Friday, June 11, 2021
  Awards and Recognitions

By Karen Villarreal

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – A UTRGV student organization has been recognized in a national competition for its social media campaign promoting accommodations for people with disabilities in higher education.  

The American Medical Student Association (AMSA) RGV Chapter, made up of undergraduate students, recently competed virtually at the 71st annual National AMSA Convention and Exposition against other university chapters, including some teams from medical schools.  

Representing the Valley digitally due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the RGV AMSA chapter won Best Poster honors in the Chapter Activities category, for its Accessibility Awareness Campaign. 



The purpose of “accommodations” is to level the playing field for all and ensure equal access to university services. So, the chapter’s social media campaign informs U.S. college students about potential accommodations that can be requested and which must be provided by law.  

For example, UTRGV’s Student Accessibility Services can help students by arranging an extended testing time, the use of an audio recorder or volunteer note-taker in class, or accessible seating or furniture. To help during the pandemic, UTRGV’s Center for Online Learning and Teaching Technology provided additional resources for faculty who were quickly adapting to online learning, so they could provide accessible eLearning environments. 

The project involved creating five videos the team first shared on social media, then requested feedback via a survey. The videos were viewed by more than 1,000 people. Eighty-four percent of respondents “agreed or strongly agreed” the videos made them think differently about disabilities, including dyspraxiadepression, and deafness. Other topics in the video series included strategies for overcoming reading challenges, and accommodations available to student veterans

Oscar Cazares, the project founder, said the project is a continuation of the mission of the AMSA RGV Chapter – making people aware of disabilities.  

“It fosters an atmosphere of appreciation toward students of all capacities and backgrounds,” he said. 



The winning team consisted of six students with multiple roles each. 

“The project involved many creative, technical and academic aspects,” said Annu Karithara, chair of the RGV Chapter.  “We had to work together online to do literature research, interviews and surveys.”   

Cazares, a biology and psychology major from Brownsville, founded the project and served as project co-coordinator, general supervisor and literature researcher. Karithara, a biomedical sciences major from Houston, served as co-coordinator and literature researcher. Giovanni Gallo, a biology major from Kona, Hawaii, provided technical supervision and video production. The three presented the poster at the convention, and Omar Benavides, biomedical sciences major from Corpus Christi; Carmen Alejandra Flores, biology major from Brownsville; and David Moreno, biomedical sciences major from Mission, contributed as literature researchers.  



The UTRGV students competed in the Chapter Activities category against eight teams of international and U.S. undergraduate schools.  

Medical schools including the University of Illinois College of Medicine (Chicago), New York Medical College, and the University of Texas Medical Branch School of Medicine also competed.  

Other posters in the competition displayed a medical-oriented sign language course, a health and racial justice advocacy program, a teaching clinic for medical students, and a program involving virtual lectures and clinical simulations. 


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.