HARLINGEN, RGV – The new provost and executive vice president of UT-Rio Grande Valley spoke about his vision for the institution in a breakfast speech at the Harlingen Area Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.

Dr. Havidán Rodríguez’s appointment as provost was announced in an email to staff at UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville by UTRGV President Guy Bailey on Tuesday evening. A news release is expected to be posted later today.

As provost, Rodríguez will be the chief academic officer for UTRGV. The heads of the 11 colleges and schools within the institution will report to him.

“Building this new university is going to be a great challenge and a great opportunity. It is going to have a great impact on the Rio Grande Valley. “I am very excited to be part of the process. It is a great opportunity,” Rodríguez told the Guardian in an exclusive interview.

Currently, Rodríguez serves as interim president of UT-Pan American. He was previously provost for UTPA. Before that he worked at the University of Delaware.

The Harlingen Area Chamber of Commerce had been featuring speakers related to UTRGV and its Medical School over the past eight months through its Buenos Días breakfast series. In his speech to the Chamber, Rodríguez pointed out that UTRGV will be one of the largest Hispanic serving institutions in the nation. It is expected to have a student body of almost 30,000 when it launches in the fall of 2015. It is being created through the merger of UTPA and UTB.

“We will create an institution of higher education that will serve – mark my words – as a national model for institutions of higher education across the country,” Rodríguez said. “There are very many folks from Washington, D.C., throughout higher education and medical schools, etc., looking at what is happening currently at the Rio Grande Valley.”

The new provost of UT-Rio Grande Valley, Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, spoke at a Buenos Días breakfast event at Harlingen Area Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.
The new provost of UT-Rio Grande Valley, Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, spoke at a Buenos Días breakfast event at Harlingen Area Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.

Rodríguez repeated a remark made by UTRGV President Guy Bailey at a Memorandum of Understanding ceremony held at UTPA on Tuesday. He said there is “nothing more interesting happening in higher education across the country” than what is currently going on in the Valley.

“There are lots of pairs of eyes on us, so we have got to get this right. In order to get this right, we not only need the universities to come together, we need the support, the commitment and the engagement of the community. We need the support. We need the communication. We need the collaboration of our community. We are not going to be successful if we are not working with you and you are working with us to help us succeed,” Rodríguez told the Harlingen chamber members.

Rodríguez said he always talks to his colleagues and staff about the importance of the three C’s – communication, collaboration, coordination.

Rodríguez said UTRGV will not only have a significant social and economic and health impact on the Valley but throughout the state of Texas and throughout the country and beyond. “This will become a global university. Yes, it will serve the needs of our community but will also have significant impacts throughout the nation as well,” Rodríguez said.

Rodríguez then asked the audience a question and answered it for them. “How do we ensure it will be successful? We have to promote excellence in everything we do and the first priority is the success of the students.”

Before arriving at UTPA four years ago Rodríguez worked at the University of Delaware. He said the students there often came from second, third, fourth or fifth generation college-going families. He said the students came from families with an average income of about $85,000. He said many came from “well to do” families. He said things are very different at UTPA. “Here, in the Rio Grande Valley, when you provide a college degree to a student it not only impacts that student’s life, it impacts the life of that family. It impacts the community, the region. So, one student at a time we are, indeed, transforming the Rio Grande Valley,” Rodríguez said.

Rodríguez predicted that UTRGV will expand on many fronts once it opens its doors in the fall of 2015 and takes in the first cohort of medical students in the fall of 2016. He said that thanks to an expanded number of residency programs, medical students will likely stay and practice in the Valley.

“This is huge,” Rodríguez said. “We are producing a school of medicine of the first class. You will be very, very, impressed with the curriculum, with the technology, with the people we are recruiting. It will be a top notch school of medicine, (one of the best) in the country. We will attract people not only from the Rio Grande Valley but from all over the place.”

Rodríguez also predicted that the arrival of SpaceX, a commercial rocket launching endeavor, in Brownsville will provide an opportunity for UTRGV to expand academic and research programs.

“We will have many more undergraduate programs. We will have many more master’s degree programs. We will definitely have many more doctoral programs. One of the things the UTRGV will be is an emerging research institution – that is what we are aiming to be,” Rodríguez said.

“That has important connotations in terms of the funding we have to bring in, the researchers we have to bring in, from external funding agencies like the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and other federal funding agencies. But it also means we have to have at least ten doctoral programs at UTRGV. Right now we have to have three doctoral programs. It means we will attract more and more faculty to the Rio Grande Valley.”

Rodríguez then spoke about how UTRGV will grow.

“Next year we will have UTRGV. Five years from now it will be a different institution as we grow and expand. Ten years from there it will be completely different institution as we continue to expand and grow our academic programs, our research; our service to the community. As I tell my colleagues, the only constant is change itself. You can count on that because we will have significant change. The university will continue to evolve.”

Rodríguez also spoke briefly about plans to develop an Institute for Diabetes and Obesity. He said diabetes and obesity are “chronic problems” for the Valley. UTRGV, he predicted, will be a beacon for research across the country.

Rodríguez concluded his speech with these words: “Just think about the opportunities. Just think about the transformation. Just think about the Rio Grande Valley five years from now, ten years from now, 20 years from now. It is not just about education. This has dramatic ramifications in terms of the jobs that we will be able to bring in to the Rio Grande Valley, not only higher education but industries, etc. This will have a significant impact.”