MCALLEN, RGV – At a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new medical learning facility, South Texas College President Shirley Reed joked about how trustee Paul Rodriguez was so good as finance committee chair he had kept the college off the front pages of The Monitor.

Gary Gurwitz, also an STC trustee, wishes the college was on the front page of The Monitor more often. He argues that STC is the Rio Grande Valley’s best-kept secret. Or at least the upper Valley’s.

“We have come a long way. We have everything we need to train our people. We have all the cooperation we need. Sometimes we feel like we are a best-kept secret. The people of McAllen, the people of the Valley, don’t really understand all we have to offer,” said Gurwitz, at the opening of a $25 million facility at STC’s Dr. Ramiro R. Casso Nursing and Allied Health Campus in McAllen.

The new building will enable STC to produce 450 additional nurses a year, more than double the current amount, and will include a simulation hospital that will provide a real-world, hands-on experience for students in the fields of nursing, occupational and physical therapy, pharmacy, radiology, diagnostic sonography, and respiratory therapy among other programs.

In her remarks, Reed said nothing sneaks by Rodriguez. She said she and the rest of the board of trustees are “amazed” and “flabbergasted” how Rodriguez can zero in on an area of STC’s financial report that even the CPA had not flagged. “It is his commitment that keeps us out of the front page of The Monitor, keeps us out of court. We are so proud of having such a sterling board of trustees. Mr. Rodriguez is a very big part of that.”

After the ribbon-cutting ceremony was over, guests were encouraged to take a look at the new facility, including the simulation hospital on the top floor of the four-story building. In an interview within the simulation hospital, the Rio Grande Guardian asked Gurwitz to elaborate on his view that STC is one of the Valley’s best-kept secrets.

“It is amazing how often you talk to somebody and you’ll be talking about something we do and they will say, I didn’t know that. For instance, some of our training programs, where we actually get grants from the state to train 30 or 40 or 150 employees at a particular skill. They did not know we can do that. We can put the whole program together, the curriculum together, we supply the facilities, the equipment, the teachers, and get the funding for them. They don’t know that,” said Gurwitz, who chairs SATC’s facilities committee.

Another specialty at STC that too many people do not know about or understand, Gurwitz said, is the dual-enrollment program.

“They do now know we have dual-enrollment, where a kid can get 60 hours of college credit at no cost and all of the hours transferred to basically anywhere in the United States. We have people who do not know that. We have people who do not know the facilities we have. The technical facilities are awesome. The classrooms, the teachers, the professors. All they are concerned about is taking care of the students. They are not worried about any other pressures on them. People do not know how convenient all this is and how good the process is. Adults coming back for a second career. People do not know how good that program is. It is designed for their success.”

Guirwitz, a founding trustee of STC, said although he does not know much about the other two community colleges in the Valley – Texas State Technical College in Harlingen and Texas Southmost College in Brownsville – he is sure they do a great job also.

“I do not know how they handle their area but our area, which is Hidalgo and Starr counties, we do an amazing job. The reduction in unemployment, from the time we started to now is amazing. Now, you can get programs in Starr County and Weslaco that were only previously on offer here in McAllen. We are taking the courses to the students as best we can because we know the difficulty some students have in getting to the college.”

Asked about the new facility, Gurwitz said he was blown away by the new simulation hospital.

“It is incredible. State-of-the-art. We are in a room now where the computers are connected with the mannequins and the professor in here, through a computer, can control the functions of the mannequin that is being attended to by the students, in a different room. You can raise the blood pressure, lower the blood pressure, cause them to bleed or feint, and monitor the students caring for the mannequin. It is amazing. You actually saw one mannequin actually giving birth, they can control that from here, and we are in a different room. Some of it is more life-like than I am happy about. We are very proud of this.”

Gurwitz added that he was impressed with the remarks of STC alumnus Angel Arjona. “You heard the young student say how rigorous the associate degree in nursing is here. When he went off to graduate school, he had no trouble. It is a program we can be very proud of.”

Asked if he had anything else to add, Gurwitz said: “Thank you for being here. The more you can tell about us, the better.”

STC alumnus

In his remarks to a big crowd at the ribbon-cutting, Arjona recalled his determination to enter the medical field. Arjona is a first-generation college graduate who grew up in La Joya. While in high school in 2007, he started taking dual enrollment courses that enabled him to transfer into STC’s nursing program.

Arjona said he obtained his Associate degree in Nursing in 2012 and shortly afterward began working in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at a local hospital. He then acquired his bachelor’s degree at Texas Tech and was accepted into the master’s program at Texas Wesleyan in Fort Worth. He is currently a Certified Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) at Doctor’s Hospital at Renaissance.

“I enjoy every day I work as an anesthetist, and I greatly appreciate the foundation that STC has given me to accomplish my goals,” Arjona said. “In the operating room, I see various healthcare professionals working as one to meet one goal, which is to provide the best healthcare services to restore patients’ health.”

Arjuna said his example shows how STC students can use the college as a stepping stone for a great career in the healthcare arena. “Supplying the local needs for nursing and allied health careers requires a teaching platform with advanced simulation rooms and state-of-the-art education technology. Buildings like this new nursing and allied health campus will create an appropriate environment to produce high-quality healthcare professionals that will take care of our families.”

State-of-the-ArtThe new building is a four-story, 90,000 square foot complex that includes a new library and a state-of-the-art simulation hospital. The hospital will provide a real-world, hands-on experience for students in the fields of nursing, occupational and physical therapy, pharmacy, radiology, diagnostic sonography, and respiratory therapy among other programs.

Other speakers at the ribbon-cutting ceremony included board trust Dr. Alejo Salinas, City of McAllen Commissioner for District 6 Veronica Whitacre, STC Dean of Nursing and Allied Health Dr. Jayson Valerio, and Melba Treviño, the former dean of STC’s Nursing and Allied Health department.

“This new building is a testament that South Texas College is meeting the healthcare needs of our growing and diverse community,” Dr. Valerio said. “Through our simulation pedagogy, we as healthcare educators believe that we are able to create a clinical learning environment…and we are able to educate our students with extensive knowledge, technical skills, and develop their clinical judgment so they can be safe, competent, caring, compassionate and culturally sensitive healthcare professionals.”

The nursing and allied health departments has graduated more than 3,000 students since 1998 into nursing vocations, physical therapists, respiratory therapists, and all of the smaller vocations that serve the highest need in our hospitals.

According to STC President Reed, the new facility will enable STC to produce 450 additional nurses a year, more than double the current amount.

“This means 450 registered and licensed vocational nurses will be serving all of us in the community,” Reed said. “Because our students are from the Valley, they want to stay in the Valley. With this fabulous facility, we are going to provide first class state-of-the-art training for them, and we know they are going to stay here.”

The $23 million expansion of the Nursing and Allied Health campus is part of the 2013 bond election.

Students interested in classes located at the Nursing and Allied Health Campus and other locations can view a complete listing of upcoming classes available at https://www.southtexascollege.edu/academics/courses/.