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Featured: Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, being interviewed by video journalists with Telemundo 40, which is based in McAllen, on Thursday, February 14, 2019 at Edinburg City Hall.

Photograph By MARK MONTEMAYOR

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$70 million Health Affairs building at UTRGV in Edinburg among dozens of new construction projects statewide set for public hearing on Wednesday in Austin, announces Rep. Canales

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

State funding for a $70 million Health Affairs building at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg will be considered by the House Committee on Higher Education on Wednesday, March 20, 2019, Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, has announced.

House Bill 2000, by Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grande Prairie, which contains the provision for the Health Affairs building at UTRGV in Edinburg, also proposes funding for a $20 million Industrial Technology Center at Texas State Technical College in Harlingen, $65 million for a STEM and health professions workforce development complex at Texas A&M Kingsville, $58.5 million for an arts and media building at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, and $9 million for renovation of and additions to the fine and performing arts building at Texas A&M International University in Laredo.

(STEM stands for the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Discussion of STEM-related programs has been a priority in Texas and nationwide because too few college students are pursuing degrees in these fields.)

HB 2000 is one of 21 bills scheduled to be heard by the House Committee on Higher Education beginning at 8 a.m. in Room E1.014 of the State Capitol complex in Austin.

Both a live broadcast and a videotaped broadcast of the entire committee hearing will be available for viewing online at:

https://house.texas.gov/video-audio/committee-broadcasts/86/

“When UTRGV and its School of Medicine were first created in 2013, I served as a key sponsor of that legislation because of the many major advances in education, medical care, and economic development that I knew would come from that landmark achievement,” said Canales, who serves as Chair of the powerful Texas House Committee on Transportation.

“Bringing a $70 million Health Affairs building to UTRGV in the heart of my legislative district will be the latest, spectacular addition to our campus in Edinburg,” the House District 40 lawmaker continued. “In addition, the proposed Health Affairs building will continue to increase the considerable prestige of UTRGV, help prepare many more of our best minds to enter the health care and medical professions, boost economic development, and improve our quality-of-life throughout South Texas.”

UTRGV was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as a result of Senate Bill 24 by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville.

The planned 111,500 gross square foot UTRGV facility and proposed new construction projects at eight other UT System campuses are part of UT academic institutions’ list of projects, which were approved by regents during a Special Called Telephone Meeting, which was held in Austin on Thursday, September 6, 2018.

Also in line to share in the multi-billion dollar funding package that would be made available through HB 2000 are Texas A&M University System, University of Houston System, Texas Tech University System, Texas State University System, University of North Texas System, Texas Woman’s University System, Midwestern State University, Stephen F. Austin State University, and Texas State Technical College System.

The $70 million Health Affairs building “will add much needed classroom and research space to accommodate undergraduate, masters, and doctoral programs to address strong demand for physician assistants, nurses, occupational therapists, speech pathologists, etc.,” according to the executive summary of the plan first unveiled by UT System officials during the Thursday, September 6, 2018 meeting.

“The facility will also accommodate planned doctoral programs in pharmacy, physical therapy, nursing practice, social work, occupational therapy, and communication sciences and disorders,” according to UT System officials.

Funding for all of the projects identified by HB 20000 will involve using tuition revenue bonds.

In general, tuition revenue bonds (TRBs) generate money through the sale of bonds, which are financial instruments where investors make loans to an entity (typically corporate or governmental), and those loans are repaid with interest over a period of time. Bonds are used by companies, municipalities, states and sovereign governments to raise money and finance a variety of projects and activities. Owners of the bonds are debt holders, or creditors, of the issuer. (https://www.investopedia.com/terms/b/bond.asp)

If approved for TRB funding by the Legislature, the $70 million Health Affairs building and new construction projects at the eight other UT System campuses would be submitted to the UT System Board of Regents for addition to the Capital Improvement and design development approval.

The University of Texas System
$1.04 billion

• The University of Texas at Arlington, $60.8 million for construction of a social work and college of nursing academic building;
• The University of Texas at Austin, $100 million for restoration of the J. T. Patterson Labs building;
• The University of Texas at Dallas, $60 million for a joint project with The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas for construction of a transitional biomedical engineering and science building;
• The University of Texas at El Paso, $100 million for construction of an advanced teaching and learning complex;
• The University of Texas of the Permian Basin, $40 million for improvement and renovation of the Mesa building;
• The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, $70 million for construction of a health affairs building;
• The University of Texas at San Antonio, $100 million for construction of a college of business building;
• The University of Texas at Tyler, $50 million for construction of a college of nursing and health science building;
• The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, $100 million for a joint project with The Texas A&M University System Health Science Center and The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center for construction of a biomedical research facility;
• The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, $82 million for construction of the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s & Neurodegenerative Diseases building;
• The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler, $18,521,432 for improvement and renovation of a biomedical research building;
• The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, $100 million for a joint project with The Texas A&M University System Health Science Center and The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston for construction of a biomedical research facility;
• The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, $100 million for construction of an education and clinical multi-use building; and
• The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, $60 million for a joint project with The University of Texas at Dallas for construction of a transitional biomedical engineering and science building.

