Posted: Dec 6, 2012 6:47 PM
Updated: Dec 7, 2012 12:32 AM
AUSTIN - The University of Texas Board of Regents on Thursday voted in favor of merging the University of Texas-Pan American and the University of Texas at Brownsville. The board also approved the creation of a new medical school in the Rio Grande Valley.
The project, dubbed the University for the Americas in the Rio Grande Valley, still requires approval by the state legislature.
Supporters said the new medical school is critical for serving the rapidly expanding population along the border.
Both UTB and UTPA presidents said the Rio Grande Valley had been overlooked for decades.
"It shows to our students what we've been telling them. Anything is possible," UTB President Juliet Garcia said.
She teamed up with UTPA President Robert Nelson to petition the UT system for more resources. Nelson pleaded his case before the unanimous decision was made.
Nelson became emotional during his presentation.
"Those students are my children. I love them. I love them with all my heart," said an emotional Nelson after the meeting.
He said he has to fight for students like one girl from Weslaco.
"She was a migrant. And when she graduated, she said something to me ... so deep. She said, ‘when you know where there's more, you want more,'" Nelson said. "Our students will be able, now, to dream, and they'll know there's more. And they'll want more ... and they'll get more."
UTB, UTPA and the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen will merge to form a new UT university, if state lawmakers approve.
Nelson said it will have an important impact in the region.
"In the Valley, every time you graduate one student - just one student - you take a whole family out of poverty," Nelson said.
Garcia and Nelson will go before the legislature during the next session to make a pitch for the new university.
UT officials estimate that enrollment at the new university would be about 28,000 students.
The UT system agreed to give $100 million during the next decade to the new school of medicine. Still, it will take millions more to get it started.
The name of the university will not be announced until it is approved by two-thirds of the legislature.
STUDENTS CELEBRATE NEWS OF MEDICAL SCHOOL
Thursday's announcement means pre-med students might not need to leave the
Valley to finish their studies.
"Very surprising, but very exciting news," UTPA Student Government President Matthew Garcia said.
He said the student body did not know about the merger.
"Hadn't even heard any rumors about it," Garcia said.
Garcia is a junior pre-med student who is frantically changing his post-graduation plans.
"Kind of re-evaluating the plans, because I was ready to go," he said. "I was going to spend the four years completely in San Antonio."
The McAllen native will need to spend two years of school out of the Valley. The new medical school would give him the chance to finish his degree and start his residency in the Valley.
"Hopefully become a physician practicing oncology ... hopefully in the Valley," he said.
Eddie Medellin said his plans are too far along to change. He will attend medical school in Houston.
"The fact that I don't get to complete medical school and my residency in the Valley, it's sad news. You have to go away. Hopefully in the future, students like me won't have to leave," Medellin said.
The new medical school would be built by 2014 and become fully accredited by 2016.