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SAN BENITO, RGV – San Benito Mayor Celeste Sanchez wants to see the new UT-Rio Grande Valley and its School of Medicine improve the quality of life not only of South Texas residents but also those of northern Tamaulipas.

Sanchez spoke about students living south of the Rio Grande benefiting from UTRGV during a speech at a sister city ceremony for San Benito and Matamoros on Tuesday. Sanchez’s comments coincided with news that the UT System has formed a partnership with Mexico’s National Council of Science and Technology to develop new academic and research programs.

“The terms of our sister city agreement are only about five pages when printed out on paper but the scope of this agreement, however, has no boundaries,” Sanchez said.

“If we fully apply our creativity and efforts to helping each other succeed in every way possible many of us can fully imagine the widespread future benefits of the new University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley with its medical school to conduct research, the training of students to fill the demand of the technical careers in medicine and improvements in healthcare for our students. The UTRGV will expand the higher education dreams and realms of possibility for all students and add more options to the dreams of many, including our neighbors to the south.”

Rodolfo Quilantán Arenas, Mexico’s consul in Brownsville, said the deepening of connections between UTRGV and education institutions in Mexico is already underway. He pointed to a visit UT-Brownsville academics associated with the STARGATE project made to Mexico City a few weeks ago.

“The STARGATE talks in Mexico City went on for three days. It was a great success. The idea was to identify Mexican students that could come to the U.S. to further their education in science and the STEM fields,” Quilantán Arenas said.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math. STARGATE stands for Spacecraft Tracking and Astronomical Research into Giga-hertz Astrophysical Transient Emission. Originally a project undertaken by the Center for Advanced Radio Astronomy at UT-Brownsville, it is now morphing into a public-private partnership with SpaceX. UT-Brownsville is being folded into UTRGV at the end of this month.

“The agenda of educational ties between the two countries is expanding within the framework of the binational agenda set forth by Presidents Obama and Peña Nieto,” Quilantán Arenas told the Rio Grande Guardian. “When have you seen that in the last 20 years? Never. Always, the issues were migration, drugs and the traffic of guns. Education was always a low priority. Not anymore.”

Quilantán Arenas pointed out that under an agreement signed by Presidents Obama and Peña Nieto, 100,000 Mexican students are slated to study in the U.S. by 2018 and 50,000 U.S. students are slated to study in Mexico, also by 2018. “The educational ties between our two countries are becoming more and more important,” Quilantán Arenas said.

In San Antonio on Tuesday, UT System Chancellor William H. McRaven officially signed a memorandum of understanding with Mexico’s National Council of Science and Technology, also known as CONACYT. McRaven said the agreement provides a legal framework for the System’s 14 institutions to collaborate with CONACYT to develop a wide variety of STEM-related research and academic programs for faculty and students. He pointed out that several UT System institutions currently have existing relationships with CONACYT for research collaboration and graduate student funding.

“Mexico is more than just our friend,” McRaven said. “Each one of our academic and health institutions benefits from our proximity to and relationship with Mexico, and the same can be said of Texas itself. Our partnership with CONACYT is essential to building a knowledge exchange to make new discoveries in science, health care and technology.”

Randy Charbeneau, UT System’s assistant vice chancellor for research, said the agreement with CONACYT will enable joint academic programs to be developed in STEM fields such as applied math and modeling; biology and chemistry; biochemistry and agricultural sciences, earth, coastal and marine sciences; energy; environment; industrial manufacturing technologies; information technology and telecommunications; materials; medicine and health; nanotechnology; and space sciences and technologies.

“I think this agreement provides wonderful research opportunities in many critical and exciting areas, including space technology, the Gulf of Mexico’s coastal environment, medicine and health at the border, and promoting economic development,” Charbeneau said. “It gives the UT System international relationships south of the border.”

Enrique Cabrero, director of CONACYT, said his institution and the UT System will also organize missions for professors, students and professionals to work on mutual projects; develop workshops, conferences and seminars focusing on common areas; and exchange, as appropriate, scientific and technological information. “Knowledge is global,” Cabrero said. “The signing of this memorandum represents an important step in new areas of true cooperation.”

Meanwhile, in San Benito, Mayor Sanchez was extolling the virtues of her city’s new tie-up with Matamoros. Matamoros Mayor Leticia Salazar was present for the sister city signing ceremony. Sanchez said the signing will “strengthen the business and social bonds between our two cities and promote understanding, cooperation and respect in the coming years.”

Much more than a formal document, Sanchez said, the two cities were initiating a “turning point” in the history of Matamoros and San Benito. “This serves as a written plan or an outline to guide decisions and projects that will have an impact on the region, states and nations on both sides of the Rio Grande. Through this agreement we will have opportunities for city officials and citizens to experience and explore our cultures through long term community partnerships. We hope to stimulate an environment through which our communities will creatively learn, work and solve problems together, through reciprocal, cultural, educational, municipal, business, professional and technical exchanges and projects.”

Sanchez told Mayor Salazar: “I hope we inspire one another to share common concerns and nurture the vision of the city sister involvement. We look forward to building a strong relationship into the future. We look forward to many more years of bolstering our business and cultural ties.”

Salazar has been in the Valley for four different public events in the last week. The sister city ceremony in San Benito, a sister city ceremony in Brownsville, the signing of the Bi-National Economic Development Mega Zone agreement, and the official opening of the West Rail Bypass international line in Brownsville. In her remarks in San Benito, Sanchez paid tribute to the late Manuel Lara, who San Benito’s city manager played a major part in developing the San Benito-Matamoros agreement. Salazar said Lara was a “visionary.” She said it was sad he could not live to see the sister city signing take place.