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High school students received encouragement at The University of Texas-Pan American March 4 from two Rio Grande Valley natives who found success pursuing their love of the arts.

Author, playwright and filmmaker David Rice speaks to high school students at The University of Texas-Pan American March 4 as part of FESTIBA.

Hundreds of students enrolled in the federal Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP), administered by Region One Education Service Center, came to the UTPA campus as part of the University’s Festival of International Books and Arts (FESTIBA), which runs through March 8.

Throughout the day, the teenagers heard from artists who stressed the importance of literacy and of not giving up on one’s dreams.

“I can honestly say that I always feel inspired when I come to these events, I just think that with the speakers that they bring, the messages they have, the certain lessons that they teach, it’s always a learning experience,” said Joshua Betancourt, a sophomore at La Feria High School.

Author, playwright and filmmaker David Rice and actor and playwright Raul Castillo, both natives of the Rio Grande Valley, shared their life stories and urged the students to never stop pursuing what they love.

The GEAR UP students were all laughs during Rice’s presentation. The Edcouch native is the author of “Give the Pig a Chance & Other Stories” and “Crazy Loco” which was awarded the “Best Books for Young Readers Award” from the American Library Association in 2001.

Rice shared a piece from his 2011 book “Heart-Shaped Cookies and Other Stories.”  Rice narrated a story called “The Death of a Writer” about the time his fourth-grade teacher assigned the students to write a short story pretending to be shipwrecked on a deserted island. Rice’s classmate Ramiro read a one-sentence story about being eaten by a monster aloud to the class only for the teacher to send Ramiro to the principal’s office.

“That is the death of a writer,” Rice said.  “She didn’t kill him literally but figuratively yes, she crushed that writer. What she should’ve said is ‘okay Ramiro, what kind of monster was it?’ I don’t want to kill any writers, I don’t want to kill any artists. The sad thing is that a lot of the times you kill yourself. I want you to succeed, I really do, I want you to write monster stories.”

Diana Quintanilla, a 10th grade GEAR UP student from Port Isabel High School, said Rice’s presentation motivated her to continue her hobby of writing.

Actor and playwright Raul Castillo speaks to high school students at The University of Texas-Pan American March 4 as part of FESTIBA.

“He actually gave me more inspiration to keep on writing, to fix my grammar…to write more from the heart than what people actually want to hear,” Quintanilla said.

Dalton Swink, a 10th grade GEAR UP student from Port Isabel High School, said Rice’s presentation was very insightful.

“I try so hard to write many different stories and stuff and I don’t think they’re coming out right but he helped me learn that I can just fix them later,” Swink said. “If you like to write and if your ideas are good then you can make something out of it and that’s really inspiring to me.”

Castillo, who delivered the afternoon keynote address, encouraged students and shared with them how his journey as an actor began at his alma mater, McAllen High School.

After taking a theatre class in high school and participating in various plays, he discovered his passion in the arts. He later attended Boston University’s School of Fine Arts and graduated with a degree in theatre.

To continue pursuing acting, he moved to New York City where his opportunities soon began to unfold.

He is currently best known for his portrayal as Ricardo “Richie” Donado Ventura in the HBO series “Looking.”  Castillo made his feature film debut in “Amexican,” which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2007. He also has several film and television credits such as, “Bless Me Ultima,” “Cold Weather,” “My Best Day,” “Blue Bloods,” and “Law and Order.”

As a young Hispanic man, he felt that he would not be given many opportunities as an aspiring actor. After overcoming several challenges, such as rejection and living away from his family, he eventually appeared in many projects and earned an honorable mention at the AFI Fest in 2012 in the Student Academy Award winning short film “Narcocorrido.”

UTPA students perform scenes from the play “Evita” during GEAR UP Days at FESTIBA.

“I think we are very lucky that we come from this incredibly traditional environment and community.” Castillo said. “I feel fortunate enough and I am very thankful for FESTIBA that I can come and speak to you guys. I hope that my story can encourage you all to further your education.”

The students also attended breakout sessions, where they saw UTPA theater students perform scenes from the play “Evita,” learned about animation from Graham Toms, an animator at Newtek, and received tips on writing from the University Writing Center.

FESTIBA continues Thursday, March 5, with the Texas Book Festival’s Reading Rock Stars Program, in which children’s book authors visit elementary schools throughout the Valley to read their work and pass out books to children. There also will be a celebration of the UTPA Mariachi’s 25th anniversary and release of its newest CD.

For more information on FESTIBA, visit www.utpa.edu/festiba.

Original Post by Office of Public Affairs on March 4th, 2015.

Educators and parents need to work together to make sure Hispanic children are achieving academically, FESTIBA Congressional Roundtable Discussion panelists told librarians and educators March 6 at The University of Texas-Pan American.

Panelists of the Congressional Roundtable at FESTIBA’s Librarians and Educators Day stressed the importance of forming partnerships to encourage children to read more. Pictured from left to right are panelists Connie Humphrey, chief of staff for Congressman Rubén Hinojosa (TX-15);Sonia Nazario, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and author; KGBT-TV Action 4 News Anchor Marcy Martinez; Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, UTPA President ad interim; Valente Rodriguez, actor and UTPA alumnus; Dr. Ida Acuña-Garza, executive director of the South Texas Literacy Coalition; Dr. Hermelinda Hesbrook, H-E-B Read 3 consultant; and Dr. Dahlia Guerra, dean of UTPA’s College of Arts and Humanities.

