BROWNSVILLE, RGV – The dean of the Honors College at UT-Rio Grande Valley says his goal before retirement is to produce the region’s first Rhodes Scholar.

A Rhodes scholar is someone who has been awarded a Rhodes scholarship. The world’s oldest fellowship program, Rhodes scholarships provide students with two years of post-graduate study (with an option for a third) at Oxford University in England.

Oxford University

“I would love to see UTRGV get its first Rhodes Scholar while I am dean, before I retire. That would be the icing on the cake for me,” said Mark C. Andersen.

Mark C. Andersen

Asked what the chances are of the Valley producing a Rhodes Scholar, Andersen said: “Pretty high. It just takes identifying the students that are potential candidates early enough and nurturing and mentoring them, developing them, providing them with opportunities to become competitive for programs that are so highly competitive, like the Rhodes Scholarship.”

Andersen said Valley students are as good as any place else. “The raw materials, in terms of the students with those abilities, we have got them.”

Andersen joined UT-Pan American two weeks before it became UTRGV.

“I have been here a little over four years and for me it is really all about student success. We do have fantastic students in this area and we have really well-prepared students in the high schools. We want to keep them local. We want to be the Valley’s university,” he said.

According to the UTRGV website, students in the UTRGV Honors College follow the Rafael and Carmen Guerra Honors Program, which includes specialized tracks for pre-medical and pre-law students, and for students in the College of Business and Entrepreneurship.

The UTRGV Honors College is open to students from any major. The college offers an annual study abroad program in Peru, with Andersen teaching a course on alpine ecosystems of the Andes, and Dr. Robert C. Bradley, associate dean of the Honors College, teaching a course on Inca history and culture.

Asked what the aim of the College is, Andersen said:

“We are trying to provide an experience for students that is equal to a small liberal arts college within the context of a larger research university. More mentoring, more individual attention for students, more access to research opportunities, leadership training.”

Andersen said the Honors College currently has around 250 students and will grow larger in time.

“We have some excellent students here. A lot of the students that are being accepted into the medical school are local students. That is one of the goals. They are fantastic students. I see fantastic pre-medical and pre-law students in the Honors College, as well as students in all other fields.”

Andersen added: “The research that students that are doing Honors thesis work in general is top notch. We have faculty at UTRGV that are doing world class research, they welcome participation from under graduates in those research programs.”

Recognition by Apple

Andersen gave his interview to the Rio Grande Guardian following a news conference that was held to promote a new physician assistant career track. The track is an early assurance program whose aim to increase the number of South Texas high-achieving students enrolling in and completing a Master’s degree in Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS) within the College of Health Professions.

Frank Ambriz is clinical associate professor in the UTRGV Department of Physician Assistant Studies and program director of MPAS. He was named the 2018 Outstanding Physician Assistant Educator of the Year by the Texas Academy of Physician Assistants.

Frank Ambriz

Ambriz said candidates for the Physician Assistant Career Track program will be identified through a competitive selection process that includes targeted recruitment of high achieving students are regional high schools in spring 2020. Up to ten applicants will be selected for admission to the program in fall 2020.

Admitted students will begin their UTRGV undergraduate education in the Honors College in any major in fall 2020, and if the requirements for admission to the MPAS program are met, students will be guaranteed a seat in the UTRGV MPAS entering Class of 2024.

“We want to recruit local applicants to stay in the Valley through the program,” Ambriz said, pointing out that the application pool grows every year. “We had 1,800 applicants for 100 slots,” he said.

UTRGV gets applicants from all over the country, Ambriz explained.

“It is very hard to compete at the high GPA level that our program is at. The local applicants need to know that from the very beginning. They have to maintain a high GPA throughout their college career. We try to help them. So, we reach out to the applicants from high school and then we put them in the right path through this program. If they keep their high GPA, 3.5 is the minimum, they are in the program, no questions asked.”

Ambriz said that in the past, some Valley students would turn down UTRGV in order to got Galveston or San Antonio or Dallas. But, he said, the Physician Assistant program is now on the map.

“We are noted as one of the best PA programs. People want to come down here. The fact that we are on the border and people speak a lot of Spanish, they want to get that experience and training,” Ambriz said.

“We get so many recruiters, trying to recruit our students because they can speak Spanish. When they go to the northern states, there is a high percentage of Hispanics and Spanish speakers. That is a great asset.”

Clinical rotations in the Valley can be more meaningful for students, Ambriz said, because the health of many residents in the region.

“Because we have been neglected in healthcare, our patients have a variety of advanced stage diseases and so when we start our clinical rotations, they are seeing patients that really need the help. They are seeing patients with all kinds of pathologies. That is the real world. Reading in the text book is one thing, but experiencing life is another.”

Ambriz also believes the use of technology at UTRGV will make the university more attractive to the best and brightest students.

“People want to leave the Valley to go get educated and they want to stay where the technology is, which is in Houston and Dallas areas. Now, we are bringing the technology to the Valley. Our program is starting to incorporate a lot of technology with the Apple iPad.”

Ambriz noted that his department has twice been awarded the distinguished Apple award for innovation in education.

“We were one of only 20 programs around the world that was recognized. So, that was a big feather in our cap. We use technology to teach and students love it. Students today all grew up with iPhones and iPads. Now we incorporate both in the didactic part, in the classroom, and the clinical part. (As a result) we are delivering better healthcare.”

Ambriz added: “This (the Physician Assistant Career Track) is a great program. This is going to help us recruit locally, train locally and stay locally.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows elected officials and UTRGV leaders and students at a news conference where a new Physician Assistant Career Track program was announced.