University of Texas-Pan American

Project South Texas, a plan to merge the University of Texas-Pan American and the University of Texas at Brownsville and establish a medical school in the Rio Grande Valley, commenced Thursday, with former Missouri Southern University president Julio Leon hired to lead all project operations.

Recent studies have shown there is anywhere from 1,050 to 2,146 students currently enrolled at UT-Austin who originate from various counties within the Rio Grande Valley. It is these students who have experienced first-hand the necessity for change in higher education and health care.

Elisa Benavides, biology junior and native of Edinburg, Texas, situated in Rio Grande Valley, said she was offered a full ride to the UT-Pan American campus but elected to attend UT-Austin in hopes of creating a more competitive and challenging environment for herself. 

“After taking summer classes at UTPA my sophomore year of high school, I felt as if I could experience bigger things at UT,” Benavides said. 

Katie Rodriguez, business sophomore from Mission, Texas, said she sees the potential for Project South Texas to inspire confidence and tenacity within residents of the Rio Grande Valley, known locally as the RGV or simply the Valley. 

Rodriguez’s mother, who works as a principal at an elementary school within the Valley recently struggled with her school district to allow her to bring her fourth and fifth graders to UT-Austin and display the possibilities that lay outside the county borders.  

“There are many students in the Valley who want to go into the medical field, but do not have the knowledge or resources to leave the Valley,” Rodriguez said. 

Project South Texas not only aims to inspire a sense of purpose for RGV students, but it also helps mend the growing health and economic problems within the Valley as well. 

“Texas in general, compared to the rest of the country, has a large need for doctors but South Texas in particular has a serious dearth of physicians,” UT System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said. 

Aside from lengthy waits for the chance to schedule appointments, quality assurance is also a source of trepidation. Rodriguez said her younger brother recently dealt with a severe case of “Cat scratch fever” and needed to be taken to facilities in San Antonio to receive proper care. 

“The doctors in the Valley, who could not diagnose this, wanted to perform exploratory surgery along his neck and the base of his skull,” Rodriguez said. “We took him up to San Antonio, where they immediately diagnosed and treated him.”

LaCoste-Caputo said that statistically, people who go through medical school and practice their residency within the region are 80 percent more likely to stay and practice in that region.

“Giving the opportunity for people to train in South Texas will mean we can build a workforce of physicians there to provide care,” LaCoste-Caputo said.

At the time of its opening, which is scheduled for 2015, the South Texas medical school will be the first medical school within the UT System to be directly integrated with a university. Shortly to be followed by the Dell Medical School at the flagship campus in 2016, the two historically different colleges are now united by a common goal: to provide community health care. 

“We need more opportunity for quality higher education in Texas,” LaCoste-Caputo said. 

Junior outfielder Weston Hall stepus up to the plat against Texas Pan-American. Hall cored on Mark Payton’s RBI single in the first inning of Tuesday night’s game.   

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

You couldn’t tell Augie Garrido was leading a team in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row by his demeanor after Texas’ 6-1 sleep-inducing win over The University of Texas-Pan American on Tuesday night.

Upon learning that Josh Urban, who started and gave up one run on four hits in 2 innings, had picked up the win and not Travis Duke, who pitched 2.1 scoreless innings in relief, Garrido took it in stride.

“I just congratulated Duke!” Garrido said. “Go in there and tell him to stop dancing.”

By the time the Longhorns had finished picking up their second 6-1 victory over UTPA in as many months, more Texas fans had left UFCU Disch-Falk Field than remained in its bleachers.

The Longhorns drew 12 walks — six of them in a three-run third inning — and recorded 10 hits but managed to score just six times. Texas took a 1-0 lead into the third, scoring twice on bases-loaded walks and again on a bases-loaded balk later in the frame.

“We took a page out of [former Texas Baseball Coach Cliff] Gustafson’s playbook,” Garrido said. “We just kept giving take signs as long as they were throwing the ball outside the strike zone.”

But don’t be fooled. Texas is far from being an NCAA Tournament-worthy team. The Longhorns, who missed out on the postseason for the first time in 14 years last season, would have lost to most, if not all, Big 12 teams playing the game they played Tuesday night. 

Leaving 15 men on base and going 3-for-15 with runners in scoring position, including 0-for-3 with the bases loaded, isn’t exactly a recipe for success. 

“We have people playing to get hits. We have people playing to sign contracts,” Garrido said. “We have people playing to look better on the Jumbotron when their name comes up. We’ve got to handle the fundamentals of the game. They are the weapons of war.”

Texas has one of the best pitching staffs in the country. Its three weekend starters — Parker French, Dillon Peters and Nathan Thornhill — hold a collective 2.37 ERA but are just a combined 8-8 on the year. Seven of the Longhorns’ 15 losses this season have come by one run. 

They are close. So close to being one of the best teams in the Big 12, one that can make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. But if Texas keeps playing like this, it won’t have that chance.

