McALLEN, RGV – South Texas College may want to change its name in the not too distant future. It may wish to be called South Texas College International.
This is because, for the first time ever, STC will have a presence in Reynosa, Tamaulipas. The college plans to offer workforce training programs in the Mexican border city by September of this year.
“We are looking to expand our services into Reynosa in order to provide maquila plants with workforce training and higher education programs. We want to have an international presence,” said Carlos Margo, STC’s interim associate dean of industry training and economic development.
“To begin with, we are going to do workforce training, in courses such as industrial automation, industrial maintenance, building maintenance. We could train any of the employees, from upper management to production workers. We are creating a formal partnership with the Instituto Internacional de Estudios Superiores (IIES), a private education institution in Reynosa.”
The Rio Grande Guardian interviewed Margo about the STC-IIES alliance while he participated in a bus tour of Reynosa maquila plants organized by the McAllen Economic Development Corporation. The tour was designed to demonstrate how the tightly interwoven the economies of McAllen and Reynosa are. Ralph Garcia, MEDC’s vice president of Mexico business recruitment, mentioned the STC-IIES alliance several times while giving commentary to those on the bus.
The STC and IIES alliance started three years ago with innovation conference. The conference has been held annually since 2013, thanks in large part to the ties forged by Rosendo Martínez Gómez, rector of IIES, and Mario Reyna, dean of business and technology at STC. Margo said the idea of providing a workforce training program in Reynosa grew out of the discussions Martínez and Reyna initiated.
“The workforce training programs will be housed at IIES. We will use their space and their labs. But the equipment, the supplies, the consumables, we will provide these, along with our trainers. We will retain ownership of all the curriculum, licenses, software,” Margo said.
Margo was quick to point out that no taxpayer dollars will be used to develop or operate the workforce training program. “The entire initiative in Reynosa will be self-funded. We will charge the companies for the training. We will not be utilizing local taxes for this. Other institutions of higher education around the nation do this with their have international campuses.”
Asked how many workers STC might train in Reynosa, Margo said: “The preliminary forecast is to train several hundred per month. It depends on the response we get in the market. There is a definite need for training, based on the response we have had from our international industry partners, such as Kohler, GE, and others.”
Asked what other higher education institutions in Reynosa think about the STC-IIES tie-up, Margo said: “So far, everyone is excited about it. Our counterparts at other colleges and universities are welcoming this initiative.”
Asked if Festo certification has helped, Margo said: “Festo certification allowed us to build a lot of the capacity we have now. It has allowed us to develop a curriculum, purchase software and training equipment.” Asked to define Festo, Margo said: “Festo is a privately owned German industrial control and automation manufacturer and a leading global supplier of automation technology. The Festo Certified Training Center for Robotics and Industrial Automation at STC is the first of its kind in the nation. It is opening a world of opportunities for students and companies who are utilizing automation technology on both sides of the US-Mexico border.”
Asked where things are at with preparations for a September launch of the workforce training program in Reynosa, Margo said: “Our preliminary presentations have been approved by our board of trustees. The board has asked us to proceed with the development of this partnership. We will go back to them for final approval when this is done. It has taken two years of planning and now we are getting close to execution. We are working very closely with our attorneys in order to do this right. We are following the legal authority given to us as a community college to do business internationally. We are going to do this right. We are going to do this well. It will be a high quality program with our neighboring city.”
Margo added: “We believe this is a win-win for Reynosa and McAllen, as well as the two institutions.”
MEDC President Keith Patridge believes the STC-IIES workforce training program is only the first step on a path towards unifying higher education courses in McAllen and Reynosa. Patridge told Somos Tamaulipas: “This is just the first step of an integration of education offered between both sides of the border. We see ourselves as one city, which only crosses a river. The idea is start integrating ourselves, which is a part of the overall vision behind the NAFTA; going back to 1994, when the integration of the North American economy began. It has to start at the border and this is step No. 1.”
Step 2, Patridge said, is to integrate educational courses with degree credits. “We want to see to a dual-degree program, where students who sign up for these programs at the end will have valid titles on both sides of the border, from IIES and STC.”
Supporters of STC will likely view the development of the workforce training program in Reynosa as another example of the college blazing a trail in out-of-the-box thinking. At a recent news conference called to announce a major education grant for STC, Patridge was fulsome in his praise of STC President Shirley Reed. He said Reed has developed a “world class team.” At the same event, John Fitzpatrick, executive director of Educate Texas, said that STC “has been in the forefront of every major innovation (in education) over the last 11 years.”
And, at a recent Rotary Club event, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling said “STC is the best thing to have happened to McAllen in the last 20 years.”
Editor’s Note: Rio Grande Guardian reporter Dayna Reyes contributed to this story from Reynosa, Mexico.