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Marc Geller, a second-year student at The University of Texas-Pan American’s Physician Assistant Program, was one of the select few students in the U.S. to  travel this fall to Washington, D.C., to learn more on advocacy, leadership and PAs in the health care environment.

Geller, along with nine physician assistant students from across the nation, participated in the Physician Assistant Education Association’s (PAEA) inaugural Student Health Policy Fellowship. The PAEA was established in 1972 and is the only national organization in the country to represent PA educational programs.

The purpose of the fellowship is to foster leadership and advocacy skills and enhance students’ understanding of political processes and health policies. The workshops held throughout the three-day event featured prominent members of the health policy community and served as a learning and networking opportunity for Geller. Afterward, the fellows visited elected officials and congressional staff on Capitol Hill. Geller said meeting with lawmakers and legislative assistants to discuss the importance of funding for the PA profession was the highlight of the trip.

“It was a great experience,” Geller said. “They (PAEA) want people not just to be practitioners taking care of patients but to also be able to be effective advocates for health reforms, changes in health policy and to sort of encourage people to play a leadership role in health care in the United States.”

To further their advocacy skills, participants will work on individual projects focusing on promoting health care, education and advocacy. Geller, along with a fellow PAEA from Texas, is planning to give a student presentation at the upcoming spring conference of the Texas Academy of Physician Assistants, titled “Make Waves, not Noise: Engage Your Local Government.” He said the idea is to share with others some of the knowledge and insight gained from his fellowship experience.

Geller, a former journalist with a bachelor’s in psychology, said a visit to the doctor’s office prompted his interest in pursuing the PA field after realizing he had been treated by a PA, not a doctor. Geller, who received encouragement by his instructor to apply for the competitive fellowship, believes UTPA’s PA program is ideal for individuals interested in health care.

“I’m happy now to be returning to the health field,” Geller said. “The PA program, I’ve it heard it described before as sort of the hidden gem of Pan Am and it really is. The faculty is very receptive and responsive to us and is constantly looking for ways to improve this program.”

After graduation next year, Geller expects to launch his career as a PA in primary care under the National Health Service Corps scholarship where scholars are assigned to work in areas with health-care professional shortages.

To learn more about the PAEA Student Health Policy Fellowship, visit www.paeaonline.org/.

Shawn SaladinMcALLEN— Being born hard of hearing, Shawn Saladin of Edinburg remembers the isolation and lack of understanding that comes with being partially deaf.

Years later, and with several college degrees at hand, those struggles have given him the opportunity to represent students dealing with deafness throughout Texas.

Saladin, associate dean of research and academic affairs at The University of Texas Pan American’s college of health science and human services, was recently appointed by Gov. Rick Perry to the governing board of the Texas School for the Deaf, where he will begin serving next month until January 2017.

TSD works as a state agency to provide education to children who are deaf, hard of hearing or with multiple disabilities ages until 21 years of age.

The school’s bylaws mandate five out of nine board members must be deaf, parents of children who are deaf, or professionals working with the deaf.

“It’s really a huge honor,” he said. “The three things I’m supposed to do are teach, research and serve. And this really ties those three things together.”

For the past 10 years, Saladin has been serving as gubernatorial appointee for several committees such as the Rehabilitation Council of Texas and Governor’s Committee of People with Disabilities, where he continues to be a member.

Saladin has been researching ways to help bring quality education into school programs for the deaf and widen the range of resources available so that they can lead a more independent lifestyle. He is a co-developer of UTPA’s project Valley I-CAN— Valley Independent Confident Activities Network— where students volunteers help individuals who need sign language translations and tutoring.

“I want these people to know that we can figure out ways for them to have more control over their lives so that they can realize their hopes and dreams,” Saladin said.

As a new board member, he said he wants to figure out ways to reach out to people in need, especially in the Rio Grande Valley where as many as 8,000 people are deaf of hard of hearing. Only a handful of them are students, he said.

“I want to show what the school for the Deaf can offer to the Valley,” Saladin said. “Make sure that all children end up with a proper education.”

