MCALLEN, RGV – Chad Wootton, associate vice president for external affairs at Texas A&M University, has explained some of the new projects underway that will be of particular interest to South Texas.

Wootton emceed the first anniversary celebrations for the Texas A&M Higher Education Center in McAllen last week. The event, titled Founders Day, saw A&M give plaques to donors who had helped get the center off the ground. 

Wootton started the event by thanking those who had believed in the project.

“We found in the City of McAllen and Hidalgo County willing partners that took their economic development dollars and instead of just chasing a new company with a new set of jobs with incentives, they made an investment in the future by investing in higher education,” Wootton said. 

Referring to the vision Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp has for South Texas, Wootton said: 

“About 30 years ago he had a vision and saw what many had missed. He began finding ways to invest in South Texas and particularly the Rio Grande Valley. He has transformed the way we make decisions. The way he does that is, is it bold enough, does it stir our competition, or is it going to scare someone, then let’s do it. And let’s be sure we do it right.”

Chad Wootton, associate vice president for external affairs at Texas A&M University. (Photo: Texas A&M/Nathaniel Bauer)

As for the new announcements, Wootton said that as the McAllen center welcomes its third cohort of students, A&M is growing its faculty also. 

“We have a few juniors now. We will have a few more as we enter the spring. And we will open our admissions for transfer students beginning next Spring. So, Dr. Reed and our friends at STC, we are looking forward to partnering with you and bringing even more transfer students into the higher education center here in McAllen,” Wootton said.

Dr. Shirley Reed, president of South Texas College, was in the audience. STC helped Texas A&M on the academic side by providing buildings for its first cohort of engineering students to study in while A&M McAllen center was being built.

“Additionally, last week, we learned from Homeland Security and the Department of Education that our application was approved and beginning next Spring we will also be able to accept international students for study here at the higher education center,” Wootton said, to applause from the audience.

“Not only do we think that is beneficial with our partners just to the south, and we have many educational partnerships underway in Mexico, but also, if you think about the triangulation that is happening in our industries along the border, there are countless countries that have operations just within ten miles of this center, where their family members and those that their industries hire will have the opportunity to join us here at the higher education center.”

Wootton said Texas A&M Provost, Carol A. Fierke, made her first trip to McAllen in August.

Carol A. Fierce

“She left inspired. When she got home she reached out to Billy Hamilton, who really runs the chancellor’s office, I like to say, and she and Billy concocted a plan and last week she announced several new incentives to further education and opportunity here in McAllen,” Wootton said. 

Wootton said Fierke added to Texas A&M’s budget incentive model, which incentivizes colleges to recruit, retain and graduate students. 

“She added a special incentive to those who graduate students at the McAllen Higher Education Center. So, all of a sudden, those five degree programs, they feel pretty good about their decision to be early adopters. And, the rest of our colleges are now competing to figure out how they can bring a program here and get into that budget incentive model.”

To help them along, Wootton said, Fierke announced a $4 million incentive fund, to allow A&M colleges to consider new degree programs for the Valley region and to help provide the startup funds to begin that process. 

“Now, Veronica, I promise we are going to follow all Coordinating Board rules and regulations and approval processes for that but we think there are complimentary programs at Texas A&M University that can complement the work of our higher education partners and meet the demand and interest of those students that the chancellor spoke about,” Wootton said.

Veronica Gonzales, vice president at UT-Rio Grande Valley, was representing her university at the Founders Day celebration.

“Finally, on the degree front, we are in negotiations and conversations with all of our partners, particularly our deans of nursing at STC, UTRGV, and Texas A&M,” Wootton said.

“We know nursing is amongst the highest priorities of our region, if not the state and nation, and what we believe is there is a couple of unique strengths that together we have in this region that could allow for a coalition of nursing education that might become the envy of not only our region but our state and beyond.”

Wootton said Texas A&M is looking forward to having those conversations “and to sit down with our partners and state what we think we might be able to do in nursing education.”

Wootton said these announcements had been relayed earlier in the day by Chancellor Sharp to an international women’s group. “I want to acknowledge Laura Warren and her friends. They have been talking to us for the better part of two years as were getting started and saying, we want to come help. Laura, we are happy to have you as a partner and look forward to working with the group.”

Laura Warren, a McAllen-based architect, is a Texas A&M alum.

Editor’s Note: The above news story is the second in a three-part series about Founder Day at Texas A&M University Higher Education Center in McAllen. Click here to read Part One. Click here to read Part Three.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Texas A&M University Chancellor John Sharp with various “Founders” of the Texas A&M Higher Education Center in McAllen. Included in the picture are Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez, businessman Alonzo Cantu, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, state Sen. Juan ‘Chuy’ Hinojosa, and former Congressman Rubén Hinojosa. (Photo: Nathaniel Bauer)