FEATURED: Dr. Dahlia Guerra, Assistant Vice President for Public Art and Special Projects, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, has been honored with the Ohtli Award, one of the highest honors given to citizens living outside of Mexico.
Photograph Courtesy UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS RIO GRANDE VALLEY
Dahlia Guerra, a pianist and professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, honored with Ohtli Award for furthering Mexican culture
By PAT RODRÍGUEZ
Dr. Dahlia Guerra, Assistant Vice President for Public Art and Special Projects, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, has been honored with the Ohtli Award, one of the highest honors given to citizens living outside of Mexico
The award was bestowed by the Mexican Consulate of McAllen on Wednesday, September 15, 2021, via a virtual ceremony celebrating the 211th anniversary of the Independence of Mexico.
The Ohtli Award was presented to Guerra for her work in furthering the Mexican culture. The Government of Mexico grants the Ohtli to individuals or organizations for their work in promoting Mexican American or Hispanic culture and supporting the Mexican diaspora.
Persons of Mexican origin who live permanently in the United States can be considered members of a modern diaspora, in that they constitute “a minority ethnic group of migrant origin which maintains sentimental or material links with its land of origin.”
Guerra, a native of Edinburg, is a pianist and professor in the School of Music. She is the founder of the university’s Mariachi Aztlán, a nationally award-winning student ensemble that has performed for audiences throughout the United States, Mexico, and Canada.
Mariachi is a genre of regional Mexican music that dates back to at least the 18th century, evolving over time in the countryside of various regions of western Mexico.
She also is the founder of FESTIBA – Festival of International Books and Arts – at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, which celebrates the arts and humanities while promoting literacy in South Texas.
Stressing the tremendous impact of an arts education on the developmental growth of every child, Guerra has devoted her life and career to promoting the value of the creative and liberal arts in education.
Guerra said she was astounded when she heard she was to be an Ohtli recipient.
“I was just floored,” Guerra said. “I teared up. I was so touched – especially when they explained the symbolism behind the award. Ohtli is an indigenous word, Nahuatl for ‘path,’ and the medal depicts an Aztec god with a machete cutting down grass and alludes to the idea of creating a path for others. So, my goodness, once they told me that, I was totally thrilled.”
The award is even more special, she said, because it is a reflection of her life’s work.
“From Mariachi Aztlán starting up in 1989 to this point 30-something years later. I developed the group in baby steps, starting off with five kids in black pants and white shirts,” she said. “Little by little, the group attracted more students. Then we began getting invitations to travel and perform.”
Not only was Guerra the founder of the program, but also its fundraiser. She fondly remembers the days when she would sell chicken plates to raise money to purchase uniforms.
“One time, Dr. Miguel Nevárez (former president of the University of Texas-Pan American) saw me selling chicken plates on the corner of H-E-B and said to me, ‘Ms. Guerra, what are you doing?’ And I said, ‘I’m selling chicken plates to raise money for some uniforms.’
“He then said to me, ‘Please get off the street. Come visit me in my office and tell me what you need,’” she said.
Guerra believes having a Bachelor of Music Education with a concentration in mariachi at UTRGV that has been accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music has been extremely important.
“To my knowledge, it’s the only accredited mariachi program in the United States by the National Association of Schools of Music, and I think the Mexican Government saw that as unique,” she said. “I feel so deeply honored, and I think that the connection our music has created to culture has made an impact.”
For Guerra, music has permeated both her private and professional life.
“Music has just always been a part of my family. My dad would take us all over Mexico and we would see the mariachi and the folklórico dancers, and it was just something that became embedded in my heart,” she said. “But never did I dream that my love for music would lead to such a blessing as the Ohtli.”
Baile folklórico, literally “folkloric dance” in Spanish, also known as ballet folklórico, is a collective term for traditional Mexican dances that emphasize local folk culture with ballet characteristics – pointed toes, exaggerated movements, highly choreographed.
Throughout the various phases in her career, Guerra said, she is extremely proud of starting the Master of Music program and the life and career opportunities it has provided for students.
“I was the chair of music for seven years, which is when we started the master’s program. Then, when I was Dean of Arts and Humanities for about 10 years, we grew and added programs,” she said. “Now, being the Assistant Vice President for Public Art has been a dream, providing so many opportunities to connect with the community and bring exhibits to the university.”
Perhaps her biggest joy, however, has been the mariachi program and the various culture-based music groups at the university, including Mariachi Aztlán, Mariachi Aztlán Juvenil, and Mariachi Azalea.
After so many years at UTRGV and legacy institution The University of Texas-Pan American, it’s all about family for Guerra.
“It feels like such a beautiful thing we created because it hasn’t just been me,” she said. “It’s been a team effort, and we created this huge mariachi family.”
About The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley 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, Weslaco 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.