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For the second year in a row, The University of Texas-Pan American ranks No. 4 in the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded to Hispanics nationwide according to an annual report published in October by Diverse Issues in Higher Education. UTPA also ranked No. 6 in the number of graduate degrees across all disciplines awarded Hispanics.

The University of Texas-Pan American ranks No. 4 in the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded to Hispanics nationwide according to an annual report published in October by Diverse Issues in Higher Education. UTPA also ranked No. 6 in the number of graduate degrees across all disciplines awarded Hispanics.

The magazine’s annual “Top 100 Degree Producers” published in the magazine’s Oct. 9 issue, are based on 2012-13 data provided by the U.S. Department of Education.              

“The rankings represent the University’s commitment to promoting excellence in everything that we do, and in particular, in recruiting, retaining, serving and graduating Latino/a students,” said UTPA President Ad Interim Dr. Havidán Rodríguez.

In addition to UTPA’s rankings in awarding bachelor’s and graduate degrees across all disciplines, the report shows UTPA ranks No. 1 in awarding bachelor’s degrees in Health Professions and Related Programs,  No. 2 in the bachelor’s degrees to Hispanics in English Language and Literature/Letters, and No. 3 in bachelor’s degrees to Hispanics in Biological and Biomedical Sciences. The 388 graduates earning bachelor’s degrees in Health Professions and Related Programs represented a 40 percent increase from the 2011-12 academic year.

UTPA also ranks No. 1 in awarding master’s degrees to Hispanics in the following areas: Allied Health Diagnostic, Intervention, and Treatment Professions; Mathematics and Statistics; and Rehabilitation and Therapeutic Professions. The 17 master’s graduates in math and statistics represented a 183 percent increase from the prior academic year.

The University awarded 2,446 undergraduate degrees to Hispanic students in 2012-13 representing 89 percent of all UTPA bachelor’s degrees awarded that academic year. In 2012-13, 616 graduate degrees – at all levels – were awarded to Hispanic students attending UTPA, representing 80 percent of the graduate degrees awarded.

Other academic disciplines at UTPA that ranked among the top 10 undergraduate degrees awarded Hispanics include the following:

  • No. 4 – Communication Disorders Sciences and Services; Homeland Security, Law Enforcement, Firefighting and Related Protective Services; Mathematics and Statistics ; and Multi/Interdisciplinary Studies
  • No. 5 – Psychology
  • No. 6 – Parks, Recreation, Leisure and Fitness Studies
  • No. 7 – Accounting and Related Services; and Public Administration and Social Services Professions
  • No. 8 – Engineering; and Foreign Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics

Also, the following additional academic disciplines at UTPA ranked in the top 10 for awarding master’s degrees to Hispanics:

  • No. 2 – English Language and Literature/Letters; and Health Professions and Related Programs
  • No. 3 – Communication Disorders Sciences and Services; History; and Multi/Interdisciplinary Studies
  •  No. 4 – Accounting and Related Services
  • No. 7 – Communication, Journalism and Related Programs; and Foreign Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics;
  • No. 9 – Public Administration and Social Service Professions

For a complete list of the rankings, along with the methodology used, visit  http://diverseeducation.com/top100/.

On Oct. 16 The University of Texas-Pan American had a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the completion of the new College of Health Sciences and Human Services Social Work and Occupational Therapy (SWOT) Building. UTPA renovated the former bookstore building on the corner of University Drive and Miguel A. Nevárez Drive (N. Fourth Avenue) to accommodate those programs.

Currently there are about 300 undergraduate students and 160 graduate students in the social work program and about 50 students in the occupational therapy program.

Students said they like the new space.

“It’s easy when we have classes here, so if we have any questions we can go to (the faculty members’) offices as well,” said Jessica Garcia, a senior in the social work program.

Dr. John Ronnau, dean of the College of Health Sciences and Human Services, said the new space for the programs was the culmination of teamwork throughout the university.

