New Family: Fenves welcomes incoming UT-Austin students at sendoff

BROWNSVILLE — As president of the Brownsville Texas Exes chapter, Perez Elementary Principal Michael D. Moreno can fully appreciate the growth Brownsville Independent School District students go through.

University of Texas at Austin President Gregory Fenves welcomed a room full of students into the UT family at the Brownsville sendoff. Seeing so many Brownsville students make it into one of the top universities in the country struck a chord with Moreno.

“It’s the icing on the cake, to see them at the very beginning as they go through their elementary years … to see them as incoming freshmen to one of the top universities in the nation is very gratifying,” Moreno said.

This is the 24th year the Brownsville chapter has put on the event. A UT president has attended every year since the first.

It is an important tradition Fenves intends to continue.

“Part of what makes a university is tradition. It binds students, alumni and faculty of different ages together,” Fenves said.

UT has seen a periodic increase in the number of students attending from the Rio Grande Valley throughout the years. In 2013, the university welcomed 285 students. This year, 415 students will be heading to Austin.

Fenves attributes the growth to three things: the admissions and outreach center, word of mouth and improving retention rates.

“There’s been a dramatic improvement in student success. It’s a great place to get an education,” Fenves said.

His message was a simple one: welcome, and congratulations.

“We want every single student to believe that this is their university,” Fenves said.

Tony Gonzalez, a clinical associate professor of natural sciences at UT, can relate with the students departing for Austin. He is from Brownsville, too.

“I (wanted) to relieve a little anxiety for when they leave here, especially since I was in their shoes,” Gonzalez said.

As a professor, he gave them some insight on what his colleagues expect from freshmen, and what they in turn should expect from their professors and the UT experience.

Students should keep an open mind and step out of their comfort zones. When Gonzalez went to UT, he had friends up there already. He stuck with that circle until his last year, when he finally began networking.

“Everything I did, do the opposite,” Gonzalez said.

Mireya Cervantes is an incoming biology/social work double major. She was looking forward to meeting her fellow classmates and some of the alumni.

“I’m not really nervous. I’m more excited for the challenges it brings,” Cervantes said.

Damien Gomez intends to major in history. He is nervous about being on his own, but he hopes for the best. He felt better knowing that Fenves and faculty would be speaking.

“It gives a special feeling that we’re a special group of students. It makes me feel honored that the president is speaking. That makes it feel more welcoming,” Gomez said.

Fenves also reaffirmed UT’s commitment to diversity in reference to a recent inquiry by the Trump administration into the discrimination of white students.

UT Austin was in the spotlight one year ago when the Supreme Court heard the arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas.

“We are very pleased that our process, which underwent intense scrutiny, was found to be constitutional. We will continue to defend that, as we have been. We were recently sued in state court,” Fenves said. “We believe in the role of providing education for every single student.”