Tuesday, May 14, 2019
  Community, Awards and Recognitions

By Letty Fernandez

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – The youngest graduates at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Spring Commencement ceremonies were high school students enrolled in the university’s Math and Science Academy.

Seventy-nine MSA students walked across the stage Friday, May 10, and Saturday, May 11, in Brownsville and Edinburg to accept their high school diplomas, along with two years of college credits they earned in the award-winning MSA program. 

“Two years ago, each student left their high school and took a chance with us,” said Dr. Wilma Smetter, principal of the UTRGV Math and Science Academy. “During their two years at UTRGV MSA, they seized advantage of the many opportunities provided by UTRGV, such as university research, participation in international academic conferences, and international science and engineering competition.

“UTRGV MSA is, more than anything, about transforming potential into achievement, and we are extremely proud of all our graduates,” Smetter said.

Fifty-one of the 79 MSA grads will continue their education at UTRGV. Others will transfer to several state universities, including UT Austin, UTSA, UT Dallas, Texas A&M and TCU. Two students are headed to Ivy Leagues schools – Columbia and Princeton universities.

"While I haven't yet transitioned to Princeton, I know that MSA has provided me with valuable college experience unavailable at any other high school. Speaking with and interacting with professors is an invaluable skill I know I will need to succeed at Princeton, “said Siegfried Gawenda of Brownsville.

Students accepted into the MSA program take classes from UTRGV faculty alongside UTRGV students. They gain the university experience during high school, but receive more supervision and guidance than traditional university students. Students take classes at the Brownsville and Edinburg campuses.

“Attending MSA taught me to value the time I have and how to manage it. MSA also provided me an environment in which my educational pursuits could be nurtured and grown to the fullest extent of my abilities,” said Criztian Jepsen of Wylie. “All of this will help me at Columbia, the university I will attend this fall."

Registration is underway for the fall semester. To learn more about the Math and Science Academy, visit www.utrgv.edu/msa or email msa@utrgv.edu.


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.