|EDINBURG, April 29 - The Rio Grande Guardian has teamed up with the University of Texas-Pan American to provide a platform for students to express their ideas on improving the environment in the Rio Grande Valley.
Students interested in environmental issues are currently writing guest columns. Those deemed of high quality will be published in the Guardian over the course of the next week as a means of reaching an audience beyond the university.
“The Guardian is really excited about this collaboration. Environmental issues need to be at the forefront as the Rio Grande Valley grows and the students at UTPA clearly understand this,” said Rio Grande Guardian editor Steve Taylor. “We are proud to be publishing the work of the students and we hope their ideas and analysis is of interest to a wider audience. We also hope this is the first of many collaborative projects with UT-Pan American.”
The collaboration came about through discussions between Taylor and Stefanie Herweck, a lecturer in the English department at UTPA. Herweck teaches a freshman-year writing course called Rhetoric and Composition. “I am teaching an environmental studies version that fulfills a requirement for the new Environmental Studies Minor at UTPA. My students are engaged in reading, writing, and research about environmental issues,” Herweck said.
This is how the course works. After spending time reading and having in-depth discussions about environmental issues and the social, economic, and ecological intersections within them, students begin to hone in on an issue that interests them. Herweck has asked the students to concentrate on the personal and on the local as they develop their research questions. And to answer those kinds of questions, the students must go beyond reading books and articles about environmental issues. They have to observe their own habits, conduct surveys in their communities, and interview local experts and elected officials.
Armed with this personal and local information, students write a researched essay that exposes the environmental problem they've identified and works toward addressing that problem in their own lives or in their communities.
Unlike many traditional composition classes, though, the project did not end when they turned in an essay. Herweck asked the students to turn their ideas into a public document, something that conveys an environmental message to a particular audience, something that has the capacity to make a difference to the outside world.
“This semester some of my students have chosen to make proposals to officials in their cities, to create a local recycling center, for instance, or to institute better ways to coordinate their community's green initiatives,” Herweck said.
“Others have planned public awareness events: a display to encourage the use of reusable water bottles on the UTPA campus or a performance about the health dangers of plastic food containers. Still others have created films, websites, brochures or t-shirts that carry messages about using the Valley's public transportation, eating locally-grown organic produce, or preserving our urban natural areas.”
The students who will be submitting their work to the Guardian have chosen to write an opinion piece for their public document.
“I have been amazed by how invested my students have become in this project. As one young man told me, "It's not about the grade anymore. I really want to make change happen." It's critical that our students become inspired in this way and that they connect their developing reading, writing, and research skills with their ability to solve real-world problems, especially the environmental crises that our society will likely face in the coming decades,” Herweck said.
The Guardian interviewed some of the students about their work.
Reymundo Monjaraz, aged 19, was born San Benito and lives in Pharr. He is majoring in business and will be writing about how the City of McAllen can help businesses become more environmentally friendly. When he finishes college, Monjaraz wants to start his own business in the automobile industry. “I think the City of McAllen can do more to help businesses understand how they can be more environmentally friendly. The can put them in touch with other entities that can help, such as universities,” Monjaraz said.
Francisco Torres, aged 19, comes from Tampico, Tamaulipas and is majoring in manufacturing engineering. He is also studying to become a high school teacher in science to encourage more students go into the STEM fields. “For this project I want to write about making Pan American more sustainable, like the more prestigious universities are. Sustainability is not a science in itself. It is a combination of social, economic and environmental issues joined by technology,” Torres said. “If I am a communications major and you are majoring in chemistry, we have to think along the same lines to take care of the environment.” Torres said he hopes to present his ideas on sustainability to UTPA President Robert Nelsen.
Xavier Hernandez, aged 19, comes from Fort Hood, Texas. He is studying kinesiology and hopes to become a physical trainer or a track coach when he leaves college. He currently works as an after school coach for the City of McAllen. “McAllen has a program whereby every kid has an iPad. That is good but are they going to get a physical education? If the kids do not grow up with exercise then their kids are going to be like that. The environment will get neglected and their health will get neglected. There has to be a balance,” Hernandez said.
Oswin Vereucco comes from Mexico City and lives in McAllen. He is majoring in electrical engineering and minoring in computer engineering. He plans to start my own business in the Valley. “I want to see more young people participating in nature activities. We do not have a lot of nature places in the Valley, when compared to San Antonio or Fort Worth. In fact, in McAllen we have less than five percent and less than one percent of that is natural habitat. Botanical Gardens is all we have left in McAllen. Why can’t we have something like Garden State Park in San Antonio?” asks Vereucco. “People need to be concerned about nature. Not just young people.”
The guest columns from the UTPA students will start to be posted in the Guardian on Monday and run through Thursday.