Thursday, January 6, 2022

By Amanda Taylor

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – A group of UTRGV professors have been awarded a five-year, $625,000 mental health awareness training grant to help with a project called Bridging the Way.

Project Bridging the Way will train school personnel – such as teachers, counselors, administrators, school law enforcement and human resources personnel – to identify signs of mental illness.

The grant was awarded to Dr. Suzanne Maniss, project director; Dr. Nancy P. Razo, co-project director; Dr. Javier Cavazos, project evaluator; Dr. Selma Yznaga, co-project evaluator; Dr. Christine Berger, training specialist; Erica Villarreal, training specialist; and Dr. Zulmaris Diaz, training specialist.

Razo said the group is excited to have been awarded SAMSHA’s Mental Health Awareness Training Grant.

“This is going to provide an opportunity for us to bring mental health awareness to school districts across the Valley,” she said. “We’ll be able to provide training in Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) for those who work with youth, and Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) for those who primarily work with school personnel. 

“This is critical, especially during these unprecedented times where people are struggling,” she said.

The project also will help train parents of school children, and undergraduate clinical teachers in the UTRGV College of Education and P-16 Integration, to recognize signs and symptoms of emotional disturbances in youth. It also will help train school district staff to make appropriate referrals to licensed mental health providers. 

“This grant is important and timely, especially during these difficult times,” said Dr. Alma Rodriguez, dean of the UTRGV College of Education & P-16 Integration. “Mental health awareness training will equip school personnel, future teachers and parents with the necessary knowledge and skills to be proactive in the identification of mental illnesses through appropriate referral.”

SAMHSA and the Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS) awarded this funding as part of their Mental Health Awareness Training grants (MHAT), which are meant to educate individuals about the community resources available to those with mental disorders and to help prevent a crisis.

“We will provide districts the tools needed in dealing with potential mental health crises of both students and school personnel, as well as making appropriate referrals so those individuals can receive the help they need,” Razo said. “Mental health is just as important as physical health, and we need to raise awareness.”

Better training will generate increased awareness about mental health issues and how to react, to ensure a safe environment for all involved.

“I congratulate Dr. Maniss and Dr. Razo on this award, and I thank them for the vision and leadership to address such an important topic, particularly during this COVID-19 pandemic,” Rodriguez said.


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.