About 120 librarians and educators from school districts and libraries throughout the Rio Grande Valley came to the UTPA campus for FESTIBA’s Librarians and Educators Day. They heard the panelists — educators, authors, artists, and partners from the public and private sectors  — address the educational achievement gaps between Hispanic children and their white peers and how literacy can help close the gap. They also received copies of books to take back to their classrooms.

Panelists were Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, UTPA President ad interim; Connie Humphrey, chief of staff for Congressman Rubén Hinojosa (TX-15); Sonia Nazario, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and author; Dr. Hermelinda Hesbrook, H-E-B Read 3 consultant; Valente Rodriguez, actor and UTPA alumnus; and Dr. Ida Acuña-Garza, executive director of the South Texas Literacy Coalition.

The panelists gave startling statistics about the low literacy rates in the region. Just 58 percent of residents in South Texas are literate and nationally there are about 44 million people who are illiterate, Acuña-Garza said.  They also talked about the challenges schools have to engage English language learners in literature.

Valente Rodriguez, who was born in Edcouch and whose family traveled north for migrant work, talked about his struggles as a child to do well in school. He said it was his teachers who guided him to college and pursue a career in acting.

“But for you, I wouldn’t be here, I wouldn’t have accomplished what I did,” Rodriguez told the crowd. “All of us up here had somebody in our lives who has guided us and who has cared enough about us to push us in the direction and here we are … and so we are your proof that your hard work does work.”

UTPA’s Ad Interim President Rodríguez gave the educators an update on The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, which will open this fall, and said that the many programs and initiatives the University will have will address many of the challenges educators are facing.

At UTRGV’s core is community engagement and the university is working to collaborate with middle schools to better prepare students for college, he said.

“It’s about opening our arms, reaching out, working with our communities, understanding what are your needs, what are your priorities, how can we ensure that we work with you so that you can make your students successful  so that they can come to UTRGV as a university of choice,” he said.

Educators and library staff members said after the roundtable discussion they felt validated by what the panelists had to say.

Luis Sepulveda, an English teacher at La Villa High School, said he and his wife, a kindergarten teacher in the Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District, make it a priority to read to their 4-year-old daughter, Sophia.

“She loves books already and we see the difference,” Sepulveda said. “She learned her letters quickly. She’ll go to the store and go to the books first, then the toys.”

Sepulveda said he also instills in his students, some of whom are already parents, the importance of parental involvement in reading to young children.

“It feels good to know that you’re doing something right,” he said.

After the roundtable discussion, Nazario delivered a keynote address. She talked about her experiences reporting on the migration of children from Central America to the United States, which won The Los Angeles Times two Pulitzer Prizes and became the national best-selling book, “Enrique’s Journey.”

Her book has become required reading in many universities and schools throughout the country, she said, and she has received letters from those who have read the book telling her how it changed their views on immigration.

“With knowledge, people can change,” she said. “Stories are what help people go beyond the superficial.”

Original Post by Jennifer Berghom on March 6th, 2015.

For Margil Vale, the Civil War wasn’t just a topic covered in history class. It was a vibrant narration passed down from generation to generation.

UTPA celebrated the virtual ribbon cutting of the RGV Civil War Trail Feb. 28 at an event held for the community. Pictured left to right are Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, UTPA president ad interim; Juanita Rea, CHAPS undergraduate assistant for publicity and social media; Dr. Russell Skowronek, CHAPS director and UTPA professor of history and anthropology; Dr. Chris Miller, UTPA history professor; and Roseann Bacha-Garza, CHAPS program coordinator. Holding the ribbon were local Civil War re-enactors Ruben Martinez (Confederate)and Don Drefke (Union).

Margil grew up in Roma listening to stories about his great-grandfather, John Heinrik Vale, a Swedish immigrant who arrived in New York in 1840 and came to the Rio Grande Valley to volunteer for Taylor’s Army of Occupation during the Mexican-American War. John, a Confederate sympathizer, made a living by transporting bales of cotton along the Rio Grande.

“(John) came around the 1840s, with the American forces fighting the Mexicans in the 1850s. So he goes into Mexico, then comes back to the area of Roma and he marries a woman from Mier (Mexico),” Margil said. “He was in the business of trading cotton, and from Mexico they would get cotton, coffee, sugar that they needed here … He was back and forth, basically buying and reselling.”

His family’s legacy, combined with his passion for history, prompted Margil to attend the launch of Rio Grande Valley Civil War Trail, presented by The University of Texas-Pan American’s Community of Historic Archaeology Project with Schools (CHAPS) Program Feb. 28 at the Student Union Theater.

“I think the information was well presented,” Margil said. “I learned things that I hadn’t heard before, even though the cotton trade was the story of our family, what our ancestors did.”

