Wednesday, February 2, 2022
  Community, Alumni

By Amanda Alaniz

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – UTRGV legacy alumna Cynthia Rios, who has taught English Language Arts at Faulk Middle School in Brownsville since 2018, has been named a 2021 Humanities Texas Outstanding Teaching Awardee.  

Humanities Texas presents its annual awards statewide to encourage excellence in teaching and to recognize Texas teachers who have made exemplary contributions to teaching, curriculum development and extracurricular programming.

Cynthia Rios
UTRGV legacy alumna Cynthia Rios teaches English Language Arts at Faulk Middle School in Brownsville. (Courtesy Photo Credit: Brownsville Independent School District)

Just 15 teachers were selected from the more than 600 Texas teachers who were nominated.  

During the 2021-22 school year, winning teachers will receive $5,000 each, and an additional $1,000 for their schools to purchase humanities-based instructional materials.  

Rios, whose classroom career spans about eight years, said she has always carried a passion for teaching and learning, even while working in retail management before starting a career in education.

She had family members already working in education and decided to go back to school to work on her degree at then-UT Brownsville. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies, then got a master’s degree in Curriculum Instruction with a concentration in Digital Literacy.  

“Teaching has been a very rewarding profession,” Rios said, “and seeing the faces of students when they understand a lesson gives me a feeling of great accomplishment.” 

She also dedicates time to helping her colleagues with questions they might have about curriculum or digital tools.  

“As a teacher leader, I help a lot of teachers at the school and in the district,” she said. “I’ve been very fortunate that I have a passion for learning. People ask me, ‘When do you stop?’ But I just like to learn new things and share.”  

The appeal for her is multi-layered and complex, she said, and although her path to becoming a teacher may have been unconventional, it was right for her.  

“It’s the whole field of education. It’s not just impacting students’ lives and seeing their growth,” Rios said. “It’s also doing the same thing with my colleagues. And through them, there will be more students affected and inspired by these lessons.” 

When Rios found out she had received the Humanities Texas Outstanding Teaching award, she overwhelmed, and very grateful, she said. She immediately reached out to thank the people who had written recommendation letters, then contacted her family to give them the big news.  

“I saw the letter and was so excited,” she said, smiling. “I think it’s normal to have moments when you doubt yourself. I kept thinking this wasn’t going to happen. Sometimes, we don’t see in ourselves what others see in us. So, this award was the validation I had been looking for.”  

The UTRGV legacy alumna said she feels the award can help open doors for her.  

“Education always seems to be evolving and, at times, it can be difficult to get your voice heard,” she said. “With an award like this, I believe my voice will be heard.” 

Humanities Texas Executive Director Eric Lupfer said the organization was pleased to recognize the achievements of Rios and the other teachers like her.  

“She inspires and motivates her students to succeed in the classroom and beyond,” he said. 

Rios’s advice to future teachers is to stay open-minded because education constantly changing. The pandemic showed us how quickly things can change for so many people, especially in education, she said, and she stressed the importance of being ready to challenge oneself.   

“These last two years were shocking – to everyone, to teachers who had been teaching a certain way for so long,” she said. “You must be ready to keep learning.  

“There is no perfection, only progress,” Rios said. “When you see growth in your students, then you know you’re doing well.” 


Humanities Texas is the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Its mission is to advance education through programs that improve the quality of classroom teaching, to support libraries and museums, and to create opportunities for lifelong learning for all Texans.  

For a complete list of 2021 Humanities Texas Outstanding Teaching Award recipients, visit   


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.