Friday, December 14, 2018

By Victoria Brito

 PHOTO GALLERY by David Pike

BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – Fall commencement kicked off on a windy Friday on the Student Union Lawn in Brownsville, as 560 graduates received their diplomas from The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

Graduates didn’t let the high winds ruin their celebration, though, as families and friends waited patiently listening to pre-processional music provided by the UTRGV Mariachi Aztlán.

“Today is our opportunity to recognize and congratulate you for what you have achieved,”
UTRGV President Guy Bailey told graduates.

This semester’s commencement was the first for UTRGV’s #FirstClass, students who started with UTRGV in fall 2015 and who were not transfers from either legacy institution UTB-TSC or UTPA.  

On the Brownsville Campus, 43 of this semester’s graduates are #FirstClass.

Bailey offered words of encouragement for the next chapter of their journeys.

“You have had different teachers in the last four years, you’ve had some wonderful teachers,” Bailey said. “They nurture you, they give you a test. Your new teacher won’t do that.” 

That’s because the new teacher is experience.

“Experience is a hard teacher, because you get the test before the lesson,” Bailey said. “You have been well prepared for life. Your teachers have nurtured you, guided you, provided you with an education. We look forward to seeing you achieving those goals.”


One of them is April Garcia, a 2015 graduate of Brownsville’s Porter Early College High School. She received her Bachelor of Social Work degree on Friday. 

Garcia is graduating in three and a half years, rather than the typical four years, because she took advantage of UTRGV’s tuition cap on 15-plus hours and sometimes took 18 credit hours a semester. 

She said she chose to attend UTRGV for its affordability and proximity to home and family.

“I am a first generation college graduate,” she said. “I didn’t know what to expect. I just went in and felt like a little puppy. It was hard for me, at first.” 

When picking a major, she looked for a career she could be passionate about and discovered Child Protective Services. In January, she starts a full-time position at CPS in Brownsville as a conservatorship specialist.

“It feels like a weight lifted off of my shoulders,” she said. “My mom always stressed going to college.”

Garcia will stay in Brownsville to work at CPS, and after gaining work experience, she hopes to pursue a master’s degree in social work.

“I am thankful for where I am right now, and for my mom providing for me and helping me as much as she could until I was able to figure it out for myself,” Garcia said. “I am grateful for the opportunities. I know many people lose hope and I told myself to keep trying, and if I fail, at least I failed trying. And now I’m here.”


Angela Mar, a 2014 graduate of UTRGV legacy institution UT Brownsville / Texas Southmost College, will graduate from UTRGV with a master’s degree in Experimental Psychology. 

“Early on, I knew that I loved psychology and I wanted to focus more on the applied side, rather than the clinical side,” Mar said. “And research is an area of application.” 

Mar’s thesis centered on a species of opossum from Brazil born at early neurodevelopmental stages. She conducted research in the Biomedical Research Facility on the Brownville Campus where her mentor, Dr. Mario Gil, assistant professor of psychology, has a lab.

The lab is overseen by Dr. John Vanderberg, SOM professor of human genetics and part of the South Texas Diabetes and Obesity Institute. There, Mar researched the behavior of this particular opossum, to study if they could be a potential research model for the origins of autism.

In September, Mar presented the research at the UTRGV School of Medicine Research Symposium in McAllen, where she won Best Poster for Graduate Student. 

“It has been really interesting working with Dr. Gil and the undergraduate students in the lab,” Mar said.

But now it’s time to get some work experience before potentially settling into a doctoral program in fall 2020.

“Being Dr. Gil’s advisee, I had to put in a lot of work. Things don’t come easy,” she said, “but at the end, it was really worthwhile.”

The ceremony concluded with the traditional ringing of the University Bell by graduates Diana Lara and Ernesto Farias.

Commencement will continue on Saturday, Dec. 15 with ceremonies at the McAllen Convention Center at 9 a.m., 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.