The RGV Civil War Trail is a virtual tour that includes a map, guide, brochure and associated web page and podcasts, all available in English and Spanish. Together the elements provide a conceptual “walk” through the history of the Civil War in South Texas. Local historians, educators and representatives from local, state and federal agencies provided support for developing the virtual tour.

Civil War re-enactors Rodger Wahl (left) and Ruben Martinez showed visitors replicas of Civil War-era weapons and other artifacts at their military camp re-enactment set up on UTPA’s Student Union Quad Feb. 28.

The trail runs through a five-county stretch between Laredo and Brownsville and has key locations identified on a map, such as the “Robert E. Lee House Museum” in Rio Grande City. These are accompanied by audio podcasts that describe each site’s significance. The podcasts are accessible by cell phone and have an associated QR code that takes visitors to a linked website with additional information.

A six-hour professional development workshop was held Feb. 27 at the UTPA McAllen Teaching Site where 50 K-12 educators learned how to incorporate the trail into their history curriculum.

The RGV Civil War Trail website, explains that the Valley served as a significant point of conflict in skirmishes between Union and Confederate forces along the border between the military forts of Fort McIntosh in Laredo, Ringgold Barracks in Rio Grande City and Fort Brown in Brownsville. The last land battle of the Civil War was fought on May 13, 1865 at Palmito Ranch near Brownsville.

During opening remarks at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, UTPA President Ad Interim Dr. Havidán Rodríguez said the project is history in the making and will help contribute to the growth and development of the region.

“It is a historical event, not only for The University of Texas-Pan American, but for the entire Rio Grande Valley,” Rodriguez said. “This is about building communities, strengthening partnerships to allow us to continue to move forward to recognize the history, the culture, the traditions, the value of the Rio Grande Valley.”

Chris Miller, UTPA history professor, said that over the past nine months, experts and community members contributed their knowledge to help develop the program.

“We realized there was a whole lot more than just that one battle, there were dozens of them and nobody around here knew about that,” Miller said.  “The way we do history these days, we want to know more than just the battles. We really want to get more into the lived experience of the people who were here during the Civil War. The best way of doing that is to bring in members of the community, people who know those stories, people whose ancestors lived through it, people who have the pictures, the artifacts and the memories.”

A couple attending the RGV Civil War Trail launch Feb. 28 look over a trail map they received that provides information on key Valley Civil War era sites, events and people.

Guest speakers talked about the role of Tejanos in the Civil War, the military experience of African Americans in the Valley, archeological research and the war in Mexico from 1857 to 1867.

Jerry Thompson, a Regents history professor at Texas A&M International University, said not many books credit the roleTejanos and Mexican-Americans played during the Civil War.

“The fact is that Tejanos played a major, significant and most admirable role in the Civil War in Texas,” Thompson said. “At least 3,000 Tejanos served the Stars and Bars (Confederate Army) and 954Tejanos and Mejicanos joined the Union Army, and of these, 173 in both armies became officers. It is estimated that in the entire country at least 10,000 Mexican-Americans served in the war.”

About 300 attendees received goodie bags with a trail map and other promotional items.

UTPA History Club members encouraged attendees to stop by their booth to sketch drawings of Civil War generals and soldiers. Miriam Cepeda, club president, said many of the club’s members attended the educator’s workshop the day before and were trained to teach material from the RGV Civil War Trail to grades K-12.

“I’ve lived in Rio Grande City so I was already familiar with the city but a lot of students don’t know that Civil War history is right in our backyard,” said Cepeda, a history graduate student.

Outside on the Student Union Quad, was a living history exhibit of a Civil War-era military camp where men decked out in Union and Confederate army uniforms showcased replicas of artifacts, such as rifles, used during that time.

Civil War re-enactors Donal Drefke (left) and Joe Dale enjoy coffee they made over the campfire in their living history exhibit the group of re-enactors set up Feb. 28 of a Civil War era military camp.

“We started doing military (reenactments) down at Palo Alto about five years ago,” said Donald Drefke (BBA ’76), who donned a Union army uniform.  “I figured out that I had an ancestor here in the Union army, Milt Tyner, and he was a corporal.”

Margil, who received his master’s in educational administration from UTPA in 1995 and resides in San Antonio, said he looks forward to visiting the trail’s historic sites, including his great-grandfather’s house in Roma.

“Even though history was not my major, it’s one of those things that I love and I always had my eyes and ears open for,” he said.

CHAPS, established in 2009, seeks to discover the untapped cultural and historical resources of South Texas. Members of CHAPS hope the RGV Civil War Trail will increase community pride, encourage heritage and eco tourism and stimulate the economic development of the region.

Russell Skowronek, director of CHAPS and professor of history and anthropology at UTPA, said the RGV Civil War Trail is the first visible form of integration that covers a 200-mile section of the Rio Grande. He hopes the trail will one day be implemented into the curriculum of local schools. Future goals include filming a documentary and publishing a scholarly book and trail guide.

“I hope we will use it as a springboard to look at other historic periods in the Valley in a broader, regional way, I think there’re other opportunities for us to look at later time periods,” Skowronek said.

To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the Cameron County Historical Commission’s Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee will host a series of events May 11-16, including a reenactment of the Battle of Palmito. For more information on the week-long activities visit their website at www.ph150.us.

