In August, UT Austin President Gregory L. Fenves and other university representatives traveled to the Rio Grande Valley to officially welcome incoming freshmen from the region to the UT family.
This year marks the 24th anniversary of the Rio Grande Valley send-off. The event is an opportunity for Austin-bound students to talk about the transition to campus life. It is also an opportunity for representatives from campus to assure families that the students are in good hands. The Rio Grande Valley send-off has been so successful that it became a model for other UT send-offs now held across Texas.
This year’s message from Fenves to the Valley community was clear. “We’re in this together.”
“At UT, we admit students whom we believe in, and we work hard for them to enable their success,” said Fenves. “We expect you to show dedication, but it’s a team effort and everyone on campus is working for your benefit.”
UT Austin has seen attendance from the Rio Grande Valley rise 46 percent during the past four years. In 2013, 285 new freshmen enrolled. This year 415 new freshmen will be heading to the Forty Acres. Almost half are first-generation college students.
Fenves attributes the growth to three things: the admissions and outreach center, word of mouth and improving retention rates.
“I believe in meeting people on their own turf. It shows that we are serious and that we care about helping both students and their community thrive,” said Tony Gonzalez, clinical assistant professor in the Freshman Research Initiative and the Texas Institute for Discovery Education in Science. Gonzalez was one of the UT Austin representatives at the send-off event. He is also a UT Austin alumnus and a Brownsville native.
The Valley is the most southern part of Texas along the border with Mexico, where 89 percent of the population is Hispanic. According to Gonzalez, education is extremely important to the community, but so is staying close to home. There is a resistance to leaving, even for college. That’s why events such as this are so important, he said.
Rachelle Hernandez, the senior vice provost for enrollment management at UT Austin and another member of the send-off team, says it is critical for students from across the state to feel supported when they leave for college.
“We want to make sure that our campus represents the communities of our state. That our students are educated in an environment that encourages them to think differently and empowers them to contribute,” she said.
In his speech Fenves celebrated what these new freshmen have to offer the Longhorn community.
“Where you come from will always be a part of what you bring to our university,” said Fenves. “Each of you has experienced life here in the Valley, close to the border of our neighbors in Mexico. And you will be traveling to Austin with an advantage that most other students don’t have — the experience and understanding that comes from living in a place defined by two cultures: Mexican and American. That’s something to be very proud of.”