“It has been a monumental effort on the part of our faculty, on the part of social work and occupational therapy faculty who were involved early on in the programming of this building … And of course it happened because of fantastic teamwork with other divisions on campus” Ronnau said. “We would not be having this conversation if it weren’t for the support of our administration and, at a time when resources are in short supply (and) buildings are in short supply, they saw the tremendous growth in this college, with tremendous growth in each program, and allocated a building to this college.”

The college also introduced its new chair of the Department of Social Work, Dr. Sudershan Pasupuleti, who came to UTPA from The University of Toledo in Ohio, where he served as the undergraduate program director.

Pasupuleti is a recipient of the Hartford Faculty Scholar Award from the Gerontological Society of America. He holds a Master of Arts and a Master of Philosophy in social work from the Delhi School of Social Work, a Ph.D. from Osmania University and a graduate certificate in geriatric practice from the University of Toledo.

Pasupuleti said he is excited to be at UTPA and is looking forward to the start of UTRGV. He said his hope is that the Social Work program will be a catalyst in helping the community.

“I do feel that this department has great potential and the community is in great need of the services of social workers,” he said.”The social work department not only is preparing the professionals to get into some of the social worker roles, but also making a difference in the community.”

In July, she took the job as executive director of the Family Crisis Center in Harlingen.

“I want to create awareness about what we do and about domestic violence,” Catchings said. “People tell me, ‘I’ve never heard of (the center). I didn’t know it existed.’ People see the sign and they don’t know what it is. They don’t know what services we offer.”

Catchings holds a master’s degree in clinical social work from the University of Texas-Pan American. She took the position after serving two years as supervisor for the state Department of Family Protective Services in Laredo.

Now she oversees an organization with a staff of 21, with offices in Harlingen and Raymondville and a shelter that helps domestic violence victims.

The organization also runs Repeat Performance, a thrift shop at 124 W. Jackson Ave. that offers clothes to victims of domestic violence, she said.

High rates of domestic violence plague homes across South Texas, Catchings said.

“Here in the Valley, we have one of the highest statistics — the numbers are extremely high,” Catchings said. “It’s one of the main problems we experience.”

And the area’s high rate of alcohol abuse fuels violence, she said.

“Domestic abuse and alcohol abuse — I think those are the two main problems affecting the community,” she said. “I think it goes hand-in-hand with alcohol abuse.”

Catchings called domestic violence a “learned behavior” children pick up from their parents.

“Kids grow up seeing mom and dad have a violent relationship, so they grow up doing the same thing,” she said

Washington, D.C.–Today– Congressman Rubén Hinojosa announced that the U.S. Department of Education awarded a grant of $200,000 to the University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA) through the 2014 Rehabilitation Long-Term Training Program.
“Part of our nation’s promise to those who seek to earn a college degree is that we will continue to work on making higher education more affordable and accessible for all of our students, especially those who come from middle class or low-income families and minorities,” said US. Rep. Hinojosa. “UTPA continues to garner grant awards that offer opportunities for many students to continue their commitment to earning a college degree.”
Rehabilitation Long-Term Training Programs provide academic training in areas of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) personnel shortages.  Students pursuing degrees in rehabilitation are provided financial assistance under this program.
The purpose of this program is to provide financial assistance for—
(1) Projects that provide basic or advanced training leading to an academic degree in areas of personnel shortages,
(2) Projects that provide a specified series of courses or program of study leading to the award of a certificate in areas of personnel shortages in rehabilitation; and
(3) Projects that provide support for medical residents enrolled in residency training programs in the specialty of physical medicine and rehabilitation.
This grant also contains requirements for masters-level programs to train VR counselors to meet the needs of VR consumers in today’s challenging economy. 
States and public or nonprofit agencies and organizations, including Indian tribes and institutions of higher education, are eligible for assistance under the Rehabilitation Training program.
Congressman Rubén Hinojosa is a ranking member of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and a member of the Committee on Financial Services. 
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Anne Stachura Assistant Professor of Spanish, UTPA had the pleasure of leading a service-learning trip to Playa Gigante, Nicaragua as the faculty advisor for Student Association for Medical Spanish(SAMS) at the University of Texas-Pan American.  Eleven undergraduate pre-med students and I spent the week living in a small rural town with local families while supporting the local healthcare providers in conducting a house-to-house hypertension evaluation and survey organized by the non-profit Project WOO.  The members of the student organization SAMS fundraised since last fall to prepare for this trip, but the beginnings of this collaboration go back almost 10 years.  As a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras from 2004-2006, I met two other volunteers in my training group, Nick Mucha and Adam Monaghan, who decided to start this non-profit grassroots sustainable community development organization after our service.  When I heard that Project WOO was starting a health project, I sought an opportunity to travel with my students to collaborate in a sustainable health intervention and participate in an international service-learning trip.  This trip provided a very unique learning opportunity for my students and in a small way helped to improve access to healthcare in another community that, like the Rio Grande Valley, has limited access to health services.