To learn more on the RGV Civil War Trail visit www.utpa.edu/civilwar-trail or call their office at (956) 665-3231.

Original Post by Karen Perez on March 6th, 2015.

More than 200 pre-k and kindergarten school children, many clad in birthday party hats and festive party clothes, gathered excitedly in the library of the Emiliano Zapata Elementary School in Mission, Texas March 5 ready to meet the author and illustrator of the birthday-themed number book they recently read and enjoyed in their classrooms.

Fourth grade students at Emiliano Zapata Elementary School in Mission received a new autographed copy of author René Saldaña’s book “The Mystery of the Mischievous Marker” during his Texas Book Festival Reading Rock Star appearance at their school March 5.

René Saldaña, the noted children’s book author, and the book’s illustrator, Carolyn Dee Flores, made an energetic duo as they read Saldaña’s latest bilingual book – “Dale, Dale, Dale: una fiesta de numeros/Hit It, Hit It, Hit It, A Fiesta of Numbers.” They then demonstrated to students how Flores created the vibrant colorful illustrations for the picture/counting book that highlights a number of items found at a birthday party.

“She creates all of that out of my few words. Isn’t that magical?” said Saldaña, pointing to a page in the book with a piñata as Flores did a freehand sketch of a piñata that was projected on the library wall.

Saldaña, a native of Palmview and a teacher in the College of Education at Texas Tech University, and Flores are two of the six Texas Book Festival Reading Rock Stars who are visiting five Title I Rio Grande Valley elementary schools as part of The University of Texas-Pan American’s annual FESTIBA (Festival of International Books and Arts) activities March 2-8.  Other Reading Rock Stars visiting during FESTIBA are Pat Mora and Libby Martinez, who presented their book “I Pledge Allegiance” and Lydia Gil, who talked to students about her book “Letters from Heaven.”

The Reading Rock Stars program sends noted authors and illustrators to schools receiving TBF grants to read and discuss their books with students who have been studying their works prior to the visit.  Following the presentations, each child receives an autographed copy of the book from the author. Since its inception in 2008, the Texas Book Festival has serviced nearly 30,000 Valley students through the Reading Rock Star program. This year it will put 2,849 new, hard-bound books into the hands of youngsters in RGV schools.

“We choose books the students can identify with,” said Kendall Miller, Texas Book Festival Logistics and Outreach coordinator. “We see it as an opportunity to give them a book that they can relate to and to supply authors that look like them and talk like them because it is very important for them to know I can do this too, that I can be a writer, I can be an illustrator, I can be an editor, I can be a publisher. It is a way to get kids excited about reading.”

Book illustrator Carolyn Dee Flores, who collaborated with author René Saldaña on “Dale, Dale, Dale: Una Fiesta de Numeros,” gave a copy of the book to hundreds of pre-k and kindergarten students during their Reading Rock Star visits to Rio Grande Valley schools March 5-6 during FESTIBA.

The school’s principal Bertha Perez (BBA ’78, M.Ed. ’97) said her students looked forward to the event, which she describes as important because it increases the literacy of her students.

“We have to make sure that all our students are reading and become readers because if they are successful readers they are going to make it in life,” she said. “Saldana is homegrown so that gives kids inspiration that we can make it too.”

Saldaña, who once taught South Texas middle school students and at UTPA, also talked to fourth and fifth grade students who had read “The Mystery of the Mischievous Marker,” a third book in his mystery series featuring kid detective Mickey Rangel. He has contracted for three more books in the series.

Saldaña told students that he first discovered his love of reading, especially detective mysteries, when his teacher at his grade school in La Joya would send those who got their class work done early to the library. It was there he discovered the mystery series featuring Encyclopedia Brown, the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. As he grew older, he said he began to become attracted to reading anything about the existence of aliens and lost treasures, wanting to know if they existed or not.

“The first thing you need to be to be a writer is to be curious. That curiosity leads you to reading and writing and it also leads you to science and math … I wanted to find out what I didn’t know,” Saldaña said.

Texas Book Festival Reading Rock Star author René Saldaña talked to fourth grade students during a question and answer session about his love of reading and writing and how to improve their writing skills while visiting Emiliano Zapata Elementary School in Mission March 5.

After reading from his first book “The Jumping Tree,” published in 2001, Saldaña asked for volunteers to describe the worst, nastiest, most gross thing they had ever eaten on purpose, as a dare, or by accident.

He used the two student volunteers’ efforts as a lesson on how to improve their writing by adding sensory details, dialogue and more descriptive phrases to their stories and to also encourage them to read more.

“The more words we put into our heads, the more creative you can be with those words and the more power and authority you will have,” he said. “I read recently in a picture on Facebook, ‘I’m not a bookworm, I’m a book lion.’ I liked that. Lions roar. Be voracious, be vicious when it comes to reading. Take every opportunity to ‘eat’ books like a lion would eat books.”

Fourth grade students Briseyda Rendon and Lorena Salinas both said they enjoyed reading Saldaña’s book and meeting and hearing from the author.

“It was awesome. I loved his book, I like mysteries also,” Rendon said. “I like to write and I like to read. All the examples he gave us, I feel like going and writing right now. He inspired me a lot!”

