|McALLEN, June 15 - This weekend marks the one year anniversary of Governor Perry officially signing into law SB 24, legislation that merges UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville and creates a free standing medical school in South Texas.
June 14, 2013, marked the beginning of the transformation of the Rio Grande Valley though education and gave life to what is now the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley.
This incredible once-in-a-lifetime opportunity has energized our communities because of the endless educational, healthcare and economic benefits for our families. The initial filing of this legislation over a year ago marked a giant leap in acknowledging the rapid growth of South Texas and addressing the severe physician shortage and the limited resources in our underserved population plagued with healthcare epidemics.
The vision of UTRGV embraces the expansion of educational opportunities that will create greater access to healthcare and be a great boost to our economy and the quality of life in South Texas. There will be thousands of new jobs, lower poverty levels, higher educational levels, more healthcare services and more resources to serve the unique and critical needs of our communities.
UTRGV was only possible because of our legislative delegation, UT system leaders, medical community, business leaders, public officials, parents and students who worked together to transform a dream into a reality. By embracing a regional mindset, we have been able to come together to invest in education and the people of South Texas. Many exciting events have happened in the last year since SB 24 was signed into law.
Last November, the UT System Board of Regents approved $196 million in funding from the Permanent University Fund (PUF) for capital projects associated with the new university and medical school - a $54 million medical academic building and $142 million for undergraduate academic buildings in both Hidalgo and Cameron counties. This marked the first time ever PUF money is going to South Texas for new construction. With the creation of the new university, access to these monies is possible and can finally put the Valley on par with other universities statewide. And this is just the beginning - future funding and construction projects will continue to tremendously benefit our families.
This spring the UT Board of Regents gave life and breath to a transformational plan of creating a new university and medical school in our community. It is no longer just a project - we are now UT-Rio Grande Valley! The UT System received an overwhelming response from thousands of people across South Texas giving their feedback for the new name via Twitter, Facebook, emails and phone calls. UTRGV received the most community support, garnering 57 percent of all votes. The new name reflects our many communities and cultures in the Valley joining together with common focus and direction to invest in the future of education.
In March, Dr. Francisco Fernandez was announced as the founding dean of the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine. His appointment signaled a significant step forward in the establishment of South Texas' first medical school and highlights the important role he will play in building a medical school from the ground up. We will work as a team with Dr. Fernandez who will have a big impact in shaping our goals for the once-in-a-lifetime creation a top-tier medical school program.
In May, the UT System Board of Regents announced Dr. Guy Bailey as the founding President of the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley after an extensive nationwide search. Dr. Bailey will be able to guide our university and communities in physically transforming a dream into a reality. Just as the name UTRGV best exemplifies our unity and the many Valley communities joining together, it is our hope that our founding President will exemplify strong and effective leadership while embracing a regional mindset to move us forward to achieve endless educational and healthcare benefits for our families.
As we move forward with the same collaborative efforts, we need to continue as a united community welcoming a vision that is broad and long-term to reap the tremendous returns that a new top-tier university and medical school will bring to the Rio Grande Valley.
Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa is state senator for District 20, which represents Corpus Christi, Mission, and parts of Edinburg and McAllen. A Democrat, he was born in Mission and raised in Reynosa, Mexico, and Mission, Texas. He now resides in McAllen, Texas. He chairs the intergovernmental relations committee and is vice chair of the finance committee.