DR. RICARDO J. SOLIS, PRESIDENT, SOUTH TEXAS COLLEGE, SAYS HIGHER EDUCATION SYSTEM IS “UNBEATABLE” IN PROVIDING RESOURCES TO STUDENTS
South Texas College is the best investment for any student in the Rio Grande Valley to pursue their goals.
That is the message from Ricardo J. Solis, President, South Texas College, who addressed students, staff, and faculty on his first official visit to STC’s Mid-Valley Campus on Wednesday, September 15, 2021.
Speaking about the role of the college, Solis noted STC reflects the border region. Just like the border, STC is multi-cultural and ingrained within the Hispanic and Mexican-American communities.
“The comprehensive mission of the community college is to deliver relevant workforce and higher education programs that give our region opportunities to build better lives,” Solis said. “There is no other institution or organization in this entire nation that can provide a more comprehensive and faster pathway, with the programs, courses, and credentials to help people of all ages and all backgrounds.
That is what the community college does. That is what STC does.”
Solis’ visit to the Mid-Valley included an opportunity to speak and address faculty, staff, and students’ concerns at the campus.
STC Trustee Danny Guzmán, who represents District 7 which includes northeast Hidalgo County, north Weslaco, Edcouch, Elsa, La Villa, and Mercedes, was in attendance along with STC vice presidents and deans.
Guzmán, Solis, and the gathered administrators heard from students, faculty, and staff about what South Texas College is doing well, and what areas they would like to see improved.
“We have something other campuses don’t have, and that is the fact that we are really like a microcosm for every STC campus all in one campus,” said Daniel Montez, Administrator, STC Mid Valley Campus. “We have academics, technical, allied health, continuing education, all of these programs are being offered at Mid Valley, and we are very proud of the fact that we have a little bit of everything to offer here at our campus.
“This is the heart of the Valley, and this is where the upper Valley and lower Valley converge. We tend to be a little of both,” Montez said.
Beginning his career in economic development before returning to college to earn a Doctor of Philosophy in Higher Education Administration – Community College Leadership from the University of Texas in his forties, Solis says he can relate to those students returning to school for want of a better life.
Also drawing upon experience in international trade, from international bridges to industrial parks in diverse regions including Mexico, South America, China and finally the Rio Grande Valley, Solis said community colleges have to be creative and ready for continuous change.
“When it comes to cost, to quality and flexibility, nobody can touch us. Our programs are just as good, whether it’s English, Math, Chemistry, Biology, they are all the same quality as those in a university,” Solis said. “In fact, they’re better here because we have smaller classes, with more hands-on instructors. Universities don’t have that, and no university can touch us.
“We are the Valley’s college,” Solis said. “My goal is to take South Texas College to a higher level where we can promote the image that the Valley itself deserves, that our citizens deserve.”
SOUTH TEXAS BOARD OF TRUSTEES APPROVES SECOND ROUND OF DEBT RELIEF VALUED AT AN ESTIMATED $800,000 IN OUTSTANDING STUDENT BALANCES
Following a decision by South Texas College Board of Trustees on Tuesday, September 28, 2021, an estimated 1,655 students with unpaid balances from recent semesters will now have their debt burden to the college eliminated, paid on their behalf through the use of pandemic relief funds.
Trustees approved the discharge of student debt incurred during the period from Summer 2020 to Summer 2021 accordingly:
• Summer 2020 – 508 students $198,457
• Fall 2020 – three students $1,873
• Spring 2021 – 364 students $292,490
• Summer 2021 – 780 students $311,117
Total – 1,655 students $803,937
At their regular meeting on Tuesday, September 28, 2021, the STC Board of Trustees approved utilizing funding from the U.S. Department of Education’s Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) to discharge (forgive) more than $800,000 in outstanding student balances.
HEERF Institutional Fund guidelines indicate the allotment of funds to reimburse sources of lost revenue, including unpaid student accounts.
Representatives from STC will directly notify students if their account qualifies for debt discharge.
STC will also extend its “Free Semester” opportunity for students for spring 2022.
This will enable students to receive $1,700 during the spring as long as they enroll. Current students who have already submitted a Free Semester application will not need to re-apply. New students will need to submit a Free Semester application and enroll in classes. Funds are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
The average cost of tuition & fees (in-district) for 12 credit hours at STC is $1,662, but with the $1,700 award, the semester can be paid in full. Students can choose to receive the funds directly or have them applied directly to tuition and fees.
“This is a great support for our current students as we have the financial help to keep them going in their studies through the spring semester,” said Matthew Hebbard, Vice President of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management. “We encourage high school graduates and working adults to take advantage of the funds. This is the best time to come back to South Texas College.”
About South Texas College
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 127 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 five baccalaureate degrees. South Texas College has a faculty and staff of more than 2,700 to serve 28,000 students, on the college’s six campuses, two higher education centers, and one virtual campus.
Joey Gómez 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).