The Texas Book Festival Reading Rock Star program receives support from the following: H-E-B Tournament of Champions, Read 3, The Wright Family Foundation, ECG Foundation, Tecumpseh Foundation, UTPA, Target and individual donors.

FESTIBA continues March 6 with Librarians and Educators Day featuring a Roundtable on Hispanic Literacy led by U.S. Congressman Rubén Hinojosa and keynote addresses by Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Sonia Nazario, and UTPA alumnus, actor Valente Rodriguez. Due to inclement weather, the Friday, March 6 evening community festival has been postponed to a later date to be determined.

Original Post by Gail Fagan on March 6th , 2015

Though they couldn’t solve the puzzles of Mr. Lemoncello together in person, elementary school students from both sides of the Rio Grande found a way on March 4 to unite and share their love of literature at the Dustin Sekula Memorial Library.

Students at St. Matthew’s Episcopal School in Edinburg work to solve a picture puzzle at the Dustin Sekula Memorial Library. The students participated in an international book discussion that was part of UTPA’s FESTIBA.

For the past five years, students from the Oxford School of Reynosa and St. Matthew’s Episcopal School in Edinburg have met at the library to discuss a book they have read, and to participate in a variety of activities. Their annual International Book Discussion is sponsored by the South Texas Literacy Coalition (STLC), of which The University of Texas-Pan American and the library are partners. The event ties in with UTPA’s Festival of International Books and Arts (FESTIBA).

Since the Oxford School students could not attend their annual rendezvous at the library due to a scheduling conflict, they met over Skype to discuss the book “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library” by Chris Grabenstein. It is the story of a group of children who must solve a series of puzzles to “escape” from a library and win a prize.

“I like to be here, I really wish the other kids could be here,” said Alejandro Ballesteros, a fifth-grade student at St. Matthew’s.

Though he and his fellow students said they wished their friends from Oxford could have been there with them, they still had fun working together to solve the puzzles the library gave them that were based on the book.

“They are challenging and they really get you thinking, and you get to do it with a lot of people,” Ballesteros said. “Usually, when the Oxford kids are here, we get to meet new people and get to know each other more. That’s really fun.”

FESTIBA runs through Sunday, March 8, and this year’s theme is “Entre Dos Mundos: Uniting Communities Through Arts and Literacy.”

Alexa Tressler, the children’s librarian, said the Sekula Library wanted to provide something for the children in the community that tied in with the FESTIBA activities at UTPA.

“We wanted to do something that also involved the kids in our community, that explored the world of the library, the importance of literacy, of partnerships and teaching the children teamwork, too, because they have to engage in group projects that are centered around the book,” Tressler said.

“It’s been a successful outcome so far and I think that we have been getting the message across that it is important to continue promoting literacy.”

Activities continue tomorrow, Thursday, March 5, with the Texas Book Festival’s Reading Rock Stars Program, in which children’s book authors visit elementary schools throughout the Rio Grande Valley to read their work and pass out books to children, and GEAR UP Days, when children from area secondary schools come to the UTPA campus to find their voice through the arts.

For more information on FESTIBA, visit www.utpa.edu/festiba.

Original Post by Jennifer Berghom on March 4th, 2015.

The Ballet Folklórico UT Pan American will present its tour of Alegría Gira 2015 with four shows throughout the Rio Grande Valley.

 Now in its 45th season, the Ballet Folklórico will start with an opening night Gala on Feb. 12 at the McAllen Country Club. A dinner at 5:30 p.m. will precede the opening night show of Alegría Gira 2015 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for the dinner and show are $75 per person. All attendees are requested to R.S.V.P. by Feb. 6 at (956) 665-2230.

The opening night show on Feb. 12 at the McAllen Civic Auditorium will begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets will be available at the Convention Center Box Office located at 700 Convention Center Blvd. (Ware Rd. & Exp. 83) or by calling (956) 681-3800 or via www.ticketmaster.com (800-745-3000). Tickets prices will range from $16-$18 for adults, $14-$16 for seniors, and $12-$14 for students and children.

Earlier that day, the Ballet Folklórico UT Pan American will perform a matinee show at 10 a.m. for public and private schools’ students and teachers at the McAllen Civic Auditorium. Tickets are $3 per student/teacher/sponsor. Teachers interested in attending may call the Dance Office at (956) 665-2230 to request a reservation form.

Public concerts will continue at the Brownsville TSC Performing Arts Center on Feb. 14 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for the Brownsville show will be on sale the Brownsville IBC Walmart In-Store Branch located at 79 E. Alton Gloor Blvd. Tickets prices will range from $12-$14 for adults, $10-$12 for seniors, and $8-$10 for students and children.

The Ballet Folklórico will present Alegría Gira 2015 on Feb. 21 to the Weslaco community at the Weslaco Performing Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for the Weslaco show will be on sale at the Weslaco IBC Walmart In-Store Branch located on 1310 N. Texas. Tickets prices will range from $12-$14 for adults, $10-$12 for seniors, and $8-$10 for students and children.

