Thursday, May 9, 2024
  Academics, Accolades, Research

By Maria Gonzalez

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – MAY 9, 2024 – The UTRGV Graduate College recognized 22 doctoral candidates representing four academic colleges – the Robert C. Vackar College of Business and Entrepreneurship, College of Education and P-16 Integration, College of Health Professions, and School of Nursing – during a formal hooding ceremony May 8. 

Dr. Can (John) Saygin, senior vice president for Research and dean of the Graduate College, said earning a doctoral degree signifies not only the culmination of a challenging journey, but also the beginning of a new chapter. He praised the candidates' dedication and commended their perseverance in pursuing advanced studies. 

“This journey has transformed you, offering opportunities to delve into complex knowledge and achieve excellence,” he said. “You have conducted groundbreaking research, challenged assumptions and collaborated extensively.”  

Dr. Can (John) Saygin, senior vice president for Research and dean of the Graduate College at UTRGV, addresses doctoral candidates during the hooding ceremony on May 8. The event celebrated doctoral candidates from four academic colleges, recognizing their academic achievements. (UTRGV Photo by Jesús Alférez)

The ceremony included the traditional placing of the velvet-edged doctoral hoods over the candidates’ heads by their dissertation chairs or committee members, a symbol of their transition to scholars and experts in their field.

“This act represents a significant moment in your professional life, bringing both great responsibility and satisfaction,” Saygin told the candidates. “Go out there and do great things, pursue excellence, and carry your UTRGV degree with pride.” 


Dalila Ochoa, a Ph.D. candidate in Curriculum and Instruction, was the first in her family of 10 to graduate from high school and college. 

“Earning this degree is not just an academic achievement; it's a testament to the ‘Sí, se puede’ and ‘Sí, se pudo’ spirit (Yes, we can, Yes, we did). It demonstrates to my son the value of education,” she said.

She thanked her dissertation chair, Dr. Joy Esquierdo, for her continued guidance.

“Dr. Esquierdo provided all the support necessary for me to achieve my lifelong educational goals.”

Doctoral candidate Dalila Ochoa, accompanied by her husband and son, celebrates her hooding at the UTRGV Performing Arts Center. (UTRGV Photo by Jesús Alférez)

Additionally, Ochoa said, this degree has opened a path to professional advancement opportunities. Her goal is to be a bilingual director or bilingual professor at a university.

For future doctoral candidates, she emphasized the importance of balance and support systems.

“Make time for yourself and your family, take breaks, and engage in study groups. These groups form bonds that turn into lifelong friendships. Don't give up; you can do it!” 

Her research on “Exploring Equity in Biliteracy Development in a Two-Way Dual Language Program” examines how dual-language teachers support Spanish literacy and foster biliteracy.

Esquierdo, interim vice provost for Bilingual (B3) Integration, said Ochoa's research is a crucial addition to the field of bilingual-dual language education. 

“It sheds light on how educators enhance literacy in both Spanish and English, promoting biliteracy across various subjects,” she said. “The research also underscores the importance of creating engaging opportunities for students to advance their literacy skills in both languages.”

The hooding ceremony, the second of its kind at UTRGV, underscores the scholarly achievements of the students and their readiness to address critical societal challenges. The event, held at the UTRGV Performing Arts Complex, concluded with a reception, where candidates celebrated their accomplishments with family, friends and faculty.

Candidates and faculty gathered at the reception following the doctoral hooding ceremony at the Performing Arts Complex, marking a moment of celebration. (UTRGV Photo by Jesús Alférez)


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.