The Texas A&M University System
$699.84 million

• Prairie View A&M University, $60 million for construction of an engineering classroom and research building;
• Tarleton State University, $72 million for construction of an agricultural and natural resources building;
• Texas A&M University, $75 million for construction of an instructional laboratory and innovative learning facility;
• Texas A&M University-Central Texas, $25 million for construction of a central utility plant;
• Texas A&M University-Commerce, $49.5 million for construction of an agriculture multipurpose education and training center;
• Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, $58.5 million for construction of an arts and media building;
• Texas A&M University at Galveston, $58,349,500 for construction of an immersive scholarship and learning environment building, a central plant, and campus infrastructure;
• Texas A&M International University, $9 million for renovation of and additions to the fine and performing arts building;
• Texas A&M University-Kingsville, $65 million for construction of a STEM and health professions workforce development complex;
• Texas A&M University-San Antonio, $53 million for construction of an academic and library building;
• Texas A&M University-Texarkana, $46 million for construction of a business, engineering, and technology building;
• West Texas A&M University, $28.5 million for capital improvements to address life and fire safety issues; and;
• The Texas A&M University System Health Science Center, $100 million for a joint project with The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center and The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston for construction of a biomedical research facility.

The University of Houston System
$365.7 million

• The University of Houston System, $75 million for the repair and renovation of the campus located in Katy, Texas;
• The University of Houston, $60 million for construction of a law center building;
• The University of Houston-Clear Lake, $56 million for Phase II of the STEM and classroom building construction;
• The University of Houston-Downtown, $100 million for construction of an arts, sciences, engineering, and entrepreneurship center; and
• The University of Houston-Victoria, $74.7 million for campus expansion.

Texas State University System
$332.5 million

• Lamar University, $45 million for construction of a digital learning center;
• Lamar State College-Orange, $32 million for construction of an academic building;
• Lamar State College-Port Arthur, $20 million for construction of an allied health building;
• Lamar Institute of Technology, $20 million for construction of a workforce training center
• Sam Houston State University, $70 million for construction of an allied health building;
• Sul Ross State University, $25.5 million for expansion of the fine arts facility;
• Sul Ross State University Rio Grande College, $20 million for construction of an education center located in Eagle Pass, Texas; and
• Texas State University, $100 million for construction of a STEM classroom building located in San Marcos.

University of North Texas System
$292 million

• The University of North Texas at Dallas, $100 million for construction of a science and technology research building;
• The University of North Texas at Dallas, $92 million for construction of a STEM building; and
• The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth, $100 million for construction of an academic building.

Texas Tech University System
$249.5 million

• Angelo State University, $22.5 million for construction of a college of arts and humanities building;
• Texas Tech University, $100 million for construction of a science and engineering complex;
• Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, $34,650,000 for expansion of the academic and clinic building located in Amarillo; and
• Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center at El Paso, $92,349,000 for construction of a dental school building.

Texas State Technical College System
$134.2 million

• Texas State Technical College System, $16.5 million for Phase II of the industrial technology center located inWilliamson County;
• Texas State Technical College-Fort Bend, $30,377,000 for Phase III of the campus construction;
• Texas State Technical College-Harlingen, $20 million for construction of an industrial technology center;
• Texas State Technical College-Marshall, $8,572,000 for consolidation construction for a single campus;
• Texas State Technical College-North Texas, $10,938,000 for Phase II of the new campus construction;
• Texas State Technical College-Waco, $20 million for construction of a computer technology center; and
• Texas State Technical College-West Texas, $28,177,000 for Phase II of the Abilene campus construction.

Texas Woman’s University
$100 million

The board of regents of Texas Woman’s University, located in Denton, may purchase, construct, improve, renovate, enlarge, or equip property and facilities, including roads and related infrastructure, for a health sciences center, to be financed through the issuance of bonds not to exceed the aggregate principal amount of $100 million.

Stephen F. Austin University
$48 million

The board of regents of Stephen F. Austin State University may acquire, purchase, construct, improve, renovate, enlarge, or equip property and facilities, including roads and related infrastructure, for a natural resources science and innovations laboratory, to be financed through the issuance of bonds not to exceed the aggregate principal amount of $48 million.

Midwestern State University
$10 million

The board of regents of Midwestern State University may acquire, purchase, construct, improve, renovate, enlarge, or equip property and facilities, including roads and related infrastructure, for infrastructure upgrades, to be financed through the issuance of bonds not to exceed the aggregate principal amount of $10 million.

UT DALLAS, UTRGV JOIN FORCES IN INITIATIVE FOCUSING ON BOOSTING DIVERSITY IN GRADUATE APPLICATIONS

A new initiative involving two sister institutions in the UT System aims to prepare students better for graduate studies and careers in mathematics while enhancing diversity among applicants.

Last fall UT Dallas received a grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a program in collaboration with UT Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) that would encourage more students from underrepresented groups to pursue PhDs in math.