The tour will continue on Feb. 28 at the Harlingen Municipal Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Tickets will be available at the auditorium’s box office at 1204 Fair Park Blvd., Harlingen, or by calling (956) 216-5990 or visitingwww.harlingenarts.com Tickets prices will range from $16-$18 for adults, $14-$16 for seniors, and $12-$14 for students and children.

Alegría Gira 2015 is a vibrant show that brings to life Mexico’s beautiful folk dance art. An energetic, spirited, cast of 30 dancers, colorful costuming, dramatic and exciting choreographies, complemented with special theatrical lighting and music, is sure to thrill audiences, young and old alike. A history of Mexico’s folk dance is unveiled as original works and invited guest artists’ choreographies from eight different regions and states of Mexico fill the stage.

The Ballet Folklórico UT Pan American is under the direction of Francisco Muñoz, artistic director, and Maria Oralia Muñoz, administrative director. Members of the 2015 Ballet Folklórico are Anthony Carrillo, Alejandro Casillas, Amy Castellanos, Magín Cervantes, Annalysa Cruz, Elizette Dávila, Fancy De León, Ricardo Flores, Abril Silva Galván, Naileah Garza, Uriel Góngora, Ángel Hernández, Aracely Longoria, Daniela Martinez, Mónica Martínez, Amanda Meda, LeeRoy Mora, Hanss Mujica, Perla Olivo, Ana Pinedo, Guillermo Rivas, Lillian Rodríguez, Marco Romero, Brandon Salinas, Anthony Soto, Max Tijerina, Susan Tristán, Mónica Vargas and Jasleen Vélez .

For more information about the Ballet Folklórico, contact the Dance Office at (956) 665-2230 or visitwww.utpa.edu/balletfolklorico.

Original Post on Jan 13th, 2015.

Recent UTPA alum Nina Chávez Góngora has directed a film – Azul Pastel – that is among the top 20 in an international filmmaking competition.

With the awards season in full swing, a group of alumni and students from The University of Texas-Pan American are giving Hollywood filmmakers a run for their money.

Azul Pastel, a short original film directed by recent UTPA graduate Nina Chávez Góngora, is currently among the top 20 in the eighth annual 100 Hour Film Race, an international filmmaking competition organized by NYC Midnight Movie Making Madness. According to the organization’s website, the event seeks to create unique and inspiring competitions while providing exposure for aspiring filmmakers.

“I couldn’t believe it…it’s the most popular film race around the world, it’s a big deal to us,” said Chávez after receiving the good news. “I was a student when we (filmed) this and when you achieve something like that in your life you want to let people know that you don’t need a lot of experience, you don’t need a lot of money — you just need your knowledge.”

Chávez encourages the UTPA community to watch her filmAzul Pastel and vote for it by visiting their website. With the public’s support, Chávez and her team have a shot of taking home the Audience Award. Additional award categories include Best Film and Best Director, which will be selected by the judges. Voting ends Feb. 4.

In the competition, which ran from Dec. 4-8, participants from across the world were given 100 hours to write, shoot, and edit a film while incorporating the theme of a secret, the action of sleep and whipped cream as a prop.

Filmed in the coastal waters of South Padre Island, Azul Pastel tells the story of an elderly man trapped between heaven and earth by the memory of his most beloved ones and, with the help of his grandchildren and his favorite birthday cake, is able to transcend into peaceful slumber.

Chávez (second from left) and her creative team filmed in the waters of South Padre Island. She and her team are seeking votes for their film Azul Pastel to win the Audience Award in the eighth annual 100 Hour Film Race. The deadline to vote is Feb. 4.
The collaborative effort between Chávez and her team allowed the artistry and storyline to come to life. The story, which was developed within a six-hour brainstorming session, has sparked different interpretations from the public.

“From the very beginning we decided to make a story in which the end was something ambiguous,” said Chávez, who received her degree in TV/Film from UTPA December 2014. “Within five minutes, it moves you emotionally — at the end of the film, you want to talk about it.”

Chávez, who was born in Veracruz, Mexico, explained that the titleAzul Pastel translates to both “pastel blue” and “blue cake.”

Chávez  said she was inspired by the Icelandic post-rock song used in the film, Ekki Múkk and credits her team, which included her brother, sister, friends and classmates, for the film’s success.

“The most difficult thing that I have done in my life is direct two kids that didn’t speak the same language,” she said with a laugh. “I also learned that working with a large team is better. Everyone worked so well together and at the end, everyone was happy with the results.”

As for her future, Chávez plans to study cinematography in Czech Republic and film production in London. She said winning the competition would help her be a step closer to fulfilling her dreams as a director.

The winners will be announced Feb. 5 and will receive a monetary incentive along with professional editing software. To vote for Chávez’s film, visit www.azulpastelfilm.com

Original Post on Jan 21st, 2015.

The public is invited to enjoy festive holiday music at UTPA’s TubaChristmas concert at 2 p.m. on Dec. 7 at the UTPA Fieldhouse. It is free and family friendly – come join in the spirit of the season.

The Rio Grande Valley community is invited to enjoy an oompah-good holiday time at the annual RGV TubaChristmas concert presented at The University of Texas-Pan American Sunday, Dec. 7 at 2 p.m. in the UTPA Fieldhouse.

