMahon. “I remember studying these murals in California and being so struck by the role these art forms took in raising people’s awareness about issues facing their own communities.”

That class inspired McMahon to begin constructing her own philosophy about the conversations literature and art produce in changing society. She later used this philosophy in her teaching, using her classroom as a space for students to think about their role in society and create a voice of their own.

After earning her bachelor’s degree in English literature, McMahon moved west to The University of Southern California (USC) and obtained her Ph.D. in affiliation with the Department of American Studies and Ethnicity. Her experiences in Los Angeles further enriched her passion for Latina/o cultural experiences and began to prepare her for a life of educating students.

McMahon joined the faculty at The University of Texas-Pan American in 2008. Her courses focus on Chicana/o and Latina/o literature, cultural studies, gender studies and theater performance.

McMahon is the also the director of the Graduate Certificate in MAS and the master’s program in interdisciplinary studies in MAS, as well as the MAS faculty and advisory board.

“My work at UTPA has been so rewarding, It thrills me to teach a student population whose voice is represented in the literature I have devoted my life to learning,” McMahon said. “Being a part of developing a major and minor in MAS, developing new curriculum, finding new and exciting ways of teaching, and seeing the program flourish from the ground floor has been one my greatest joys here at UTPA.”

In 2010, McMahon teamed up with a colleague from Kalamazoo College in Michigan to began an innovative online collaboration on the topic of border studies. Students from both institutions shared their ideas on border policies, immigration and other issues to better understand each other.

UTPA Professor Dr. Linda Belau, 2011 University of Texas System Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award recipient, was deeply impressed with McMahon’s online collaboration.

“The course was fascinating in the way it engaged two American border environments (Mexican and Canadian) in the same pedagogical context and directed students to think about the theoretical and practical conditions of border dwelling beyond their own immediate experiences,” said Belau. “The overall project was so pioneering that our University’s Center for Online Teaching and Technology held a colloquium to demonstrate the use of technology that Dr. McMahon had adopted into the course.”

McMahon also has outstanding rapport with her students and continues to push their goals into higher education. Anna Victoria Muñoz, one of the first two MAS bachelor’s degree recipients in more than 20 years, is a witness to the passion McMahon transmits to her students.

“Dr. McMahon’s dedication to my success in education continued even after I was not enrolled in her classes. In Dec. 2010, I decided to apply to the Educational Studies graduate program at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor,” Muñoz said. “Dr. McMahon was a main contributor to my acceptance into the prestigious program.”

Dr. Stephanie Alvarez, director of MAS, credits McMahon as an integral force behind the MAS major and minor at UTPA.

“I have worked side by side with Dr. McMahon for five years now and can say that without any doubt she is completely committed to ensuring that students have the opportunity to engage in the study of Mexican American literature, cultural productions, and communities,” Alvarez said. “She has dedicated countless hours, evenings, and weekends to redesign the MAS major and created a minor.”

Prior to their efforts Alvarez said UTPA had little means of studying the Mexican American experience despite the almost 90 percent of the UTPA student body who identify themselves as Latina/o.

McMahon is one of six UTPA professors, and the only one in her college this year, to achieve this prestigious award.

To learn more about the 2013 and prior recipients at The University of Texas System Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Awards website.

Original Post by Christy Mendoza, intern/writer on September 09, 2013.

Six faculty members at The University of Texas-Pan American have been selected by The University of Texas System Board of Regents to receive the prestigious 2013 Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award (ROTA), one of the nation’s largest monetary teaching recognition programs in higher education.

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UT Pan American’s 2013 recipients of the UT System Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award are left to right Gustavo Dietrich, lecturer, Department of Computer Science; Dr. Dumitru I. Caruntu, associate professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Biomechanics Laboratory; Dr. Maria Cristina Villalobos, professor, Department of Mathematics and director of the Center for Excellence in STEM Education; Dr. Michael Abebe, assistant professor, Department of Management; Dr. Marci R. McMahon, assistant professor, Department of English and Mexican American Studies graduate studies director; and Dr. Karen Lozano, Julia Beecherl Endowed Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering.


The UT Pan American ROTA recipients – among 63 faculty members honored in the UT System’s nine academic institutions – are:

• Dr. Karen Lozano, Julia Beecherl Endowed Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering;

• Dr. Dumitru I. Caruntu, associate professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Biomechanics Laboratory;

• Dr. Maria Cristina Villalobos, professor, Department of Mathematics and director of the Center for Excellence in STEM Education;

• Dr. Marci R. McMahon, assistant professor, Department of English and Mexican American Studies graduate studies director;

• Dr. Michael Abebe, assistant professor, Department of Management; and

• Gustavo Dietrich, lecturer, Department of Computer Science.

