Featured, front row, from left: Paul Rodríguez, Chairman, Board of Trustees, South Texas College; Victoria Cantú, Member, Board of Trustees, South Texas College; Ambrosio Hernández, MD, Mayor of Pharr and the Chief Medical Compliance Officer, DHR Health; Gov. Greg Abbott; Dr. Shirley Reed, President, South Texas College; Rep. Roberto “R.D.” Guerra, D-McAllen; and Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg. Back row, from left: Dr. Daniel King, Superintendent, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District; Fred Farías, III, OD, FAAO, Member, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board; Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville; Commissioner representing Labor Julián Álvarez, Texas Workforce Commission; Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Rubén Cortéz, Jr., D-Brownsville, Member, Texas State Board of Education; and Jorge Zambrano, Assistant Secretary-Treasurer, Board of Trustees, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District.
Photograph By BENJAMIN BRIONES
DHR Health leadership continues to bring major advances to South Texas, not only in medicine and health care, but also in education, as evidenced by roles of Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernández, MD
As Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernández, MD joined Gov. Greg Abbott and Valley state legislators for the recent grand opening and building dedication of the South Texas College Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence, his presence was yet another reminder of how DHR Health and its leadership continue to bring major advances to the Rio Grande Valley, not only in medicine and health care, but also in education and more.
Hernández, the Chief Medical Compliance Officer for DHR Health, helped welcome some of the state’s and South Texas’ top elected and appointed officials to his hometown during the Tuesday, September 18, 2018 gathering.
The afternoon ceremony heralded the beginning of a state-of-the-art higher education system that when fully operational, will significantly expand South Texas’ capacity to provide educational opportunities for the public.
The complex, located at 3901 S. Cage Boulevard in Pharr, will include academic buildings, law enforcement and fire safety training structures, vehicle skills pad, emergency vehicle operations course, simulated weapons center, target range and other exceptional components. The target range will be open to the public for firearms safety training, practice shooting, skills development, and National Rifle Association certifications.
At the event, South Texas College officially launched Phase 1 of its $71 million master plan that will transform the center by 2030. Phase 1 is a 19,500 square-foot investment that consists of a training center, driving skills/skid pad, and shooting and driving simulation labs. The center also consists of 180 additional acres for future expansion.
The master plan consists of 534,385 square feet of buildings, structures, and driving track to be completed in three phases over the next dozen years.
The new Regional Center for Public Safety is also designed to make South Texas College the first border college in the nation to establish integrative training along the US/Mexico border while meeting the demand for professionals seeking careers in public safety, law enforcement, fire science, and homeland security.
Hernández, a pediatric and bariatric surgeon with DHR Health, said the South Texas College Center for Public Safety Excellence is the latest accomplishment of what happens when the Valley unites at the local, regional and state levels.
“First is the fact that it is the only campus that has a school district next to it as a partner, has a city with it as well, and the college leading the charter,” Hernández said. “We need to educate our next generation of workforce, including introduce them to law enforcement. Now, we have one location where everybody can come and get trained and educated.”
A true collaboration, the STC Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence would not be possible without significant contributions from the City of Pharr, the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District and the Texas Department of Public Safety.
The City of Pharr contributed 59 acres of land worth $2.5 million, and the Basic Peace Office Certification Program is operated in part with the Pharr Police Academy. PSJA ISD contributed 10 acres of land and an additional $1 million for the construction of four classrooms to serve dual enrollment students in criminal justice and other public safety programs.
The mayor said STC’s successful dual-enrollment program will allow more Hidalgo and Starr County high school student to enroll in college courses at the South Texas Regional Center for Public Safety.
“What we wanted is for our constituents, especially our younger people, to be introduced to all aspects of law enforcement, whether it be with the U.S. Border Patrol, Customs, ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement), or with our local, county, state law enforcement agencies,” Hernández said. “We have an agreement that our students, as they do the dual-enrollment, to get vital experiences, such as shadowing these professionals and by getting exposed by coming to class. There are great opportunities. Qualified high school students more likely to be engaged, and that would make it easier for all these law enforcement agencies to recruit our students.”
STC’s Dual Enrollment Program allows high school students to take courses in place of, or in addition to the normal course load at their high school, which can shorten the time it takes for them to graduate from college and qualify for high paying professions.
High school junior and senior students are eligible to participate in this program and to receive college credit. Students admitted to the program must meet the same requirements as all other college students. College credit earned upon successful completion of the course may be applied towards an associate degree at STC or may transfer to other colleges and universities.
