UTRGV bids farewell to 2015 -- a historic, momentous, groundbreaking year

UTRGV Provost Dr. Havidan Rodriguez helped welcome #FIRSTCLASS students during Best Week Ever, a weeklong celebration that culminated, but did not end, with the first day of classes on Aug. 31, 2015. (UTRGV Archive Photo)

By Gail Fagan

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – JAN. 1, 2016 – Welcome, 2016. Adiós, 2015.

It was the year of our birth – and of many firsts – for The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, the first public university created in Texas in the 21st century.

Never before had UTRGV appeared in the UT System Budget – to the tune of $253.5 million. Never before had we had a School of Medicine, where Valley students could have an opportunity to earn a medical degree close to home.

New leaders came aboard, and new courses were created. State-of-the-art buildings opened their doors, while others were approved or are going up.

With the creation of UTRGV, UT Brownsville/Texas Southmost College and UT Pan American became distinguished legacy institutions, sharing all their resources to create one distributed yet unified campus.

Our combined student body soared immediately to nearly 30,000 students who enthusiastically began brandishing the Vaquero “V” and donning the orange, blue and green.

We heard from John Legend at the piano and listened to soaring opera arias from “The Mikado.” We cheered on our new soccer team and applauded our brilliant chess players.

National honors continued to roll in for faculty and students. Match Days and White Coat ceremonies were milestones, as our School of Medicine received its preliminary accreditation and came alive with a flood of more than 3,000 applications.

We unveiled a huge cowboy boot in Mercedes displaying the UTRGV colors and our Vaquero, even as we said goodbye to our beloved legacy mascots, Bucky and Ozzie.

On Aug. 31, 2015, two campuses came together as one, making history in South Texas, as fireworks exploded and a grand future opened before us.

Here’s a look back at UTRGV’s historic first year.


  • Improved mental health services in South Texas is in the Valley’s future, thanks to a Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation grant for UTRGV that will support development of a Post-Master’s Certificate in the Psychiatric-Mental Health Practitioner program to be offered at the university. Read the full release.
  • The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and the UTRGV School of Medicine received a nearly $3 million grant over three years from the United Health Foundation to support the Colonia Integrated Care Program: VIDAS (Valley Interprofessional Development And Services). This regional collaborative effort will create a sustainable model for health care delivery to the most vulnerable members of the community. Read the full release.
  • A Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Center for Advanced Radio Astronomy at UTRGV’s Brownsville Campus and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory laid the groundwork for the two entities to collaborate on new initiatives and frontier radio astronomical technologies. Read the full release.


  • UTRGV’s Vaquero came to life in blue, green and orange astride a horse, with the approval of The UT Board of Regents of UTRGV’s Intercollegiate Athletics logos, wordmarks and colors. Read the full release.
  • Raul Munguía, a 30-year law enforcement veteran, was commissioned as UTRGV’s inaugural police chief. Read the full release.
  • UTRGV’s School of Medicine received notice from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education that it had approved the new medical school’s candidacy for accreditation, the first step in the process to achieve full accreditation. This LCME candidacy status gave the School of Medicine the official green light to schedule a site visit for preliminary accreditation. Read the full release.


  • UTRGV’s Department of Intercollegiate Athletics launched the UTRGV branding initiative #WeAreOne and unveiled the first look at some of the Vaqueros’ new uniforms. Read the full release.
  • Dr. Leonel Vela, founding regional dean of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen, was named the UTRGV School of Medicine’s senior associate dean for Student Affairs. Read the full release.
  • During Match Day, 42 medical students received notice that they will spend the next three to seven years in training as residents at three Rio Grande Valley hospitals. Read the full release.
  • UTRGV’s North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves will use the $14.5 million it received from the National Science Foundation to create and operate a Physics Frontiers Center. The center – a collaboration of 11 U.S. institutions – will bring over $1 million dollars in research funding to South Texas to support the NANOGrav-related research efforts in UTRGV’s Center for Advanced Radio Astronomy. Read the full release.


  • UTRGV President Guy Bailey welcomed nearly 900 potential #FirstClass students and their parents to Discover UTRGV open houses at the Brownsville and Edinburg campuses.Read the full release.
  • Founding UTRGV Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Havidán Rodríguez received the prestigious Alfredo G. de los Santos Jr. Distinguished Leadership in Higher Education Award from the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education. Read the full release.
  • The UTRGV School of Medicine and Rio Grande Valley students took one more step forward when the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved its Doctor of Medicine degree. Read the full release.
  • A packed house enjoyed a bounty of powerful performances from students and faculty from both UTRGV campuses at the Grand Premiere of the Performing Arts Complex on the Edinburg campus. Read the full release.