The annual awards are presented to faculty members who have demonstrated extraordinary classroom performance and dedication to innovation. This year $1.6 million will go to outstanding faculty members. In July, 39 faculty from the U.T. System’s six health institutions were also honored, bringing the total awarded by the Regents to $2.6 million.

Each faculty honoree will receive an unrestricted check for $25,000. Since 2009, when the ROTA was initiated, 20 other UT Pan American faculty members have received the award and are highlighted on the UTPA Faculty Awards Site. “I am so proud of the six scholars being honored this year with the Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award. To be recognized for their work in the classroom when they also are among our most active researchers and faculty leaders shows how committed they are first and foremost to their students,” said UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen. “This year’s honorees exemplify the greatness of the UT Pan American faculty that will provide the foundation for a new emerging research university for the Rio Grande Valley.”

The reception and dinner to announce the 2013 recipients will be held Aug. 21 at UT Austin’s Etter-Harbin Alumni Center, where UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and Board of Regents Chairman Gene Powell and Vice Chairman Steven Hicks will present the awards.

“Our faculty members are the heart and soul of our institutions, and they are the most critical factor in student success. The Board created the ROTA program because of our respect and appreciation for these outstanding teachers, and because we want to make sure our institutions continue to be places of educational excellence,” Powell said.

ROTA recipients are vetted by colleagues, students and administrators at their own institutions before advancing to UT System consideration. Candidates are then evaluated by a selection committee of distinguished educators from both in and outside of the UT System who consider their classroom expertise, curricula quality, innovative course development and student learning outcomes.

Cigarroa, who describes the ROTA selection process as one of the nation’s most rigorous, said the UT System is grateful to the Regents for their ongoing commitment to honor its very best and most dedicated faculty.

“These awards recognize the immeasurable impact teachers have on our students, who will shape the future of our communities across Texas and the nation,” Cigarroa said.

The 2013 ROTA recipients from UTPA shared some comments regarding their teaching philosophy:

Dr. Karen Lozano, Julia Beecherl Endowed Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering (tenured faculty category):

“My teaching philosophy is to provide students with as many active learning experiences to engage them in scientific discovery while encouraging creative thinking.”

Dr. Dumitru I. Caruntu, associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Biomechanics Laboratory (tenured faculty category):

“If the students understand the material, they can perform, they can do the work and they like it. So this is, I’d say, my teaching philosophy – to help them learn the material and get them excited. It’s not about the grade, it’s about what they learn.”

Dr. Cristina Villalobos, professor, Department of Mathematics and director of the Center for Excellence in STEM Education (tenured faculty category):

“Guiding students to discover concepts and ideas empowers them to learn and builds their confidence in the subject area. Along with this goal, I enjoy mentoring students and providing them with opportunities towards graduate school or careers and helping them learn how their contributions can positively impact the Valley and the nation.”

Dr. Marci R. McMahon, assistant professor, Department of English and Mexican American Studies graduate studies director (tenure-track category):

“The best education occurs when students are part of a classroom that respects multiple voices and histories. I guide students to explore how their life experiences and characteristics, compared with those of others, shape their perspectives on and their actions in the world. In doing so, I hope to deepen my students’ capacities for critical self-reflection, while also expand their abilities to bridge the theoretical and historical with the personal and the political.”

Dr. Michael Abebe, assistant professor, Department of Management (tenure-track category):

“My teaching philosophy strongly emphasizes the importance of critical thinking and pedagogical relevance. I encourage my students not only to understand and explain contemporary business management theories, but also to critically evaluate these theories in light of their personal experiences. I believe students learn best when the course material is presented in a way that draws from their background, experiences and current mental model.”

Gustavo Dietrich, lecturer, Department of Computer Science (contingent faculty category):

“I try to make my classes straightforward enough so that my students can succeed and with this, increase their self-esteem and the sense that they can do anything if they so choose. Hopefully, when they encounter a more challenging problem they will be so self-assured that they will not hesitate in trying to solve it, even if that requires learning new stuff on their own.”

Current and past winners are showcased on the UT System’s ROTA website.

Watch for a feature story on each UTPA 2013 ROTA recipient to appear at the UTPA website banner and later on the UTPA Faculty Awards site.

