UTRGV student org ENACTUS partners with Office for Sustainability to bring sustainability leadership training program to community

  Monday, December 16, 2019

By News and Internal Communications

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – UTRGV’s Office for Sustainability (OFS) is working on an educational community experience program designed to help shape leaders in sustainable development and based on the philosophy that societal growth should consider environmental, economic and social impacts.

Working with UTRGV’s ENACTUS student organization over the course of seven weeks, students from Pharr-San Juan-Alamo’s Sotomayor Early College High School became Sustainability Ambassadors. 

The Sotomayor campus is dedicated to supporting expecting teen mothers, and teen mothers and their children. About 20 students took part in weekly educational expeditions and lessons focused on financial literacy, clean energy, natural conservation, social responsibility and sustainable waste management systems, such as recycling and composting. 

Among other sites, field trips included the H-E-B Distribution Center in Weslaco to learn about the rooftop solar array there, and the Raymondville Magic Valley windfarm. Students also spent time at the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley, sorting and packaging food for more than 700 families. 

ENACTUS also is working with Workforce Solutions to provide a certificate in soft skills through this program, geared to helping the young women in their future employment and to reinforce their ability to sustain themselves and their families.

“We’re very impressed with these students and their dedication to their studies and this project,” said Maria Leonard, ENACTUS faculty advisor. “Despite the challenges they face with their new family responsibilities, they learned so much and can now go on and teach these concepts to their communities. I’m also very proud of my ENACTUS students, who showed great leadership and made this a successful program.”

The experience culminated with a tour of UTRGV, and a poster competition Dec. 6 at the UTRGV International Room. The top three posters were awarded gift certificates. Three former ENACTUS students participated in the judging, as well as Dr. Christopher Gabler, a UTRGV Sustainability Faculty Fellow; and Forrest Sparks, a program specialist from UTRGV’s OFS.

Students answered questions about their posters for the judges, and first place went to two students who demonstrated the strongest leadership in sustainable development.

“We started a program at our school called ‘Mothers in Nature,’ said Yulissa Ibarra, one of the students who took first place with her teammate, Melvy Villegas. “We’re putting bins on campus to collect plastics to recycle them, and our next plan is to have a garden in front of the school.”

From one of their field trips, they learned that only type 1 and type 2 plastics are recycled at the McAllen Recycling Center, which sources all the surrounding city’s recycling. From a trip to Sea Turtles Inc. on South Padre Island, they learned the harm plastic waste can do to wildlife. 

“We started with our class, but we want to get all the girls in school involved,” Villegas said.

Both Ibarra and Villegas plan to attend UTRGV when they graduate, to study human relations and social work, respectively.

To learn more about UTRGV chapter of ENACTUS, the national student organization, visit the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/UTRGVEnactus/.


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.