The concert, which is free and open to the public, features instruments in the tuba family, including sousaphone, baritones and euphoniums played by musicians ages 8 to 80. You’ll be amazed with the instruments’ intricate sounds and the festive appearance of the horns that are often adorned with Christmas season decorations.  Concert goers will enjoy traditional holiday favorites – from “Silent Night” to “Jingle Bells” and more.

“TubaChristmas is a music concert held in cities worldwide that celebrates those who play, teach and compose music for instruments in the tuba family,” explained UTPA Associate Professor of Music Dr. Scott Roeder, who co-coordinates the annual event with Jim Egger, head band director at McAllen High School.

The first TubaChristmas was founded in 1974 by legendary tubist Harvey G. Phillips to honor his tuba teacher and mentor William J. Bell, who was born on Christmas Day. More than 300 musicians played that day at New York City’s Rockefeller Plaza Ice Rink and started a tradition that continues to grow. Any musician can play in a TubaChristmas as long as he or she plays an instrument in the tuba family.

The RGV TubaChristmas has been held annually for more than 25 years. More than 350 high school and junior high school students and educators  from almost every public school district in the Valley from Roma to Brownsville participate making it one of the largest TubaChristmas events in the country.

All UTPA tuba and euphonium majors will also assist and play in the event. This year’s special guest artist for the concert is Matthew Murchison, who is solo euphonium with the River City Brass Band in Pittsburgh, Pa. and considered one of the world’s best euphonium/tuba musicians.

The RGV TubaChristmas is sponsored by the College of Arts and Humanities, Department of Music and Dance, The Harvey Phillips Foundation, Melhart Music and the International Tuba Euphonium Association Chapter at UTPA.

Don’t miss this joyous holiday event that will appeal to listeners of all ages. View a video of UTPA’s euphonium and tuba musicians here.

For more information or special accommodations, call (956) 665-3471.

Original Post by Gail Fagan, Public Affairs Representative on Nov 21st, 2014.

It was in his first stint as an educator teaching a class on human evolution, that Russell Skowronek, now professor of history and anthropology at The University of Texas-Pan American,  set a goal to not be one of those professors who, for students, would be as interesting as “watching paint dry.”

Recalling the advice of  his mother, also an educator, who suggested teachers had to be a bit of a “ham” to interest their students, Skowronek brings his passion for research and lifelong discovery into the classroom to inspire students through engaged learning.

“If you bring that passion, the students will follow you,” he says of the teacher-scholarmodel of education he advocates. “I learned that those who effectively used maps, slides, music and brought discussions to life with anecdotes and examples would enchant a classroom. In addition, I learned that education does not solely take place within a classroom. A great teacher understands that learning takes place in many arenas.”

His expertise in teaching recently garnered Skowronek one of seven 2014 University of Texas System Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Awards presented to UTPA faculty members.  The recognition includes a monetary reward of $25,000, which is among the largest incentives in the nation for exceptional faculty performance.

Bringing education to life through research

As a scholar of the Spanish colonial world, Skowronek’s  research has taken him from Madrid to Manila and from Labrador to Lima in the field, underwater and in archives and libraries. He has published 10 books and monographs and dozens of articles, book chapters and reports. He is a renowned expert on the archaeology of piracy, co-authoring or editing two books on his research in that field. As a research affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, Skowronek  just completed  a 15-year project, which included the engagement of undergraduate students, on Spanish colonial pottery that was published this year. His next book on piracy, “Pieces of Eight, More Archaeology of Piracy,” will be published in Summer 2015.

Skowronek earned  bachelor’s degrees in anthropology and political science from the University of Illinois, master’s degrees from Florida State University in anthropology and history/historical administration and  another master’s and a Ph.D. in anthropology from Michigan State University.  Prior to his arrival at UTPA in 2009, he was a faculty member at Santa Clara University, where he received two of that university’s coveted faculty recognitions – the Brutocao Award for Teaching Innovation and the Joseph Bayma S.J. Scholarship Award.

“I have embraced the local place-based STEAM field approach for my teaching and research. In an era when STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields grab the headlines … STEAM (with the ‘A’ for arts and humanities)  with its emphasis on place-based applications of the STEM fields provides historical and cultural context,” he said. “My research bridges the spectrum from humanities to science and uses the skill sets of both to illuminate the human condition within the context of local conditions – both social and natural – through time.”

Connecting communities to their history

At UT Pan American, this approach is evident in the Community Historical Archaeology Project with Schools (CHAPS), a project that Skowronek initiated and now directs, that combines locally-focused research, community engagement and K-17 education.  Through its class “Discovering the Rio Grande Valley” – the University’s first interdisciplinary studies course –  students work as teams to conduct field research in archaeology, biology, geology, history and oral history and critically evaluate their findings. So far, their research, guided by Skowronek and CHAPS multi-discipline faculty, has resulted in three books on the history of three Rio Grande Valley families and their land.

Skowronek’s students have helped the National Park Service survey a Mexican War Battlefield, sifted through tons of dirt to assist the Edinburg police department in a crime scene investigation and talked to hundreds of school children about the history in their own backyard during HESTEC and the annual International Archaeology Fair.