Original Post by Gail Fagan, Public Affairs Representative on August 20, 2013

Sonia Hernández (BA ’98, MA ’01) proudly claims being born in the city with the largest killer bee. When people look at her bewildered, not aware of Hidalgo’s famed gigantic sculpture of its mascot, she identifies the Rio Grande Valley city where she grew up in another way.

“I say I was born in the hometown of the King of the Accordion – Ramón Ayala,” jokes the associate professor of history at The University of Texas-Pan American.

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- Dr. Sonia Hernández

This Valley girl, who became an expert on U.S.-Mexico borderlands and Mexican-American history, was honored last year by The University of Texas System Board of Regents for her unique abilities to make history relevant and applicable for UT Pan American students. She was one of six UTPA faculty members who won one of the coveted Regents’ Excellence in Teaching awards given to recognize their outstanding performance as educators.

She says the recognition, which provides a $25,000 award, gave her a certain sense of legitimacy that she is actually “doing things right.”

“History should be meaningful, thought-provoking and should instill a passion for critically analyzing the past not for the sake of ‘learning dates’ but to be able to address the problems of today in a compassionate, balanced and creative way to avoid repeating the past,” she said. “When education is relevant to students and respects and celebrates their cultural heritage the learning journey will be much more enjoyable.”

The birth of her passion for history

A first-generation Mexican American, Hernández said her passion for history began when she wanted to learn more about her own family’s beginnings.

“It is a combination of wanting to know about my family history and understanding the reasons behind migration because I was the first one to be born on this side of the border,” she said.

Her father, a farm hand who once worked on the King Ranch, and her mother, a seamstress who made quinceañera dresses and wedding gowns, grew up in rural areas with limited access to schools and gained only third grade educations. In the colonia where she lived with her six siblings, Hernández said she shared a room with her five sisters and didn’t have access to an indoor bathroom until she was in high school.

“But I never saw it as ‘poor me’ – my parents take pride in the fact that they never got government aid. And it never affected the way which they instilled values and one of them was education,” Hernández said.

She graduated from the original PSJA High School and earned both her BA in Spanish and her MA in history from UT Pan American. She describes her years at UTPA as “positive.”

“You know if I had to do it over again … I would not change anything,” said Hernández, who went on to earn a Ph.D. in Latin American History from the University of Houston. “I have worked to make history exciting, relevant, and most importantly applicable to the real world. When you make students feel that they are part of the greater narrative that is U.S. history, they feel like they have a responsibility to that nation. I think that helps them become better citizens, better people in their respective communities and, ultimately, contribute to our nation.”

Engaging students in research and their own history

Her research on the borderlands and Mexican American history informs her teaching and her teaching informs her research, she said.

“I teach students their history,” said Hernández, who structures and centers her courses on hands-on research and a cooperative learning setting. “The greatest joy for me is hearing my students talk about how they discovered that their grandfathers were World War II or Vietnam vets, braceros, or in the case of one student, that her father knew and marched alongside civil rights leader César Chávez.”

She is a co-principal investigator of the Community Historical Archeology Project with Schools (CHAPS), which promotes the history, archeology and anthropology of the Valley in the form of innovative curriculum for college students as well as in area high schools. Hernández also played an important role in the development of UTPA’s first interdisciplinary class – “Discovering the Rio Grande Valley: The Natural and Cultural History of South Texas” – and was part of the CHAPS faculty team from anthropology, biology, geology and history who taught it. Students in the class produced an extensive report on land, family, culture and the environment based on their research of an early Valley family that will be published soon as a book.

In the Porciones project she developed, Hernández has her undergraduate students examine deeds and land transfers at the Hidalgo County Courthouse and interview family and community members to trace the original Spanish land grant holders in the region. Students often used their own family’s home as a starting point.

“What her students did was the kind of research done by professionals in a variety of fields including but not limited to real estate, archives, law offices, museums and oil companies. This is the kind of hands-on research that needs to take place in our history classes,” wrote Dr. Russell Skowronek, UTPA professor of anthropology and history, in his letter to recommend Hernández for the Regents award. “When she talks about history, particularly of this region, she does so with great enthusiasm that is contagious.”

When Maria Vallejo (BA ’09) took Hernández’s course in Mexican American History, she conducted research that dealt with education and the high dropout rates of Hispanics, particularly among migrant workers. She said Hernández encouraged her to conduct oral history interviews, one of which was with Vallejo’s father.

