Sen. Hinojosa donates $50,000 to UTRGV

EDINBURG — For a second time in two weeks, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley received a donation intended to help students attain a degree.

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, presented the university with a $50,000 check Wednesday to grow “The Cotton Fields of Peñitas” endowed scholarship, which is intended to help first-generation college students in all majors.

“These gifts have been focused on our students,” UTRGV President Guy Bailey said, also referring to a $2 million donation last week. “What it is all about is opportunities for our students to go to school who couldn’t have gone to school.”

Hinojosa started the scholarship in 2013 when the university was still UT-Pan American. Combined with Hinojosa’s previous donations, the endowed scholarship has a value of about $67,000, which is invested and profits are used for scholarships.

Last legislative session, Hinojosa served as the Senate’s president pro-tempore and waived his turn to throw the typical Governor-for-a-Day ceremony that usually accompanies the title to instead ask for donations for higher education in the area. Hinojosa raised $130,000 and divided the funds among all higher education institutions in his senatorial district.

Hinojosa announced his intent to donate the $50,000 to UTRGV from that fundraiser last year after making a donation to South Texas College. He said he wants to make sure college students, especially first-generation students, know there is support in the Valley.

“If I myself, who couldn’t speak English until I was 7 years old, who was deported when I was 5 years old, who grew up the oldest of a family of eight … can become a lawyer, can graduate from Pan American and now be Texas senator, that means any young person can also do the same thing,” he said.

Now that he has been able to achieve his goals, Hinojosa said he wants to pay it forward and advocate for others to do the same.

“We as a community and those who benefited from the education system need to give back and reach out,” he said. “Every little bit counts.”

Hinojosa said he plans to continue contributing to UTRGV and other colleges and universities across the Valley. He also commended Robert and Janet Vackar for donating $2 million to also create a new endowed scholarship and said any gift will be crucial for the success of the new institution and the medical school coming in 2016.

Bailey said the recent donations can serve to create a good momentum and encourage others to contribute, which will help the university attract students who rely on scholarships to complete their education.

“As we get more scholarship money, we become more competitive with universities like A&M and UT Austin,” Bailey said. “What we don’t have now that they have is scholarship money, so this is huge for us.”

dperez-hernandez@themonitor.com