“Identifying and providing and participating with students in a variety of discipline-related interactions builds relations which will last a lifetime,” Skowronek said. “Energy spent on today’s students can pay off when they become tomorrow’s colleagues.”

Engaging others in lifelong learning

For 2013 graduate Lupe A. Flores, who earned his bachelor’s degree in anthropology, it was in the “Discovering the Rio Grande Valley” class that he said his growth as a professional and as an anthropology scholar reached a peak.

“Skowronek’s never-ending motivation and guidance resulted in our group’s first-ever published research manuscript. This, to me is what made all those long hours of studying, data collecting (interviews, transcriptions, archive visits, literature reviews) and writing worthwhile: the fact that he was able to open doors to an accomplishment rarely experienced by undergraduates (even graduates) while attaining their education,” said Flores, who also wrote in his award recommendation letter about Skowronek’s help during challenging times he has as a student. “Skowronek never gave up on me: he recognized my potential even in dark times and helped me through every step of the way.”

His student Jenarae Alaniz, a 2014 graduate in anthropology, called the nature of his classes unique and “taking each student on a wonderful journey through history.”

“By simply reading the title of his class, such as “Pirates, Shipwrecks and the Sea” or “Chiefdoms and Conquistadors,” one is intrigued to learn the topic that not many, if any other professor on campus can teach,” she said. “Personally, he inspired me to learn about my own history and conduct my own research into my family tree. His classes are demanding but allow the student to look at the world differently.”

Miguel Gutierrez Jr., a 2014 graduate in anthropology who is now pursuing a graduate degree in archaeology at a university in England,  praised Skowronek’s accessibility to and mentorship of students and claimed never experiencing one dull moment in any of the five classes he took from Skowronek. He recalled in his letter recommending Skowronek for the Regents’ award that while students sifted in dirt for artifacts, Skowronek didn’t sit back on the sidelines and just give instructions.

“He taught with his hands as well as with his mouth. Dr. Skowronek stressed that, in an archeological excavation, everybody involved was a student. He was just as likely to learn something new as anybody else,” Gutierrez stated. “His benevolent help toward his students has helped them in ways that go beyond earning an “A” in class.”

However, Skowronek’s students go beyond those at UT Pan American.  Through grants and foundation support, the rich but unexplored history and culture of the area has been brought to K-12 students also and their teachers in the form of workshops,  classroom presentations in Valley schools and the development and distribution of children’s activities books on local history. CHAPS’ latest community-based effort  is the development of a virtual Rio Grande Valley Civil War Trail consisting of a trail map, podcasts and a website that will be completed early next year.

“My idea about teaching is that I know that I am paid to teach college and graduate and undergraduate students, but if I think about what the mission of this University is and especially CHAPS, I am also helping to teach K through 12 and K through lifetime to the community,” Skowronek said.

See The University of Texas System’s Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Awards website to view all 70 faculty members from the UT System’s nine academic institutions selected to receive this year’s award. Learn more about prior UTPA winners of the Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Awards at the Office of Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs website.

Original Post by Gail Fagan, Public Affairs Representative on Dec 1st, 2014.

BRTV Fall Mid Semester Update


Behind the scenes of a BRTV live streamed newscast

VIEW our latest newscast here:


It has been a very active semester for Bronc TV and Bronc Radio. Live newscasts in both Spanish and English continue to be the backbone of BRTV. This semester newscasts have covered a variety of topics, with reporters producing several well-researched, informative stories. An example is a story covering issues connected to UTPA shuttle buses. Other stories illustrate the fun, community spirit alive on the campus. Coverage of UTPA Spirit Week is a great example of the community-based stories produced this semester. The goal of all the stories is to allow both students and administration to have a voice in topics affecting our UTPA community. Bronc Radio has a variety of live programming 5 days a week. image


Anchors in action

BRTV’s mission includes bringing the latest news concerning our transition to UT-RGV to the community. UT-RGV related news reports this semester have discussed academic advisement, addressed graduation questions and covered other valuable information. 


Bronc Madness

Outside the BRTV studios, our journalists have brought audio and video to six major UTPA events, an average of more than one per month. Capturing live events has become a responsibility BRTV takes seriously. BRTV leadership schedules a variety of events covering multiple UTPA departments. 


Ready to report the news:

Below is an overview of BRTV’s coverage this semester from our core crew of 12 journalists:

• 10  live-streamed newscast in both English and Spanish newscasts, an average of one per week. 

• Bronc Madness – BRTV technicians/artists worked as the professional crew streaming footage to the JumboTron and gathering archival footage. 

• Produced stories for the Athletics Department show “Bronc Country”. The show is aired across Texas on the TWC channel.

• Majors Fair – and put together a video of the Communication Departments Thriller dance

• Live Remotes every Tuesday at the Student Union

• BRTV students work as production crew for all UTPA home Athletics events. 

• Student Union Costume contest – BRTV not only MC’d this event but we also gathered footage for use in upcoming news stories

  • Scheduled Fiesta Marathon at Wellness and Recreation Center – BRTV will live stream all guest speakers and seminars for the event.


Our awesome anchors


Shooting Bronc Madness


Getting the shot!

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