“We’re a lot different than last year,” closer Corey Knebel said, who tossed two scoreless innings in his first appearance since being sent home last weekend from Kansas. “We’re actually a team that’s really good and we’re not showing it right now. We know it’ll turn soon because it’s got to. The team we have is really good. It just hasn’t gone our way sometimes.”

Knebel may be right. But if it doesn’t turn around soon, the Longhorns will be on the outside looking in on the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year. 

Innings 1-3: The Texas offense took advantage of a struggling Broncs defense to score four runs through the first three frames. This was highlighted by three runs scored in the bottom of the third off of six walks that The University of Texas-Pan American pitching staff allowed. Josh Urban was solid on the mound for the Longhorns, facing just one over the minimum and logging two strikeouts in the first three frames. 

Innings 4-6: Things slowed down at the plate for the Longhorns. Ty Marlow plated C.J Hinojosa in the bottom of the fourth for the Longhorns’ only run scored in the middle three frames. Freshman Travis Duke came in as relief after Urban gave up one run through two outs in the fifth.

Innings 7-9: Junior Corey Knebel came in to close for the Longhorns in the top of the eighth and was effective in his first appearance since being sent home early from the Longhorns’ series against Kansas this past weekend. The UTPA pitching staff kept control of the Texas offense through the final three frames and was able to get out of several tight on-base situations. Texas’ only score came from an RBI double by Marlow in the eighth, his second RBI on the night.

By the Numbers:

6 – Tuesday night wins by the Longhorns this season. Texas has lost only two mid-week games this season, a trend that the Longhorns hope to use this weekend against West Virginia.

10 – Hits by the Longhorn offense that resulted in three of the Longhorn’s six runs. The other three came off walks and a balk by the UTPA defense.

12 – The number of walks allowed by the UTPA defense. Six of those came in the third inning alone and resulted in three runs by the Longhorns.

15 – Longhorn runners left on base. The Broncs left only five through nine innings.

Stock Up:

Tuesday night pitchers: They weren’t always perfect, even against an overmatched UTPA offense, but they did what was needed to get Texas the win. Urban came and started on the mound for the Longhorns and pitched four solid innings before giving up a run in the fifth. Duke came in as relief and continued to frustrate the UTPA offense. The Broncs had several on-base opportunities, but the Texas pitching staff refused to relent giving up only one run off five hits on the night. 

What’s Next for the Horns

West Virginia – The Longhorns will host the Big 12 newcomer in a three-game series this weekend. First pitch is slated for 7 p.m. Friday night followed by games Saturday and Sunday. The Mountaineers (21-17, 4-5) are sixth in the Big 12 and are coming off a 13-5 victory over Morehead State at home.

Bills in Texas Legislature would consolidate UT System schools in Rio Grande Valley

Bills filed in both houses of the Texas Legislature on Monday would bring the UT System to consolidating its institutions in the Rio Grande Valley into one entity.

The bills would bring the University of Texas at Brownsville, the University of Texas-Pan American and the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen under the administration of one institution and give that institution access to the Permanent University Fund, a fund established by the Texas Constitution to allocate money to the UT and Texas A&M systems.

The bills would direct the board of regents to establish a temporary advisory group that would design, develop and choose a location for the proposed medical school.

At their Dec. 6 meeting, the UT System Board of Regents voted to allow UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa to work with the Texas Legislature to establish the school.

“We believe the students of South Texas deserve access to a first-class education and that this new, PUF-eligible university will have a magnificent impact on the educational and economic opportunities in the region,” Regents Chairman Gene Powell said in a statement released Monday.

It is unclear how much the initiative will cost, but the regents approved spending $100 million over ten years to help transform the Regional Academic Health Center into the proposed South Texas School of Medicine.

In January, Cigarroa told the Senate Finance Committee that the System will seek $10 million per year in state general revenue funds to assist the consolidation and establishment of the medical school.

This is unlike the arrangement that will fund the UT-Austin medical school, which will use revenue from the board of regents, Seton Family of Hospitals, a regional hospital network, and property tax revenue collected by Central Health, Travis County’s hospital district. At that meeting, Cigarroa said the Rio Grande Valley does not have the tax base necessary to support such an arrangement.

According to each bill, students already enrolled at UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville before the bill takes effect would be allowed to enroll at the new university. The bills state that the new university will hire as many faculty and staff as possible from the abolished universities.

The House bill is authored by five representatives including state Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, who filed the bill, and state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, who chairs the House Higher Education Committee. The bill also has five co-authors.

The Senate bill is authored by four senators including state Sens. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville; Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo; and Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee.

For the System to establish the school, both houses of the Legislature must approve the measure by a two-thirds vote.

In a statement, Branch said the bill gives the Legislature and UT System an opportunity to enhance education, research and business activity in the Rio Grande Valley.

“It's our vision that the Rio Grande Valley will one day rival Silicon Valley as an intersection of education and innovation," Branch said.

The initiative has support from outside of the legislative branch and the UT System.

During his State of the State Address last week, Gov. Rick Perry said he supported allowing the schools to have access to the Permanent University Fund.

“This area of the state is critical to our state's future, and our investment in the children of South Texas will be returned a thousand-fold,” Perry said.