Acknowledges hundreds of students and their families

  Thursday, December 8, 2022

By Victoria Brito Morales

BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – On a recent cold and rainy day, hundreds of people packed the UTRGV Plains Capital Bank El Gran Salón in Brownsville for a day of science, family and fun during UTRGV’s second FIESTA Symposium.

Working on the belief that STEM is for the entire family, FIESTA – Families Integrated Education Serving and Transforming Academia – is intended to enhance the success of STEM students in the introductory courses of chemistry, mathematics and physics.

In collaboration with Ave Frontera, a community advocacy group, more than 30 professors joined the effort to integrate family into the teaching pedagogies of the classroom. The initiative is made possible by a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation awarded to UTRGV in 2021.

“Students do a project that is family-centered, and they connect their families to what they're learning in class,” said Juan Salinas Jr., co-founder of Ave Frontera and co-principal investigator on the grant.

This is the second year of this project. Last year was a pilot run, and since then participation has expanded. During Summer 2022, more than 20 new faculty were trained in the pedagogy with most of them actively implementing these methods in the classroom.

UTRGV President Guy Bailey attended the on-campus event.

“I believe this is the largest number of people I've ever seen in this room,” Bailey told the crowd. “What we have here is a blend of what makes this a great project. What you're doing here today is going to set a pattern for your life. What you're doing right now is going to help establish your future.”



FIESTA Symposium hosted unique presentations on a wide range of topics that have a family theme or connection.

Carlos Rodriguez, a junior at the UTRGV Math and Science Academy, drew his inspiration from his mother, Norma Rodriguez, UTRGV public relations coordinator for University Marketing and Communications.

“Growing up, she was always fascinated by technology. She saw how it opened the doors to new opportunities and she was inspired, so she wanted to study something in technology,” Rodriguez said.

In 2004, before he was even born, his mother obtained a master’s degree in educational technology from UTRGV legacy intuition UT Brownsville-TSC.

“She ended up getting a career here as a public relations coordinator,” Carlos said. “They help manage certain areas of the websites and make sure that everything stays accurate. For example, she's in the COVID-19 screening area and she's always meeting with others making sure that everything is accurate. And it helps others find appropriate resources.”

For his pre-calculus class, Carlos drew his inspiration from the ways his mother uses math concepts, like analyzing data, every day at work.

“She just inspires me as a person because she's always pushing through and she made it. She's successful,” Rodriguez said.

Many researched the effectiveness of various herbs and spices on controlling outcomes for diabetes, a prevalent condition that impacts many families in the Valley.

Alejandra Ponce and Amber Garza, senior biology majors, did their project on the use of cinnamon to help with diabetes.

“We chose cinnamon for our project because I talked to a PA (physician assistant) that I worked with, and she used to work in a family care clinic,” Ponce said. “She saw a lot of Hispanic patients with diabetes, and she said a lot of them claimed cinnamon helped with their sugar levels.”

The duo found that, while there are some factors that designate cinnamon can be effective in helping control diabetes, it is not an antidote all on its own.

“It mainly helps for people who have a BMI over 27,” Garza said. “You do have to be taking your other medication with the diabetes, but it is like a very good aid.”



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.