“This was an eye-opening experience for me – I was able to connect my father’s contributions as a migrant worker to the broader history of the United States,” said Vallejo, who is now mentored by Hernández while in the master’s program in history at UTPA.

A committed teacher, scholar and historian

Dr. Stephanie Alvarez, an assistant professor of Spanish and director of Mexican American Studies, said Hernández’s commitment to students led her to devote countless hours of work to develop a new Mexican American Studies program at UTPA.

“She is dearly loved by her students because of her commitment to them and to expanding the production of knowledge about the Mexican American community,” she said. “Her students often come by my office and speak about what they are learning and the research they are engaging in. For most, it is the first time in their lives that they have been presented the opportunity to study their rich history as Mexican Americans.”

As the Department of History and Philosophy’s graduate coordinator, Hernández has also encouraged many students to pursue graduate school and helped to create a collaborative Ph.D. program in history with the University of Houston.

Beyond her role as educator, Hernández’s research interest in working women in the borderlands will result in a book to be published in Spring 2014.

Hernández said her ultimate responsibility is to train students to do work that matters and transform them into practicing historians.

“Practicing historians, in the broadest sense, not just as history teachers in our schools, but as critical thinkers, who can make sense of the past to be able to tackle community issues, shape policy, communicate well, and become our nation’s future leaders,” she said.

Original Post  by Gail Fagan, Public Affairs Representative on July 15, 2013

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Noemi Martinez, a graduate student at The University of Texas-Pan American, is excited about a new opportunity that will be available for the first time this fall to earn a Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies (MAIS) in Mexican American Studies at the University.

Martinez, who earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Texas-El Paso, is currently enrolled in the Master of Arts in Spanish graduate program but said she was immediately interested in the master’s degree program in Mexican American Studies when she first heard it would be offered.

“It’s a great opportunity for the Rio Grande Valley that this program will be offered here. While other Mexican American studies programs exist, our area is unique because of the close proximity to the border,” Martinez said. “I believe having graduates of this program here locally will make people in our area experts in this field, as opposed to other schools that have ‘borderland’ type programs that are not located near the border. It would also mean that future Valley educators, if they go on to teach, can use what they learned from such a program in public schools.”

Another new master’s degree program – a MAIS in art history – will also be offered at UTPA in Fall 2013. These additional degree program options are among several other master’s programs at UTPA that have been revised recently with added or modified features to ensure more opportunities for graduate education.

“We are looking at ways to expand and enhance the University’s graduate offerings so that it does grow. We can increase these offerings by adding new programs or offer more opportunities within our existing degree programs,” said Dr. Cynthia Brown, vice provost for Graduate Studies in the Division of Academic Affairs. “It’s a conscious effort and we believe these changes provide more opportunities for our students.”

Other master’s programs that have undergone revisions are:

• Master of Science in Accounting, added new concentrations in taxation and consulting;

• Master of Arts in Spanish, added concentrations in two areas – health care interpreting and creative writing;

• Master of Education in Special Education, reduced number of hours from 39 to 30; and

• Master of Accountancy, with a focus on auditing, to be offered online in 2014.

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Since its inception, UTPA has conferred more than 13,000 graduate degrees.

Two new graduate certificate programs will also be available soon – one in Latin American Art, which starts Fall 2013, and the other in Graphic Design, which will be available Fall 2014.

“Graduate certificates allow a student to have it shown on their transcript a particular competency. In graphic design, for example, students can come in and get the certificate only if they already have their bachelor’s degree and are eligible for master-level work or they can do it as part of their Master in Fine Arts degree,” Brown said. “If they are studying the MFA (in art) and want to be able to demonstrate they have, and that they’ve earned a certificate in graphic arts or art history, students can do that within the degree. They can do either one as a stand-alone to show they have taken a body of work in that particular area.”

Having a master’s degree or a doctorate has become more necessary due to the ever-changing demand of the workforce and the additional opportunities a graduate degree provides, Brown said.

“If you look at the marketplace now, there are more and more jobs valuing a graduate degree of some sort,” she said. “It’s becoming more of a requirement in many different areas. A graduate degree opens up many opportunities for new careers and great pay for our students.”

UTPA currently has 53 master programs and three doctoral programs, in addition to a cooperative doctoral in pharmacy with UT-Austin and a cooperative in Spanish with the University of Houston.

For more information, contact the Office of Graduate Studies at (956) 665-3661 or email atgradschool@utpa.edu. For additional information, visit www.utpa.edu/gradschool.

Original Post by Javier Espinoza, Intern on June 27, 2013

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