Brownsville sends off UT students

BROWNSVILLE — When Michael Garcia, sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin, met UT President Gregory Fenves at last year’s Brownsville Sendoff, he told Fenves he wanted to join the Longhorn Band.

About three weeks later at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, Fenves was watching the Longhorn Band perform. Garcia came up to him and simply said, “I made the band.”

“He recognized me right away,” Garcia said. “It showed me that he really does care about his students and the university.”

Fenves was present at Brownsville s 23rd sendoff Wednesday evening — which has been attended by the UT president since its inception — to tell the students the staff cares about their success.

“It’s a big university, and it’s important for the students to know the staff is there to help them. I represent that part of the university. It’s an important symbolism,” Fenves said.

The event also serves as a way to reassure parents that their children will be fine. They will be busy networking, making new friends and growing intellectually, Fenves said.

This year, UT Austin will be welcoming 180 students from the Rio Grande Valley to its campus, the biggest record yet.

“It feels overwhelming, but between classes and activities I’m sure we’ll all find our own group,” said Christie Romo, who intends to become a physician assistant. “I feel really welcome, and that makes me excited for the next few years.”

Marla Zarate, the inaugural recipient of the Elizabeth “Lisa” M. Garcia Rio Grande Valley Scholarship, said she was honored to be presented with an opportunity to make her family and the staff proud.

The scholarship was established in memory of UT alumna and RGV Scholarship Committee Member Lisa Garcia.

Zarate wants to be a business major and return to the Valley. With the support of the university, she knows she can succeed, she said.

“I know the Valley has amazing kids, and they make it possible for kids like me to do great,” Zarate said. “From what I’ve heard, Lisa was a wonderful person and I hope to continue her legacy.”

The students from the Valley that Fenves has had an opportunity to meet (like Garcia and Zarate) stand out, he said.

“They are deeply committed to their community, and they are very committed to the region,” Fenves said.

Trey Mendez, the Brownsville chapter president of the Texas Exes, said he hoped the university’s speeches Wednesday evening showed the parents and students that everything would be OK.

“My fondest memory was probably the first time I stepped on campus. You realize you’re a part of something bigger, and it makes you grow up quick,” Mendez said.