The Student Food Pantry, dedicated at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Aug. 28, will provide non-perishable food items once per week to currently enrolled students needing assistance. The pantry, which is located in Room 104 of the University Center, will be under the sponsorship of the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley, and under the direction of the Office of UTPA Dean of Students. It is the second student food pantry to be established in The University of Texas System, the first one at UT Dallas.

Pictured at the Food Pantry ribbon cutting are left to right Fernanda Pena, SGA vice president; Dr. Mari Fuentes-Martin, associate vice president and dean of students; Jody Nelsen; UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen; Dr. Martha Cantu, vice president, Division for Student Affairs; Dr. Eugenia Curet, assistant dean of students for Student Support; and Alberto Adame, SGA president. The pantry will begin operating Sept. 8.

“This is a proud moment,” said Dr. Mari Fuentes-Martin, UTPA dean of students, who welcomed the crowd to the dedication event and described the teamwork of administrators, staff, and students that helped bring the pantry to fruition. “We have developed an online registration system and already have students registering for the service.”

Fuentes-Martin said food insecurity is a real problem within college campuses across the nation. At UTPA, it is estimated that one in six students may be food insecure, she said.

“By providing currently enrolled students with a convenient site to obtain food and apply for food assistance when needed, we aim to meet their nutritional needs and minimize adverse impacts on their academic progress and success,” she said.

Dr. Martha Cantu, UTPA vice president for Student Affairs, recalled the growing numbers of students who came to her office asking for help who were struggling with paying their tuition and fees, buying books and not having enough money to buy food for themselves or their families.

“It’s hard to concentrate in school when you’re hungry and you don’t know where your next meal is going to come from. We are thrilled that the University community has embraced this and that we will be able to help students with this very important need,” Cantu said.

Recognized during the event were the pantry’s first monetary donors – UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen, who made the creation of a food pantry part of University’s strategic plan,  and his wife Jody, who is president of the Food Bank-RGV and will serve on the Student Food Pantry Advisory Board.

“This (pantry) represents two of my greatest passions … UTPA students and the food bank. Through the food pantry and its partnership with the food bank, we will be fighting hunger and feeding hope,” Jody Nelsen said.

Sodexho, UTPA’s food service company, was also thanked for its $5,000 donation that will support meal plan vouchers for selected students in need.

In its initial year, the UTPA Food Pantry is expected to serve an average of 100 students weekly and 1,600 unduplicated students throughout the year. It’s day-to-day operation will receive assistance from students, many social work majors, who will help qualifying students to apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that can provide longer-term assistance. They will also help arrange and conduct monthly food donation drives.

The pantry’s hours of operation will be 4-6 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday and 3-5 p.m. on Friday. Online application forms can be found on the Student Food Pantry website at utpa.edu/foodpantry.

Choosing to pay college costs and other expenses over eating is news that Alberto Adame, current president of UTPA’s Student Government Association, has heard frequently and said the pantry will fill a huge need on campus.

“This Food Pantry is going to go a long way toward supporting the University’s and Student Affairs’ mission of maximizing student success,” he said. “This is an initiative that hopefully other universities in the UT System will start and it will spread to other universities in Texas and in the nation.”

Enjoy ribbon cutting photos at this Facebook photo gallery. For more information, call (956) 665-FOOD (6336) or visit the Student Food Pantry website.

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