BROWNSVILLE, RGV – UT-Rio Grande Valley is to offer a bachelor’s degree in energy commerce in order to give local students a better chance of landing a high paying job in the Eagle Ford Shale or the Burgos Basin.

Details were revealed by UTRGV President Guy Bailey in an exclusive interview with the Guardian about the new university’s plans to forge closer educational and research ties to Mexico.

Asked if UTRGV could help provide workers in the Burgos Basin of northern Mexico, Bailey said: “We could help provide engineers. We could help provide business people. There is a program I would love to develop here. At Texas Tech we had a program on energy commerce that was partly business and partly engineering. Those students were gobbled up immediately by ExxonMobil, Conaco Phillips, etc. We would like to develop a similar program here.”

Bailey is a former president of Texas Tech University in Lubbock. On the Texas Tech website is a list of petroleum companies that hire students who have earned a Bachelor of Business Administration in Energy Commerce. Those companies include Anadarko Petroleum, BHP Billiton, BP, Chesapeake, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Devon Energy, Encana, Noble Energy, Occidental Petroleum, Pioneer Natural Resources, and Southwestern Energy. According to Texas Tech, 92.8 percent of students who graduate from the energy commerce program get job placements. Admission requirements include a minimum 3.25 cumulative GPA.

Bailey spoke about the importance of closer ties to Mexico and other issues in a breakfast event at UT-Brownsville last week. Irv Downing, UTB’s vice president of economic development and community services, posed questions to Bailey. The event was hosted by the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce.

UTRGV President Guy Bailey and Mexico's Consul in Brownsville, Rodolfo Quilantán Arenas, met at a STARGATE check presentation event at UT-Brownsville.
UTRGV President Guy Bailey and Mexico’s Consul in Brownsville, Rodolfo Quilantán Arenas, met at a STARGATE check presentation event at UT-Brownsville.

Asked afterwards how important Mexico would be for UTRGV, Bailey told the Guardian: “Mexico is very important to us for two reasons. First of all the economic circumstances on the other side of the border affects us dramatically. Secondly we get a lot of students from Mexico. As I mentioned in my remarks, the president of the student body here commutes across the border every day for classes. It is extremely important for us.”

The student Bailey was referring to is Eréndira Santillana, who commutes to UTB from Matamoros every day. She is president of UTB’s student government association.

“We want our share of the students from Mexico,” Bailey told the Guardian. “We offer a Master’s Degree in Business right now in Spanish only. Some programs will be bilingual. Depending on what we think the need is we may offer a program in English, a program in Spanish or both.”

Bailey added that when UTRGV starts in the fall of 2015 it will have about 29,000 students. In short order, he said, UTRGV will grow to 40,000 students, he said.

One person who is keen to see closer educational and research ties between UTRGV and higher education institutions in Mexico is Rick Jenet, associate professor in the physics and astronomy department at UTB.

“There is already an overarching agreement with the two presidents called the 100,000 Strong, or along those lines,” Jenet said, referring to Barack Obama and Enrique Peña Nieto. “They want to get 100,000 students from Mexico and vice versa. I would expect the UT System to get a large number of students.”

Jenet said he hopes more Mexican students and higher education institutions help with STARGATE, a space exploration project being developed by UTB and SpaceX.

“I strongly believe in this region of knowledge. We are one region, even though there is this border there. We do need to be working together and bringing up the total economic value of this region. We need to raise our standards up together, especially given that space exploration is going to be a focus down here. If we start all working together towards that I think it will just make amazing changes to this region in so many ways.”

Rodolfo Quilantán Arenas, Cónsul of México in Brownsville, said STARGATE is already benefitting from Mexican involvement.

“In the Center for Advanced Radio Astronomy at UTB, there are 25 professionals. Twenty of them are Mexican American and five of them are Mexican nationals. This is an example of how important the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) field is to Mexico,” said Quilantán Arenas.

Quilantán Arenas attended a check presentation ceremony at UTB last week at which the U.S. Economic Development Administration awarded STARGATE $1.2 million. Quilantán Arenas told the Guardian at the event that with the EDA grant more Mexican students will be involved in STARGATE.

“When Dr. Rick Jenet and Dr. Randy Charbeneau went to Mexico City recently to discuss increased collaboration between the UT System and Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología they had a meeting with leaders of the Mexican aerospace industry. They received a lot of information. People say, ‘how is it possible that Mexico has an aerospace industry?’ Well, in fact, Mexico of the few countries that have a lot of American and foreign companies in this industry and they are producing a lot of good things. Most of the engineers, most of the professionals are Mexican,” Quilantán Arenas said.

Dr. Randall J. Charbeneau is assistant vice chancellor for research at the UT System. He said the agreement between presidents Obama and Peña Nieto actually calls for 100,000 more Mexican students to study in the U.S. and 60,000 more U.S. students to study in Latin America, including Mexico.

Charbeneau told the Guardian that he is putting the finishing touches to a memorandum of understanding between the UT System and Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología, Mexico’s national council for science and technology.

Charbeneau said he hopes the agreement will be signed before the end of the year, while the retiring Francisco Cigarroa is still chancellor of the UT System. “This is a big step forward for UT and CONACYT and wonderful opportunity for both countries. I am hoping the MOU is signed in Brownsville by Chancellor Cigarroa.”