Chad Wootton, Texas A&M University’s associate vice president for external affairs, and Keith Patridge president & CEO of McAllen Economic Development Corporation.

McALLEN, RGV – Rio Grande Valley residents may not realize it yet but, overnight, when Texas A&M University opens its campus in McAllen, the region will gain a Tier One university with a Top Ten engineering school.

This is the view of Keith Patridge, president & CEO of McAllen Economic Development Corporation. Patridge and his team recently hosted a visit by Dr. M. Katherine Banks, TAMU’s vice chancellor for engineering and dean of Texas A&M University College of Engineering.

“Think about it. Literally, what we have got, with A&M’s presence here, is a Tier One institution with a Top Ten engineering program, instantly,” Patridge said. “What we have to do now is start looking at how we can leverage that to create economic development, create jobs and opportunities for the Rio Grande Valley and McAllen and Reynosa.”

Dr. M. Katherine Banks

Tier One classification is given to a university with the highest research activity. Texas A&M is so classified. Its college of engineering is ranked very highly, coming in at joint 11th in U.S. News & World Report’s rankings. Texas A&M is opening a Higher Education Center at the Tres Lagos in north McAllen in the fall of 2018. The first three degree programs to be offered there are expected to be inter-disciplinary engineering, engineering technology and biomedical sciences.

Patridge and his MEDC team hosted Banks, along with a number of associate deans and two Texas A&M System officials for a day and a half. They visited with companies in McAllen and Reynosa.

“We had an opportunity to show them what we have to offer and introduce them to a number of maquiladoras. We had a really nice dinner, where the mayor attended. I think that relationship is going to really develop into something big for us,” Patridge told the MEDC board of directors.

The mayor Patridge was referring to was McAllen Mayor Jim Darling.

As vice chancellor at Texas A&M, Banks oversees coordination and collaboration among the engineering, academic and research programs at seven universities throughout the A&M System, as well as three state agencies: the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES), the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI). Banks also is TEES director, overseeing research administration of more than 4,800 projects and $208 million in sponsored research awards.

Chad Wootton, Texas A&M’s associate vice president for external affairs, said Banks was very impressed with MEDC and the maquila plants she and her associate deans visited in Reynosa.

“One of the things we are doing in McAllen at the Higher Education Center is not simply creating a transfer pathway. Our intent is, young people can start here at the McAllen Education Center and finish here,” Wootton told the MEDC board.

“How do you differentiate an engineering degree program here from College Station and one of the major takeaways is – and we have kind of known this, this is why we are here – is the opportunity for the corporate industry relations, internships, externships, certainly in partnership with the maquila association. We see that as one of the hallmarks of the degree programs that we are going to be able to bring here.”

Wootton acknowledged there will, initially, be differences between the experiences a student receives at Texas A&M at College Station and the experiences at the Higher Education Center in McAllen.

“The tradition and the mystique of the College Station Campus, it will take us a little while to build here. But the ability for young people to have a unique education experience in partnership with industry is what we think is going to be a major selling point for students in the region and hopefully industry will partner with us. We had a lot of great discussion over the day and a half or so and I know our team is going to conduct a number of follow-ups.”

In an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Patridge elaborated on his thoughts about the potential Texas A&M offers the Valley, McAllen and Reynosa.

“I can tell you, the dean of engineering is an impressive lady. Dr. Banks is very focused on moving the university and its programs forward. She immediately recognized the opportunity our region brings A&M, so I think we have a huge opportunity with the university to develop some very important programs that will help us move to the next level. We had a great visit,” Patridge said.

Patridge said the A&M visitors got a “really good” reception from the companies they visited with.

“We met with roughly ten companies while they were here. All of those companies are committed to working with A&M because they see opportunities coming from that too. They can help with supplier development and logistics supply chain programs. These are critical to our continued growth.”

Patridge was quick to point out that Texas A&M’s presence in McAllen would not alter the long-term relationship MEDC has had with South Texas College.

“STC provides hands on technical training and will continue to do so. UTRGV has always supported us but they do not have the horsepower yet that we have with A&M,” Patridge said.

“Texas A&M is a Tier One institution with one of the Top Ten engineering programs in the nation. It is backed up by over 30,000 engineering students and master’s and doctoral programs in engineering. Conservatively, we have 15,000 engineers working in Reynosa. Those engineers come from master’s and doctoral programs. If we can offer that through a Tier One, Top Ten, institution, it gives us an opportunity to continue to grow.”

As an example of the sort of support Texas A&M can bring, Patridge cited an as yet unnamed Fortune 500 company that will soon open a new plant in Reynosa. “The company is putting a very high-tech facility in Reynosa. It is important we are able to supply them with the research level masters and doctoral engineers they need.”