The partnership created Increasing Mathematics Potential across Texas (IMPacT), which combines innovative educational practices with industry connections.

According to a ranking of the “100 Best Jobs of 2019” by U.S. News & World Report, demand for mathematicians and statisticians is expected to grow approximately 30 percent by 2026. Employees with advanced degrees in mathematics, statistics and data science are sought after in sectors such as banking and finance, technology, health care and energy exploration, and at government agencies like NASA.

“If we want to increase the pool of applicants for graduate school, we first need to enhance upper-level undergraduate classes so students are better prepared to pursue graduate studies,” said Dr. Vladimir Dragovic, Professor and head of the Department of Mathematical Sciences at UT Dallas who leads the collaboration with Dr. Timothy Huber, Director of the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences at UTRGV.

With six locations across the Rio Grande Valley, UTRGV is classified as a minority-serving institution, with more than 87 percent of its student body being Hispanic. While UT Dallas has a PhD program in mathematics, UTRGV does not.

Of the 947 U.S. citizens and permanent residents who received doctoral degrees in math and statistics in 2016, only 63 identified as Hispanic or Latino, according to a recent report from the National Science Foundation and the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics.

As part of IMPacT, Dragovic and his colleagues developed hybrid versions of five of the most advanced undergraduate math courses — Abstract Algebra 2, Mathematical Analysis 2, numerical analysis, problem solving and mathematical statistics — blending online instruction with in-person interaction.

Good performance in these courses indicates to PhD admission committees that a student is well-prepared for the rigors of a doctoral program, Dragovic said.

In January both campuses began teaching the first two classes — Abstract Algebra 2 and Mathematical Analysis 2 — with 65 students at UT Dallas and 12 at UTRGV. Dr. Carlos Arreche, Assistant Professor of mathematical sciences at UT Dallas, and Dr. Elena Poletaeva, Math Professor at UTRGV, teach the algebra course, while Dr. Mieczyslaw Dabkowski, Professor of Mathematical Sciences at UT Dallas, and Dr. Josef Sifuentes, Assistant Professor at UTRGV, teach the analysis class.

The format involves synchronous teaching, where students at each institution — some 550 miles apart — attend at the same time and are linked via videoconferencing.

The courses also are taught in an active-learning format, which incorporates peer-led team learning, an approach not often found in math instruction.

“Mathematics is mostly seen as a sport of individuals, but we want students to also work in groups and collaborate to solve problems,” Dragovic said. “Industry employers want problem solvers.”

Katelyn Clark, a mathematics senior at UT Dallas who is taking the abstract algebra course, said she at first thought having two instructors would be confusing.

“I was wrong. My professors have their own teaching styles that complement each other very well,” she said. “Whereas one of my professors focuses on helping us understand the theory, the other solidifies it with examples. Abstract Algebra 2 can be a difficult class; however, this combination of instruction makes it more understandable.”

Student assignments that outline the concepts to be covered in the group work are posted a week in advance.

“I love this approach because I gain a better understanding of the topics and feel adequately prepared to work with others,” Clark said. “In the first assignment, everyone was able to contribute, finish all of the questions and help each other understand the minor things we could not figure out individually.”

Clark, who plans to pursue her PhD in mathematics and teach at the university level, also noted she hopes to one day incorporate some the class’ concepts into her own teaching.

Another component of IMPacT involves leveraging UT Dallas’ ties with companies and government agencies in North Texas to identify opportunities for students of both universities to get involved in industry-related research.

“Mathematics is a vibrant profession, with many diverse opportunities, but that knowledge has not reached the wider community, even among university students, so we want to showcase the many career possibilities,” Dragovic said.

Professionals from local industries who serve on the external advisory board for UT Dallas’ mathematical sciences department will play a role in broadening the training of students, Dragovic said.

“We intend to use these established relationships to help connect students from both campuses with professional experience for nonacademic settings,” he said.

In addition, UT Dallas will offer students from both universities summer boot camps to enhance problem-solving and communication skills, cultivate research aptitude and assist in navigating the application process to a PhD program.

“We have built this joint infrastructure between two geographically distant universities with distinct student populations and resources, and we hope it will serve as a national model,” Dragovic said.
Other UT Dallas faculty members involved in IMPacT include: Dr. Swati Biswas, Dr. Pankaj Choudhary, Dr. Susan Minkoff, Dr. Viswanath Ramakrishna and Dr. John Zweck, all professors of mathematical sciences; and Dr. Juan González, Dean of Graduate Education.

Other UTRGV math faculty involved are Dr. Baofeng Feng and Dr. Cristina Villalobos.

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Amanda Siegfried contributed to this article. Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, who is the Chair of the House Committee on Transportation, represents House District 40 in Hidalgo County, which includes portions or all of Edinburg, Elsa, Faysville, La Blanca, Linn, Lópezville, McAllen, Pharr and Weslaco. He may be reached at his House District Office in Edinburg at (956) 383-0860 or at the Capitol at (512) 463-0426. 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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