HARLINGEN — University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa met students at Dr. Abraham P. Cano Freshman Academy on Tuesday to share his thoughts about the new university that will unite the University of Texas at Brownsville, the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen and the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg.
He also was there to hear students’ questions and hear their thoughts about the new university, currently being called Project South Texas. An official name will be determined at a later date
The new university’s first classes are scheduled to begin in 2015, he said, and the first class of medical students will begin attending classes the following year.
City and school district officials attended the hour-long talk, including school board President George McShan, Interim Superintendent Art Cavazos and City Manager Carlos Yerena. Also present were Pedro Reyes, executive vice chancellor of academic affairs for the University of Texas System, and his special advisor Julio Leon.
Cavazos said Cigarroa chose Cano Academy because it is at the epicenter of the school district’s transformation. The freshman academy is divided into several different schools: liberal arts, health science and business. It also has a program called Bring Your Own Devices that allows students to bring their own digital devices to school to use for research.
Cigarroa is visiting the Rio Grande Valley each month to speak with different groups about the new university, UT System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said.
While there has been much discussion about the new university enrolling local students to study medicine here, many of the students like Josue Ayala, 15, wanted to know about other subjects available to prospective students.
“UTPA and UTB have already got a music program,” he said. There was laughter from the group of students when the baritone saxophone player said, “I think I speak for all the music geeks. What are you planning for the music program? Will you provide as much training as other music programs?”
Cigarroa said one of the school board members had asked him the same question.
“‘What about the humanities? What about arts? What about the performing arts?’” he said quoting questions he’d been asked.
“Along the border, it’s always been in the DNA. Take a look at the mariachi band for Pan American. They’ve been asked by President Obama to perform at the White House two times already.”
He said the consolidated university will have more resources to have instruments and studios, “and music in the background.”
Before Cigarroa’s arrival, students considered what the chancellor would discuss.
“It seems like a really good opportunity just to see, to talk about the college merging,” said Taylor Tice, 15, who hopes to purse a career in photography. She wore a tag identifying her as a student of Cano Academy’s School of Liberal Arts.
Lexy Garza was pleased with the opportunity to meet the chancellor to personally share information about the merger.
“I hope to find out if there will be a creative writing program,” Garza, 14, said. “I would like to study to be a writer.”
The UT merger is similar to Cano Academy merging the school district’s freshmen at Cano, Sami Bouls, 14, said.
“I feel like it’s a positive thing,” he said. “It’s an opportunity we had to merge, to meet new people. We have met new friends and had new opportunities.”
During the meeting, Kaitlyn Rodriguez, 14, asked Cigarroa what he believed would be the most positive outcome of the merger, and if there were any negatives.
“The most positive aspect is opportunities in strategic areas of the Valley,” Cigarroa said. “Uniting the RGV is a really positive outcome.”
The negative aspects of the merger, he said, were the stress of change.
“Anytime you institute change, it’s going to cause a little anxiety,” he said. “When you’re bringing separate teams to become one, there’s a lot of work to do to unite. It’s easy to say, difficult to do. It’s for the greater good. There’s a lot of hard work in it. There’s benefits and side effects.”
Karina Quintanilla, 15, is a student at Cano’s School of Health Sciences and plans to pursue the medical field, but she said she still isn’t sure if she’d study medicine in the Valley.
“I could give it some thought,” she said. “My sister is going to Stanford. It’s really pretty over there. It makes me think there’s more to explore in this world.”
She said her decision would be based on what school offers her a scholarship.
Ande Beasley also enjoyed the session with Cigarroa.
“I thought it was very professional,” she said. “I thought he answered all the questions really well. I didn’t have any more questions afterwards.”