  • A nearly six-foot-tall cowboy boot for the UTRGV’s Vaqueros was unveiled by President Guy Bailey in Mercedes, where it will be part of the city’s public art project, “Las Botas de Mercedes.” Read the full release.
  • The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio was one of seven organizations announced by Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas Inc. to take part in Texas: Social Innovation for a Healthy South Texas, a project intended to stimulate improvements in behavioral health and chronic disease in South Texas. The more than $800,000 in funding is set to transition to UTRGV. Read the full release.
  • The South Texas Diabetes and Obesity Institute at UTRGV received its first major grant award from the National Institutes of Health. The $4 million award will support a four-year project to search for genes influencing psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression. Read the full release.
  • The University of Texas System Board of Regents approved a tuition plan for UTRGV that eliminates traditional student fees and provides guaranteed tuition rates aimed to benefit students and their families. Read the full release.


  • UTRGV President Guy Bailey made the final stop of his Tour of Texas in Weslaco, where he announced the Texas Legislature had appropriated more than $253.5 million to UTRGV for the 2016-2017 fiscal year – the second-highest amount awarded to an institution in The University of Texas System. Read the full release.
  • Kings, queens, rooks, bishops, knights and pawns joined chess enthusiasts of all ages at UTRGV’s first Chess Community Day, held on the Brownsville campus. Read the full release.
  • With more than $600,000 in funding from the National Science Foundation, a new scholarship program at UTRGV – Pathways to Graduate School and Professional Careers in the Mathematical Sciences – will offer 22 South Texas students an opportunity to obtain a combined bachelor’s and master’s degree in mathematics in five years. Read the full release.
  • Seven of The University of Texas System Board of Regents 2015 Outstanding Teaching Awards went to faculty members at UTRGV. The award is considered among the highest and most prestigious in the nation to recognize teaching excellence. Read the full release.
  • In its first White Coat Ceremony held at the RAHC in Harlingen, UTRGV bestowed coats on 42 #FirstMatch medical residents who will be working at three hospitals in the Rio Grande Valley. Read the full release.


  • Ten UTRGV faculty members will join researchers from six other Texas institutions to participate in the Texas OneGulf Center of Excellence. Its collaborative and multi-disciplinary research will focus on fostering sustainable growth and economic and commercial development in the coastal region. Read the full release.
  • The Arbor Day Foundation recognized UTRGV with a 2014 Tree Campus USA designation for its commitment to effective urban forest management and engaging the campus community in environmental stewardship. Read the full release.
  • UTRGV’s School of Medicine launched its colonia health initiative in two Valley locations. The colonia health program is part of UTRGV’s South Texas Interprofessional Team Collaborative for Health, known as STITCH, which involves representatives from a variety of professions including researchers, clinicians, promotoras and others, in providing an interdisciplinary approach to preventative health care for underserved Valley residents. Read the full release.
  • UTRGV and South Texas College signed the first MOU between the two institutions to signify their mutual commitment to student success in South Texas. Read the full release.


  • UTRGV President Guy Bailey gave an update on the university’s status and progress to faculty and staff at the Brownsville and Edinburg campuses in his first convocation. Read the full release.
  • Karen Lozano, Ph.D., a Julia Beecherl Endowed Professor in mechanical engineering at UTRGV, received a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to continue her work on nanomaterial research in which she involves students. Read the full release.
  • The UT System Board of Regents approved a $478 million budget for the 2016 fiscal year for Texas’ newest public university and the UTRGV School of Medicine. Read the full release.
  • As part of Best Week Ever, the first resident move-in days were held at the Brownsville and Edinburg campuses for more than 1,000 students. Read the full release.
  • UTRGV welcomed almost 4,000 of its #FirstClass students over two days during The Roundup, daylong orientation events geared toward acclimating new students to the university. Read the full release.
  • Cyclists from across the Rio Grande Valley pedaled from the UTRGV Edinburg and Brownsville campuses and met in Harlingen in the Tour de Valley, a symbolic way to celebrate the coming together of two legacy institutions to form UTRGV. Read the full release.
  • UTRGV opened its doors Aug. 31 and welcomed The University of Texas System Chancellor William McRaven and 29,045 students on its historic first day of classes at both the Brownsville and Edinburg campuses. The first day of classes was capped off its signature event, The Stomp. Read the full release.


  • U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert A. McDonald, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, and Gov. Greg Abbott visited UTRGV and the Veterans Memorial in McAllen, where they discussed how the School of Medicine can help address the health care needs of veterans. Read the full release.
  • The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics named UTRGV a “Bright Spot in Hispanic Education.” Read the full release.
  • UTRGV’s Dr. Karen Lozano was named Engineer of the Year by Great Minds in STEM. She is only the third woman in 27 years to garner this distinction. Read the full release.
  • UTRGV and Doctors Hospital at Renaissance opened the Family Medicine Center to enhance medical education and patient care. Read the full release.


