By Cheryl Taylor
Texas Border Business
BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – JAN. 5, 2016 – Seven experts representing Rio Grande Valley educational institutions shared their insight at the annual State of Education luncheon and panel discussion on Tuesday.
Hosted by the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce and held at the Ambassador Event Center in Brownsville, the occasion provided an overview of past, present and future initiatives and programs that better help Brownsville students meet their educational goals and prepare for meaningful careers.
On the panel was Dr. Guy Bailey, president of The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, who said “the single most important thing the university must do is to retain the number of student we have.”
“Moving forward, we will enhance successful initiatives of UTRGV’s legacy institutions. Also, we have begun to revisit past partnerships, and signed new articulation agreements, such as the one with Texas Southmost College,” he said.
The panel experts were from the 14 Leadership Team members of the “All In Brownsville” initiative, launched in 2012 with funding by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
All In, formerly known as Partners for Postsecondary Success, seeks to double the number of young adults in Brownsville who earn postsecondary credentials – certificate, associate or bachelor’s – with labor market value by 2025.
Traci Wickett, president and CEO of United Way of Southern Cameron County and administrator of the All In initiative, told attendees about the expansion of the successful All In Student Ambassadors program, which now reaches students as young as pre-kindergarten.
“The All In partners are committed to increasing the number of students who are prepared for college-level courses,” Wickett said. “Financial aid resources are limited, and we want to ensure that students use their assistance to pay for credit-bearing courses, rather than developmental education.”
Dr. Marti Flores, vice president of instruction at Texas Southmost College, said it is heartbreaking when students apply to TSC and realize some of the credits they obtained in high school are “not remotely aligned” with their program of study.
Throughout the panel discussion – moderated by Susan D. Valverde, executive director of Sylvan Learning, Rio Grande Valley – speakers reiterated key themes that echoed All In’s six steps of student progression: Preparation, Connection, Entry, Progress, Completion and Employment.
Other recurring themes included the importance of students learning “soft skills,” such as social graces, communication tools and teamwork; the need for clear and focused student advising; development of keen literacy skills; schools’ expansion of career pathways, and overall increased collaboration between academic institutions and local businesses.
Along with Flores and Bailey, panel members included Tom Torkelson, founder and CEO of IDEA Public Schools; Michael J. Motyl, interim president of Saint Joseph Academy in Brownsville; Dr. Maria M. Guerra, superintendent of the South Texas Independent School District; and Dr. Esperanza Zendejas, superintendent of the Brownsville Independent School District.