McAllen A&M campus graduates first students

Valeria Quintanilla, left, and Michelle Vargas, right, became the first students to officially graduate from Texas A&M’s Higher Education Center at McAllen Friday. Quintanilla and Vargas attended commencement ceremonies in College Station. Photo courtesy of Mike Kellett Photography, office of the provost.

Walking across the stage of Reed Arena in College Station the afternoon of Dec. 13, Valeria Quintanilla and Michelle Vargas crossed a major milestone for Texas A&M’s McAllen campus: They officially became the first graduates of the Texas A&M Higher Education Center at McAllen.

Quintanilla and Vargas both majored in public health and graduated early due to credits obtained before college.

“We’re very excited about it. We’ve only had our doors open for a year-and-a-half here and these kids have taken full advantage of the dual enrollment and the advanced placement credits that are being offered increasingly,” TAMU HEC Assistant Provost Adolfo Santos said. “They arrived with a lot of their coursework out of the way, so they moved rather quickly through the process with us.”

Vargas, a McAllen native, plans to attend graduate school and start a nonprofit organization that focuses on helping teen mothers and reducing teen pregnancy in the RGV.

Quintanilla, originally from San Juan, will be working with the TAMU Advise TX College Advising Corps at Brownville Porter, helping students apply and matriculate to college.

Quintanilla said although she wanted to attend A&M, she would not have been able to attend the university at its College Station campus.

“It was a huge opportunity,” she said. “I hope future students will see how big of an opportunity it is, and how even though we’re here in McAllen, there’s still a huge opportunity to network with other Aggie people.”

Quintanilla, Vargas and officials from Texas A&M HEC McAllen were recognized specifically at the commencement ceremony.

“The provost recognized them, asked them to stand up at the very beginning of the ceremony, the provost taking a great deal of pride that Texas A&M has expanded its reach to the Valley,” Santos said.

Santos says he believes having students from the McAllen campus attend commencement ceremonies in College Station helps tie them into the larger A&M student body.

“It is a very unique experience that our students are receiving, because they’re in a small college environment down here with us. But, when they walk across the stage at graduation, they are in a place that is thousands of people in size, and that makes it even more obvious and evident that they are part of something larger than our small, close-knit community down here,” he said.

According to Santos, future graduates may have the opportunity to attend commencement ceremonies closer to home.

“Our plan is for students to graduate in College Station, but we also recognize that there will come a time when we’re big enough or we’ll end up having students that are not able to travel to College Station to walk across that stage, and we’ll have to offer something down here. Right now what we’re offering is sort of a small reception and recognition for students, but in the future that will be changing probably,” he said. “We’re very happy that we’ve got this first crop, but we’ve got a larger group coming in the spring as well.”