|WESLACO, October 30 - Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp will be in Weslaco on Friday to make an announcement about a project that many people hope will eventually turn into Texas A&M University-Rio Grande Valley.
Sharp will announce that Texas A&M University-Kingsville is going start an engineering program, initially to be housed at the TAMUK Citrus Center in Weslaco. The plan is to eventually have 800 students studying chemical engineering, petroleum engineering and the like at a School of Engineering in Weslaco.
During the next legislative session, TAMUK will request $5.5 million for the next biennium to fund engineering programs in Weslaco.
Brief details on Friday’s announcement were made at a Rio South Texas Economic Council town hall meeting on Wednesday evening by Joey Treviño, executive director of Weslaco Economic Development Corporation. The town hall meeting took place at the offices of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership.
“We have been working with Texas A&M Kingsville. They have their Citrus Center close by,” Treviño said. “They are working on doing an engineering school here in Weslaco. That is the big announcement (that will be made on Friday). We would like everyone to come and join us. They are thinking about 800 engineering students when it is all said and done. It is going to be exciting. Chancellor Sharp will be here. Come and join us and hear all about the excitement.”
TAMUK’s Adriana L. Garza sent an email to Rio Grande Valley leaders late on Wednesday afternoon. It asked them to “Join Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp, Texas A&M University-Kingsville President Steven Tallant and David Suarez, Mayor of Weslaco, for a special announcement about a pioneering A&M-Kingsville engineering initiative in the Rio Grande Valley.”
The advisory said the announcement would be made at the Texas A&M University-Kingsville Citrus Center, 312 N. International Blvd, Weslaco, Texas, at 11 a.m. on Friday.
Treviño told the Guardian that in addition to Sharp, Tallant and Suarez, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board Commissioner Raymund A. Paredes is expected to be at Friday’s announcement. Treviño said Texas A&M wants to focus on aspects of engineering that are not currently taught at UT-Pan American. He said South Texas College and Texas State Technical College-Harlingen would be “feeder” colleges to the TAMUK school. He said classes would start next spring and that local faculty would be hired. “It is really exciting for Weslaco and the entire Rio Grande Valley,” Treviño said.
Friday’s event with Chancellor Sharp at the TAMUK Citrus Center is thought to be what Weslaco ISD Board President Robert Sepulveda was referring to when he said recently that a major education announcement is coming. Speaking at the official opening of Weslaco ISD’s Early College High School, Sepulveda said: “This week there’s an announcement coming of something dramatic that is going to happen in the Valley for education.” He said he was sworn to secrecy.
After Treviño made his comments at the RSTEC meeting, audience members spoke about what a TAMUK College of Engineering could lead to. When coupled with the Texas A&M Health Science Center in McAllen, it could be a forerunner to a fully-fledged A&M University in the Valley, said some, in interviews with the Guardian. This would be called the Texas A&M University-Rio Grande Valley, they speculated.
“People always talk about the Upper Valley and the Lower Valley but they sometimes they forget there is a Mid Valley,” said RGVP President Julian Alvarez. “There are a lot of exciting things happening here. The announcement Chancellor Sharp is going to make on Friday is a perfect example. I am delighted Texas A&M is going to have a bigger presence in South Texas, I really am.”
Futuro McAllen President Nedra Kinerk has been pushing for A&M to build a university in the Valley for some time. “We need the competition. We have the population,” Kinerk told the Guardian.
The role John Sharp played in the Valley securing a four-year medical school was discussed during Wednesday’s town hall meeting. Roberto Villarreal, Hidalgo County’s economic development director, gave a recap on how it came to be that the UT System decided to create a medical school.
Villarreal said he was privileged to work for Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia during the last legislative session and thus had a close-up view of how the medical school project came about.
“We had been waiting for so long, we had been strung along for so long (in our efforts to land a medical school),” Villarreal recalled. “I do not want to go into all the inside baseball but essentially a plane trip took place. The judge went with a group of doctors to A&M because UT was supposed to put their medical school here.
“So, we go to A&M and we talk to John Sharp and John Sharp says, ‘Sure, I'll do it.’ So, it is supposed to be a secret. So, we have this great big meeting with everybody from Brownsville to Starr County in Edinburg. And, they said go ahead and tell the judge, hey, you know that thing we've been telling you to be secretive about, go ahead and tell them.
“So, we told all the medical folks and the doctors… I will paraphrase but the Judge said, ‘it is really nice that we have so much interest in our community. A&M wants to do a medical school here. UT wants to do one, Texas Tech.’
“Some of the folks from Harlingen were surprised. So, then word got back to UT and then, boom, the next day UT makes its announcement that they were going to do it. So, it's kind of like, if you are going to ask to take the girl to the prom you better do it or else somebody else will.”
Villarreal’s comments were part of a discussion on regional cooperation. He later told the Guardian that Chancellor Sharp showed interest in building a medical school in the Valley.
“John Sharp and A&M expressed interest in the RGV as far as a medical school. Then UT committed to creating the school. However, funding and legislation was needed. Senators Hinojosa and Lucio plus the RGV delegation of legislators went to work in the session and got unanimous support from their colleagues to create the new University and medical school. This was a large body of work that encompassed many years and leaders, but a united effort was needed to secure the med school and its funding for UT to eventually open its doors here. It was incredible to witness the work that Senator Hinojosa and Senator Lucio and the local representatives did to make this happen,” Villarreal said.