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Featured, from left: Dr. Mani Skaria, Founder and CEO of US Citrus, LLC, and Dr. Adolfo Santos, Assistant Provost of the Texas A&M University Higher Education Center at McAllen, on Monday, October 21, 2019, during the first-anniversary celebration of the A&M campus located at 6200 Tres Lagos Boulevard. More information on US Citrus, LLC is available online at https://uscitrus.com

Photograph By NATHANIEL BAEUR

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Texas A&M System adds eighth state agency, takes on greater role in disaster management

By LAYLIN COPELIN

The newest agency of The Texas A&M University System already is showing why state lawmakers and Gov. Greg Abbott added more responsibility to the College Station-based system of universities and state agencies.

The Texas Division of Emergency Management officially took its place within the Texas A&M System on Sunday, September 1, 2019, but when cyber-criminals unleashed a wave of malicious ransomware attacks on several small towns in Texas, the head of the emergency management agency immediately looked to Texas A&M System resources in the official response.

Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp said that Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd, a veteran of dozens of disasters and now a vice-chancellor within the Texas A&M System, took charge and pulled together state resources and nationally recognized cyber-security experts from the Texas A&M System to address the problem.

“We can add a lot of expertise with our cybersecurity experts within the Texas A&M System who have been recognized by the FBI director as the best in the nation,” Sharp said. “It’s just another example of something that the Texas A&M System does for the state of Texas and for the betterment of Texans.”

Kidd said the importance of the connection between emergency management and the Texas A&M System was evident after the ransomware attack.

“Had we not been part of the Texas A&M System, I don’t think we in emergency management would have realized the capabilities of higher education when it comes to protecting data, discovering ransomware and helping clean computer systems,” Kidd said. “We brought the Texas A&M University Cyber Security Operations Group into the Texas State Operation Center. And during this last event, they’ve been working around the clock with the Department of Information Resources, the Texas Military Department Cyber Team, the Texas Department of Public Safety’s cyber group and personnel from the Division of Emergency Management.”

Sharp praised Kidd’s leadership in his first disaster as part of the Texas A&M System.

“You don’t ever want to go through a disaster and Nim Kidd is not there,” he said. “He is the best in the United States of America. Everybody knows it. The members of the Legislature know it. The governor knows it,” Sharp said. “He is the most knowledgeable and best leader in a disaster that you can find in the country…period.”

Kidd said being part of the Texas A&M System will allow emergency management to more smoothly coordinate with various parts of the System, like the Health Science Center, the veterinary school and the service-minded students from the eleven universities in the System.

State legislators approved legislation this year to add an eighth agency to the System. The move came after Abbott asked The Texas A&M University System and Sharp to lead the charge with state agencies in rebuilding the state after Hurricane Harvey. 

Texas A&M System entities – particularly the state’s elite urban search and rescue team Texas A&M Task Force 1 – did such an effective job during and after the storm that the Legislature decided to streamline the way the state responds to disasters.

Under The Texas A&M University System umbrella, the Texas Division of Emergency Management joins the other agencies that include: Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX); the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES); the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI); the Texas A&M Forest Service; Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service; Texas A&M AgriLife Research; and the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory.

About The Texas A&M University System


The Texas A&M University System is one of the largest systems of higher education in the nation, with a budget of $4.7 billion. Through a statewide network of 11 universities and seven state agencies, the Texas A&M System educates more than 153,000 students and makes more than 22 million additional educational contacts through service and outreach programs each year. System-wide, research and development expenditures exceeded $996 million in FY 2017 and helped drive the state’s economy.

“POOR COLLEGE STUDENT” LABEL IS NO JOKE, SAYS CRISTINA VEGA, PROGRAM COORDINATOR OF THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS RIO GRANDE VALLEY STUDENT FOOD PANTRY

September was Hunger Action Month, a time to take a pro-active part in ending hunger.

For the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s Cristina Vega, helping others fight hunger is her job.

“We have a lot of jokes in society, like, ‘Ha. Ha. Poor college student. You’re probably eating Ramen.’ And that’s not really something to joke about, because it’s a reality,” said Vega, Program Coordinator of the UTRGV Student Food Pantry.

The Student Food Pantry is a free service available to UTRGV students. More than 2,500 UTRGV students received food from the pantry in the spring semester. In the world of higher education, they aren’t alone in their need.

No government estimates

In a 2018 report, the U.S. Government Accountability Office determined there wasn’t enough survey data to get direct estimates for the number of college students with limited or uncertain access to adequate food. But of the 31 studies, the office reviewed, most estimated more than 30 percent of college students dealt with food insecurity.

In its report, the GAO wrote that the billions of dollars the federal government spends on higher education “is at risk if college students drop out because they cannot afford basic necessities like food.”

Many people are unaware college students deal with food insecurity and even fewer may know about services available to help them, like the university’s Student Food Pantry. 

“It wasn’t until I got hired that I learned the role of the food pantry and that we had one here at both UTRGV in Edinburg and Brownsville,” said Jacquelyn Herrera, Manager for the Student Food Pantry on the Brownsville Campus and a junior majoring in social work.

Staff works to dispel stigma

When she was introduced to the foodservice, the Brownsville native also learned about the stigma associated with using it.

“I quickly caught on to that as soon as I was hired,” Herrera said, “probably within my first few weeks. We had many students who were really shy to come in.”

To get the word out, Student Food Pantry workers share information about the services at campus events and speak to classes. 

“We feel that helps to dispel some of the stigma,” said Vega, the Student Food Pantry Coordinator.

New location in Brownsville

A recent change in Brownsville is also helping the Student Food Pantry get more attention. The pantry moved from Cortéz Hall to Calvary Hall, which is closer to the Student Union, and the staff already credits the new location with an increase in the number of students using the service.

“I want the students to know that everybody automatically qualifies as long as you’re a current student,” Vega said. “All you would need is to bring your student ID, and we can get you set up real fast. And you can leave with food on the same day.”

LOCATIONS

Brownsville
Cavalry Hall 101 and 102
(956) 882-7126 

Edinburg
University Center 114
(956) 665-3663

Donations accepted year-round

Anyone interested in donating to the UTRGV Student Food Pantry is welcome.

“We have people who think, ‘Oh, it’s just for during Thanksgiving or Christmas. I’ll come and I’ll give food then.’ But it is a year-round need.”

Food can be dropped off in the large yellow Student Food Pantry bins found across the campuses and outside the food pantries. You can see a list of high-demand items on the UTRGV Student Food Pantry website.

Monetary donations are also accepted on the website. 

Students interested in learning more about the Student Food Pantry can also check its Facebook page for updates on new items available and upcoming Healthy Food Habits Workshops.

About UTRGV

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.

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

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