Thursday, May 18, 2023
  Around Campus, Community

By Amanda A. Taylor-Uchoa

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – MAY 18, 2023 – The U.S. Department of Education has awarded the UTRGV Center for Mexican American Studies (CMAS) a $2.9 million grant to help fund the ongoing Developing Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI) Program.

The program helps expand educational opportunities and attainment for Hispanic students.

The grant will be disbursed over a five-year period, and will help UTRGV – which has a student population that is more than 95% Hispanic – enhance academic offerings, program quality and overall institutional stability.

The five-year project, which starts in fall 2023 and ends in summer 2028, will grant a total of $598,870 per year to the center for a project called “Puentes - A Cultural Wealth Model for Student Success.”

Puentes is overseen by the principal investigator on the grant, Dr. Stephanie Alvarez, associate professor of Mexican American Studies (MAS) at UTRGV and director of the university’s CMAS. 

“The overall project goal is to improve student success at UTRGV through culturally sustaining pedagogy in the classroom, culturally responsive praxis in student services, the expansion of ethnic studies, and community involvement in assisting parents of first-generation college students in gaining a better understanding of college culture expectations,” Alvarez said.

The project is a collaboration between UTRGV departments along with co-PIs José Martínez from University College, Alyssa Cavazos from Writing and Language Studies, Emmy Pérez from Creative Writing, Teresa Feria from Biology, and Samantha López from CMAS.

Cavazos said news that they had been awarded the grant reaffirmed that the work the team does matters and creates more equitable spaces of belonging for all students.

“These grants are important because they provide the support to build a collaborative team with a shared vision and an opportunity to cultivate a growth mindset that contributes to meaningful and transformative impact for our students,” Cavazos said.

“All of our students should feel they belong in higher education. All of our students should be provided with the tools and resources they need to be successful, to believe in their ability to succeed,” she said.

The shared vision of the collaborating team is to see greater student achievement through this funding in gateway classes with higher drop, withdrawal and fail rates. They hope to see higher persistence and graduation rates by tapping into the cultural wealth of students, which will provide them with a better educational experience at UTRGV in both their classes and within student services.

Feria believes grants like these create a bridge of collaboration and mutual benefit for students, faculty, staff and community leaders.

“These grants are essential because they help different stakeholders work juntos (together) with a common goal: student success. Faculty, staff and our community all succeed when a student succeeds,” Feria said.

Alvarez hopes students gain a better appreciation of the assets grants like these bring to the university.

“Too often, we are told what students and the community don't have, what they lack. In this case, we are saying to the students and the community, ‘You have valuable skills and knowledge. Now let's leverage that to ensure greater success,’” she said.

For more information on the grant, visit this link.


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.