Freshman art student wins contest to design first UTRGV holiday card

UTRGV Studio Art student Virginia Contreras displays her winning design for the new university’s first holiday card. Her design was an early favorite in the 2015 President's Holiday Card Contest, and is loaded with symbols that embody Valley culture, the university and the holiday spirit. Her prize is a $1,000 UTRGV scholarship. (UTRGV Photo by Paul Chouy)

By Melissa Vasquez

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – DEC. 5, 2015 – When Virginia Contreras heard about the contest to create the first official winter holiday card for The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, she said she had to “go for it.”

That drive led Contreras, a UTRGV freshman, to win the 2015 President's Holiday Card Contest, and a $1,000 UTRGV scholarship.

The studio art major said winning the competition was a major highlight of her first year at UTRGV as a member of the university’s #FirstClass.

“This is really cool because it is going to be the first card for the university and I am proud of that because I am a freshman here and a first-generation UTRGV student,” she said.

Contreras’ design was chosen from among 100 entries by a panel of judges selected by the Office of the President. Artwork was judged on creativity, artistic merit, and its efforts to embody the spirit of the holidays while capturing the essence of the Rio Grande Valley and UTRGV.

The competition was open to all current UTRGV students.
The winning piece blends the iconic symbols of the Valley and the university – including a multicolored Vaquero boot that serves as the centerpiece of the card. Contreras also incorporated an Ocelot and a Bronc to represent UTRGV’s legacy institutions – The University of Texas at Brownsville / Texas Southmost College and The University of Texas-Pan American.

Among the design’s symbols are a palm representing the cities of McAllen and South Padre Island; a heart that represents the “Heart of the Valley,” the city of Donna; a crown symbolizing Mercedes, the Queen City; citrus fruit for the city of Mission; and an eagle representing the city of Alamo. An assortment of colors was used to create the side of the boot to symbolize the city of Hidalgo’s annual Festival of Lights.

“Although I couldn’t attribute all the cities of the Valley, this card conveys a representation of our traditions and customs,” Contreras, who lives in McAllen, wrote on the entry form. “It is a symbol of the history hidden behind our people and the embracement of our culture.”

Contreras said that, between homework and volunteering at university functions, she made time to do research for her design. That took about a week. Then she spent a weekend actually designing the card.

“If I had not tried, then it would not have happened for me,” she said.

Family is important to Contreras, who regularly brings her bicycle with her on the bus ride from McAllen to the Edinburg Campus so she make her way around the university. She decided to attend UTRGV, instead of leaving the Valley, to be able to study close to home. Her parents, David Contreras and Maria de la Luz Piñon, have always encouraged her love of art, which developed in middle school and continued to grow.

So it made complete sense that her brother, Ernesto, a high school student, helped her research the histories and symbols of Valley cities, and that she showed her artwork to family and friends before submitting it for the contest.

“Right away my parents noticed that I loved art and that I could really do something with it,” she said. “They always told me to ‘go for it’ and when they heard I had won they were so excited.”

Contreras now wants to learn jewelry making, and is hoping to do her master’s studies in Europe, in Studio Arts, perhaps, or architecture, her first love.

Her philosophy for achieving those dreams is simple.
“Just go for it,” she said.

Guy Bailey, UTRGV founding president, said the 2015 holiday card is an outstanding representation of the artistry of UTRGV students and all that is most inspiring about the Valley and the university.

“When the recipients receive our first holiday card, they will see the talents of our students and the beauty of this region,” he said. “I thank all the students who took the time to participate in this new tradition.”

In addition to Contreras, the second- and third-place selections each earned a $500 UTRGV scholarship:

  • Hanna Jung, a biology graduate student, took second place for a colorful card featuring birds native to the region. Click here to see the card.
  • Adrian Mendoza, a sophomore nursing major, presented a graphic illustration using the university’s “We Will” campaign theme. Click here to see the card.

Contreras’ winning card will be mailed to donors, friends of the university and elected officials across the state and country. A digital version will be emailed to UTRGV faculty and staff.

UTRGV Holiday postcard

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