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White House names UTRGV a “Bright Spot in Hispanic Education”


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UTRGV Provost Dr. Havidán Rodríguez  (UTRGV Photo)
UTRGV Provost Dr. Havidán Rodríguez  (UTRGV Photo)

Texas Border Business

By Melissa Vasquez

EDINBURG & BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – SEPT. 16, 2015 – The White House says The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley is doing a great job of helping Latinos get a quality education, and on Sept. 15 named it a “Bright Spot” in the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

As a Bright Spot, the announcement singled out two university initiatives: UTRGV’s Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology (HESTEC) program, and the way UTRGV has institutionalized research and experiential learning opportunities for undergraduate students under the direction of Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, UTRGV provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs. 

UTRGV’s Bright Spot designation will be part of the first ever national online catalog, which includes more than 230 programs that invest in key education priorities for Hispanics – early learning, college access, STEM education, postsecondary completion, and Hispanic teacher recruitment.

The announcement, made by Alejandra Ceja, executive director of the initiative, launched Hispanic Heritage Month and honored the initiative’s 25th anniversary in Washington, D.C.

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“There has been notable progress in Hispanic educational achievement, and it is due to the efforts of these Bright Spots in Hispanic Education, programs and organizations working throughout the country to help Hispanic students reach their full potential,” Ceja said.

The initiative seeks to leverage Bright Spots to encourage collaboration between stakeholders focused on similar issues in sharing data-driven approaches, promising practices, peer advice and effective partnerships, ultimately resulting in increased support for the educational attainment of the Hispanic community from cradle to career.


Since HESTEC began more than a decade ago, the program has reached more than 7,700 educators, more than 37,000 students, about 2,000 college students each year at the Career Expo, and an estimated 50,000 people annually at Community Day. 

“To have HESTEC recognized as a Bright Spot in Hispanic Education speaks volumes about the significant imprint this program has made in higher education and across STEM fields,” said Veronica Gonzales, UTRGV vice president for Governmental and Community Relations.

“UTRGV thanks its many partners whose support has made HESTEC possible through the years, and especially thanks the program’s founders, including Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, who continues to stay heavily involved with the program.”

HESTEC 2015’s theme is “Change the World Through STEM,” and will be held Oct. 4-10 on the UTRGV Edinburg Campus. HESTEC is held in conjunction with the Office of U.S. Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, who 14 years ago, along with Dr. Miguel A. Nevárez (then president of The University of Texas-Pan American, a UTRGV legacy institution), had the vision to prepare students for 21st century careers in STEM.

“HESTEC, under the direction of UTRGV, remains a shining example of what can be achieved through educational programs for Latinos and Latinas,” Hinojosa said.

He is extremely proud of the Bright Spot honor, he said, and of HESTEC’s continuing achievements and record of excellence.

“We wanted to invest in the education attainment of Hispanics from cradle to career. With the support of leading organizations and communities around our nation, we concentrated our efforts on Hispanic education, particularly in the advancement in the STEM fields. Today, our students are finding many opportunities to excel in their studies and advance their careers,” he said.


Dr. Marie Mora, UTRGV professor in the Department of Economics and Finance who nominated Rodríguez and his efforts for the Bright Spot distinction, said he has played a key role in establishing numerous educational opportunities and programs for students and underrepresented groups, including:

  • The Office of Undergraduate Research and Service, which provides opportunities for students to participate in experiential learning through mentored research and curriculum-related community service.
  • The Center of Excellence in STEM Education, which provides activities to strengthen STEM academic programs and increase the number of STEM graduates, particularly those from underrepresented groups.
  • UTeach, a four-year teacher preparation program for science and math majors, modeled after the nationally recognized program established at The University of Texas at Austin in 1997.
  • ADVANCE, funded by the National Science Foundation ADVANCE grant and created to increase the representation and advancement of women in STEM fields across faculty and leadership ranks, with a special focus on Latinas.

Those programs were established when Rodríguez served as UTPA provost and vice president for Academic Affairs and president ad interim of the legacy institution.

“These types of experiences clearly focus on the educational success of our students, and on expanding their educational opportunities –two critical goals for UTRGV,” Rodríguez said.

“As an institution of higher education, we must promote excellence in everything that we do. The recognition by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics clearly shows we are heading in the right direction.”

To learn more about the Initiative and to view the Bright Spots in Hispanic Education national online catalog, visit http://www.ed.gov/HispanicInitiative.

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