Thursday, August 26, 2021

By Amanda Alaniz

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – More than 2,000 Rio Grande Valley students from disadvantaged backgrounds will have a better chance to go on to college with assistance from UTRGV’S Talent Search Program.  

Three grant proposals submitted to the U.S. Department of Education for the Talent Search grant competition have been awarded to UTRGV’S Office of College Access and K-12 Partnerships in the Division of Strategic Enrollment and Student Affairs.  

The total amount to be distributed for the three proposals is a combined $5.78 million. spanning Sept. 1, 2021, to Aug. 31, 2026. The funds will be used for three initiatives at different Valley school districts.  

The Talent Search Program identifies and assists individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds to help succeed in higher education, providing academic, career and financial counseling to its participants and encouraging them to graduate from high school and completing postsecondary education.   

The program is listed as one of the Federal TRiO programs – federal outreach and student services programs – designed to identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds.    


Cindy Valdez, associate vice president for the UTRGV Office of College Access and K-12 Partnerships, said programs like Talent Search and the ability to be awarded federal grants have great impact on students and their families in the region. It opens doors to many opportunities and provides access to information for postsecondary options, she said.   

  • One initiative will be with Edcouch-Elsa ISD, La Joya ISD and Mission CISD in five target high schools. 
  • The second will be with Lasara ISD, Lyford CISD, Raymondville ISD and San Perlita ISD, in eight target middle and high schools. 
  • The third will be with Brownsville ISD, in 16 target middle and high schools.   

“Having this type of funding is extremely significant because it allows us to take these federal dollars and work with school districts, to prepare students to enter and succeed in higher education,” Valdez said. “We know UTRGV is a national leader in social mobility, and these types of programs enhance our ability to do that. It really helps create sustainable programing and knowledge in local school districts.”  

Carlos A. Rios, MPA, director of Special Programs in the university’s College Access and K-12 Partnerships, has been working with students in Willacy County. He said he’s pleased they will be able to continue making a difference in the lives of area students.   

"I am incredibly grateful that our Talent Search programs will continue to transform the lives of many future first-generation college students,” he said. “In addition, TRiO programs contribute mightily to postsecondary enrollment.”  



Talent Search projects will provide participants with:  

  • Academic tutoring and advising.   
  • Information on financial aid programs.   
  • Assistance in completing financial aid applications.  
  • Financial literacy.  
  • Support for applying for college enrollment.   

Valdez said grant staff will be assigned to participating middle and high schools in the three initiatives and will offer any assistance students and families may need.

They are eager to start hosting on-campus events, she said, but also will have online tools available for families because they understand it may be difficult for some to meet in person. Staff will be available to accommodate students and families when needed.  

“We’re looking forward to the opportunity to work with first-generation, low-income students,” Valdez said. “These are the students whose parents did not have the opportunity to go to college. So, what is very important to me and the staff we work with is that we’re able to provide these opportunities. This way, we can change the trajectory of a family by helping their children go to college.”  

Valdez said Valley students have great academic potential. “They just need the support and the tools to get to college to be successful,” she said. 

Dr. Leo Villarreal, Ph.D., director of Special Programs in the UTRGV College Access and K-12 Partnerships, works with students in the Brownsville school district. The Talent Search program is so valuable to students because it helps so many who are first-generation and need some extra guidance to learn about college, he said. 

“The excellent partnership and support between the Talent Search program and the Brownsville Independent School District provides a valuable tool to students to graduate high school, enter a postsecondary institution, and complete a postsecondary education of their choice,” he said. “The end goal for Talent Search and the BISD is to increase the number of youths from disadvantaged backgrounds who complete their post-secondary education and enter a successful career.”  

Limited spaces are available per grade for students to take part in the Talent Search Program. Families must meet certain criteria, fill out an application and attend orientation.  

For more information about the Talent Search Program and its services, visit or call College Access and K-12 Partnerships at 956-665-2522 (Edinburg) / 956-882-5135 (Brownsville).


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.