  • HESTEC launched its 14th year of the weeklong conference designed to spur interest in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields for middle and high school students. Read the full release.
  • UTRGV held a ceremonial groundbreaking of the $70 million Science Research Building on the Edinburg Campus. Read the full release.
  • Journalist Soledad O’Brien brought her ‘I am Latino in America’ tour to UTRGV in conjunction with HESTEC 2015, the UTRGV Distinguished Speakers Series and INGENUITY. Read the full release.
  • U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan met with Valley education leaders and addressed more than 100 Valley high school students at UTRGV during HESTEC. Read the full release.
  • Thousands attend the first HESTEC Community Day, touring STEM exhibits and enjoying performances by Disney Channel star Dove Cameron and country music star Chris Young. Read the full release.
  • Mario Castillo, a UTRGV junior engineering technology student, won the coveted Siemens design award for his futuristic all-terrain vehicle. Read the full release.
  • UTRGV opened U Central, a convenient one-stop shop where students can get help with financial aid, registration, enrollment and other issues. Read the full release.
  • The Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) gave preliminary accreditation to UTRGV’s School of Medicine, which allowed the SOM to recruit its inaugural class of med students. Read the full release.
  • UTRGV became home to UT System’s first competency-based education program, with coursework administered via iPad technology for students in the Biomedical Sciences curriculum. Read the full release.
  • Dr. Temple Grandin, celebrated in the world of autism and a renowned expert on cattle handling, brought inspiring messages and stories to two presentations at UTRGV. Read the full release.


  • UTRGV hosted its first RiSA (Rio Grande Science and Arts), which drew hundreds of visitors to the Brownsville Campus to learn about science-related fields offered at the university. Latina Day offered high school girls an opportunity to learn more about STEM fields and careers. Read the full release.
  • Two paintings of Edinburg hometown war hero Alfredo “Freddy” Gonzalez by UTRGV graduate student Ramiro Peña were selected to be converted into two large murals at the Edinburg H-E-B on West Freddy Gonzalez Drive. Read the full release.
  • Dr. Stephanie Alvarez, UTRGV associate professor of Mexican American Studies, was named Carnegie-CASE Professor of the Year 2015, one of just four designations in the nation. Read the full release.
  • UTRGV won the Arbor Day Foundation’s $10,000 service award for a project to beautify a Rio Grande Valley Community. Read the full release.
  • UTRGV, in partnership with the Texas A&M School of Public Health, graduated its first class of health promotores under the School of Medicine's South Texas Interprofessional Team Collaborative for Health (STITCH) program. Read the full release.
  • UTRGV mariachi musicians topped all university-level competitors at the national Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza in San Antonio. Read the full release.
  • Dr. Jasim Uddin, a UTRGV visiting professor of chemistry from Bangladesh, is PI on a six-figure grant to the university from the U.S. Department of Defense that will help fund research into developing a multifunctional textile fiber that can self-cleanse and protect the wearer from UV radiation and toxic environments. Read the full release.
  • The UTRGV Physician Assistant (PA) program was recognized by Apple as an Apple Distinguished Program for the 2015-17 award cycle. The program also received this national distinction for 2013-15. Read the full release.
  • UTRGV’s first Printmaking Show was held at the Brownsville Artists and Musicians gallery, known as BAM. It wowed visitors, who got to participate in free workshops. Read the full Release.


  • UTRGV signed an MOU with the Universidad Autónoma de Tamaulipas in Tamaulipas, Mexico, to provide new collaborative opportunities to students, faculty and staff at both border institutions. Read the full release.
  • Freshman art student Virginia Contreras won the contest to create the first official winter holiday card for UTRGV. Read the full release.
  • UTRGV participated in a roundtable discussion for President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper +STEM Initiative at the White House. Read the full release.
  • The UTRGV School of Medicine received a $1 million grant from the Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas for its Integrated Care Collaborative Unit that provides services for high-risk, triply diagnosed youths through a special collaborative program like the one at the John Austin Peña Memorial Center in Edinburg. Read the full release.
  • UTRGV celebrated it first commencement ceremonies Dec. 19 on the Brownsville Campus and at the State Farm Arena in Hidalgo. President Guy Bailey, sporting a new presidential chain of office and medallion designed and made by students, told the nearly 2,000 new alums, “Graduates, you are our newest ambassadors. I know you will represent us well.”Read the full release.

UTRGV Students celebrated the first day of classes on Aug. 31, 2015.
Students across the Rio Grande Valley celebrated Aug. 31, 2015, the first day of classes for UTRGV. (UTRGV Archive Photo)


UTRGV Director of News and Internal Communications

Jennifer.McGehee@UTRGV.edu UTRGV Director of Public Relations