“So what better to have a campus where we can bring all the resources so we don’t have to be duplicating services throughout the entire Rio Grande Valley?” Hernández reflected. “We get one area where everybody can concentrate and get the best standardized training possible.”
Hernández also had high praise for the Valley state legislative delegation for making the STC Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence a reality.
“In 2015, Rep. (Sergio) Muñoz, Jr. was the author of House Bill 1887, and Sen. (Juan “Chuy”) Hinojosa was the sponsor of that measure, which called for the creation of the STC Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence to provide education and training for law enforcement personnel in the Rio Grande Valley,” Hernández recalled. “That measure was co-authored/co-sponsored and supported by all of our Valley state lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Abbott.”
A little more than three years later, Abbott was in Pharr to deliver the keynote address to a large gathering that consisted of local, state, and federal elected and appointed leaders and law enforcement professionals from those three levels of government.
Special guests at the event included Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen and Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville; Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission; Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg; and Rep. Roberto “R.D.” Guerra, D-McAllen.
“Going back to Dr. (STC President Dr. Shirley) Reed and South Texas College, I want to thank you for your genuine commitment to both higher education as well as to public safety (and) the reality is both are essential for our future,” Abbott told attendees. “Keeping communities safe must be our top priority if we are going to have the safety and security to be able to educate our kids, or safety and security to have the vibrant economy that we have.”
The governor emphasized the importance of the STC Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence to Texas.
“Combatting dangerous threats like those you have to deal with requires superior training for law enforcement professionals, and it’s now more important than it has ever been,” Abbott said. “You have to deal with issues like human trafficking, gangs and drug smuggling and to do that, it requires collaboration at all levels of law enforcement as well as first responders. Law enforcement officers, firefighters, public safety professionals are essential to that top priority of ensuring security in our state.”
Reed said the STC Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence “will be transformative for our region. We dedicate this center to our public law enforcement professionals, and we want to say thank you for the work they do. They selflessly give of themselves every day to provide for our security and our safety, and we want to express our appreciation for their service to all of us.”
Hernández, who said the City of Pharr “sets out a legislative agenda constantly,” outlined the three phases of the $71 million master plan for the STC Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence, which will be implemented through 2030:
• Phase 1 is a 19,500 square-foot investment that consists of a training center, driving skills/skid pad, and shooting and driving simulation labs. The center also consists of 180 additional acres for future expansion.
• Phase 2 includes a $10.6 million investment for fire science and homeland security. It includes a multi-story fire training structure, two-story residential training structure, and confined space/search and rescue training area. Phase 2 also includes the EVOC, a cityscape with non-lethal training capacity, and a covered shooting range with firearm training classroom; and
• Phase 3 is a $50.6 million investment in Integrative Homeland Security, which will add a physical plant and expansive growth with new education and student services buildings.
“This center is really the culmination of our $159 million bond issue, which was originally approved in October 2013. This is the last of those projects, and represents the only new campus in the entire program,” said Paul Rodríguez, Chairman, Board of Trustees, South Texas College. “This is truly a special project, and through the tremendous involvement, leadership and vision of Dr. Reed, Mayor Hernández and Dr. (Daniel) King (Superintendent, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District), we have a whole different project in our hands, and it’s one to be excited about.”
The following additional materials may be accessed online accordingly:
STC Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence building dedication photos are available at https://news.southtexascollege.edu/media-library/
STC Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence building dedication video is available at https://www.dropbox.com/s/3qbnf587zha4su4/RCPSE%20Buidling%20Dedication%20Sept%202018.MTS?dl=0
For more information on the STC Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence, please visit https://www.southtexascollege.edu/rcpse/
Founded in 1993, South Texas College is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and offers more than 120 degree & certificate options, including associate degrees in a variety of liberal art, social science, business, math, science, technology, advanced manufacturing and allied health fields of study. Additionally, South Texas College is the only community college in the State of Texas to offer four baccalaureate degrees. South Texas College has a faculty and staff of more than 2,700 to serve the college’s six campuses, two higher education centers, and one virtual campus.
Since 2000, the college has served over 99,000 dual credit students at 78 school sites, saving families hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition.
José Gómez contributed to this article. For more information, please contact Roberto Haddad, Vice President and Counsel for Government Affairs and Policy at DHR Health, or Jesse Ozuna, Government Affairs Officer at DHR Health, at 956/362-7165. For more on other Texas legislative news stories which affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature.