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South Texas College Trustee Gary Gurwitz: 25 years later, it’s still about the students

Featured: Gary Gurwitz, Member, Board of Trustees, South Texas College, was first appointed by Gov. Ann Richards in 1993, and has been elected and re-elected ever since, resulting in a career as a board member that spans an impressive five terms. Gurwitz currently serves as Chair, Facilities Committee, and Member, Education and Workforce Development Committee, Board of Trustees, South Texas College. He formerly served as Chair, Vice Chair, and Secretary, Board of Trustees, South Texas College. Gurwitz is featured in this image during the Wednesday, August 17, 2016 groundbreaking ceremony of the $24 million expansion of Dr. Ramiro B. Casso Nursing and Allied Health Campus in McAllen.

Photograph By BENJAMIN BRIONES

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South Texas College trustee Gary Gurwitz: 25 years later, it’s still about the students

By JOSÉ GÓMEZ

When you ask Gary Gurwitz about South Texas College’s greatest accomplishments, he doesn’t talk about 2013’s $159-million bond measure; he doesn’t talk about the 564,548 square feet of new facilities that have just been added; and he doesn’t talk about the millions of dollars in endowments he and his colleagues have helped secure. Instead, he talks about students.

“It’s the number of people that STC has trained or introduced to higher education that would not otherwise have gotten their degrees or a certificate that I think about,” said Gurwitz, who has been on STC’s Board of Trustees since its inception. “Think about all the STC students over the years that otherwise would not have gotten the education they needed. I think that’s a tremendous accomplishment.”

As STC celebrates its 25th anniversary, there is perhaps no one more qualified to reflect on STC’s accomplishments. Gurwitz, who received his Doctor of Jurisprudence degree from the University of Texas School of Law in 1959, has practiced in McAllen ever since. He has also remained active on STC’s Board of Trustees, which he joined shortly after its foundation.

“When we first started, we held classes anywhere we could,” reflected Gurwitz. “Some of our first classes were in old laundromats. And for a while, we couldn’t make payroll. One thing we did do right was hire Dr. Shirley Reed. She really knew what she was doing and the trustees considered and supported her programs.

“I guess that worked out pretty well for everyone.”

Under Reed’s leadership, STC has come a long way from those early classrooms. With nearly 34,000 students, a faculty and staff of more than 1,600, over 120 different degree and certificate programs, and several state-of-the-art campuses and higher education centers, STC has become a hub for industry training and workforce development in the region.

“If you talk to the head of our economic development council, our mayor, any of our elected officials, they will tell you that the single most important thing that has happened to our region in the last 25 years is STC,” said Gurwitz.

Over his time as a trustee, Gurwitz has watched the Rio Grande Valley transform from a mostly agrarian culture, with unemployment rates nearing 20 percent, to a bustling destination for families and businesses of all types. Throughout it all, STC’s role has been critical.

“Education is the foundation or catalyst or main ingredient to everything,” said Gurwitz. “You’re not going to improve your community as a whole without it. You have to have education to get any employment, to educate our community, it had to be convenient, reasonably priced, and that wasn’t readily available back then.”

In addition to providing affordable and convenient access to education and career training, Gurwitz noted that STC’s impact extends beyond the degrees and certificates it grants.

“Before, the ‘college-going mentality’ wasn’t there or it was limited,” said Gurwitz. “People didn’t think college was an option. But STC changed that because it was affordable, and you could tailor your program to your particular circumstances. You should see these families at graduation nowadays. They’re just so proud. We finally had to outlaw air horns.”

Nurturing this “college-going mentality” is one aspect of STC’s widely successful dual-enrollment program, another accomplishment that Gurwitz takes special pride in.

“It was a new idea when we got involved,” said Gurwitz. “Now, it’s in vogue because people are seeing how successful our program is, how beneficial for the students and the community.”

Founded in 2003, STC’s Dual Enrollment program has allowed an estimated 95,000 students to attend college, tuition-free, while finishing their high school diplomas. This has saved families more than $180 million, according to estimates. At the same time, STC’s program has become one of the largest in the state and is often cited as a model of collaboration and success at the national level.

Gurwitz, for his role in STC’s success, has received many honors, including the prestigious M. Dale Ensign Leadership Award from the Association of Community College Trustees. Still, Gurwitz remains humble about his achievements, seeing STC’s growth not as evidence of any one person’s efforts, but as proof that its core mission is sound.

“I don’t think STC changed,” said Gurwitz. “I think what we were doing to begin with, we’re still doing. It’s just the scale that’s changed. More programs. More faculty. More facilities. But the point is still the same: give people the education they need to be successful.”

As for the future of STC, Gurwitz sees more of the same. At least that’s what he hopes.

“What does the future hold? I don’t know. But I do believe STC will be involved,” he said. “That’s always been STC’s goal. And that’s not something that will ever change.”

SOUTH TEXAS COLLEGE AND VALLEY SCHOOL DISTRICTS EMPHASIZE PARTNERSHIPS FOR CONTINUED SUCCESS

South Texas College is committed to forging new and innovative partnerships with all school districts in order to transform the region, according to STC President Dr. Shirley A. Reed.

In honor of School Board Appreciation Month, South Texas College hosted its 5th annual Board Appreciation Breakfast on Friday, January 18, 2019.

The event was organized as a “thank you” to its many partners in education across Hidalgo and Starr Counties.

At the event, STC’s Board of Trustees gathered with superintendents and board members from local school districts as well as Region One Education Service Center and were lauded for their leadership, hard work, and dedication.

STC trustees in attendance included Chair Paul R. Rodríguez, Vice Chair Rose Benavidez, Dr. Alejo Salinas Jr., Victoria Cantú, and René Guajardo.

“I want to acknowledge those trustees who put themselves out there and who are trying to do what is right,” Rodríguez said at the event. “The reality is you represent students, parents, taxpayers, vendors, and employees and you do an outstanding job. Thank you for the commitment that each and every one of you has shown in your service to your respective organizations.”

Districts in attendance at the event included leadership from McAllen ISD, Hidalgo ISD, Edinburg CISD, La Joya ISD, Vanguard Academy, Mercedes ISD, Edcouch-Elsa ISD, South Texas ISD, Pharr Oratory, as well as Region One Education Service Center.

“We want to say ‘thank you’ and how much we appreciate our partnership,” Reed said. “Prospective colleges couldn’t begin to do what we do if it wasn’t for such strong support from all of our school districts and Region One. When it’s all said and done, we are all in it for the same reason, for the children and adults in the community.”

At the event, attendees were informed on STC’s dual credit program as the most effective pathway to creating a college-going and college-completing culture for families in the Valley. Now in its 20th year of academic excellence, the program has grown from 441 students in fall 1999 to over 13,000 as of fall 2018 and serves as a higher education partner for 24 school districts and 70 high school sites.

“This is very important for the region as a whole,” said Dr. Cornelio González, ESC Executive Director, Region One Education Service Center. “The challenge of making sure all of our students have the opportunity of getting a college education is critical for the economy of our communities.

“The only way we can do it is if we all cooperate, and it takes the participation and support of every superintendent and every school board member, every teacher and every parent who cares about their kids,” González said. “In order to give those opportunities to our children, everybody needs to work together.”

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Dimitra Trejo contributed to this article. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories which affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).

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