FEATURED, FROM LEFT: Sergio Contreras, CEO, Atlas, Hall & Rodríguez, LLP; former Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, Senior Vice President, Governmental and Community Relations, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley; former Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, III, Vice President, External and Legislative Affairs, AT&T; Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Linda Ufland, Director, Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Commercialization, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley; Marivel Mata, Business Advisor, Small Business Development Center; and former Edinburg City Manager Ron Garza, Associate Vice President, Workforce and Economic Development, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
Photograph By PAUL CHOUY
University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and Rio Grande Valley Partnership to provide local businesses with free digital literacy trainings, announces Sen. Hinojosa
By MARISOL VILLARREAL
The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley is teaming up with the RGV Partnership Foundation to conduct free digital literacy trainings for regional businesses, starting in mid-August 2022.
Digital literacy refers to an individual’s ability to find, evaluate, and communicate information through typing and other media on various digital platforms. It is evaluated by an individual’s grammar, composition, typing skills and ability to produce text, images, audio and designs using technology.
The training will be funded by a $25,000 grant from the AT&T Foundation.
The grant wasannounced on Tuesday, July 19, 2022 at a press conference held at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Community Engagement & Student Success Building in Edinburg.
The UTRGV Small Business Development Center and the university’s Entrepreneurship and Commercialization Centerwill collaborate withtheRGV Partnership to teach basic digital literacy to area business owners.
RGV Partnership is a business-friendly nonprofit organization that encourages collaboration among the Valley’s four counties – Starr, Hidalgo, Willacy and Cameron.
“I joined AT&T Vice President JD Salinas III at an event where he presented Sergio Contreras and UTRGV Vice President Veronica Gonzales a $25,000 check. This donation will be used to help educate individuals in our community about the importance of the Internet and how it can be used to access jobs, training and other learning tools, telehealth, and for research,” Hinojosa said.
Contreras, who currently serves as CEO, Atlas, Hall & Rodríguez, LLP in McAllen, is the former longtime CEO for the RGV Partnership.
“The funds will also be used to share how social media and other internet tools can be used to promote small businesses,” Hinojosa added. “I appreciate the partnerships between industry, our nonprofit organizations, and our institutions of higher education working together to increase digital literacy. Having access to broadband and knowing how to use the Internet is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity.”
Broadband is an Internet connection with sufficient speed to deliver online experiences including full-motion video without significant lag time.
“This will help business owners who have very little knowledge about the internet and the services it can provide to move their business in the right direction,” said Verónica Gonzáles, Senior Vice, Governmental and Community Relations, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
Gonzáles – a former state representative from McAllen – said the trainings will provide valuable information to business owners so they can have a basic understanding of how to use the Internet and how to avoid being hacked online.
“The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley is excited to partner with the Rio Grande Valley Partnership and provide digital literacy training to small businesses throughout the Valley via the grant given by AT&T,” she said. “We are likewise grateful to the State of Texas and our Senator Juan Hinojosa.”
The in-person trainings, available in both English and Spanish, will focus on communities that have struggled to understand navigating the internet or that have been afraid of engaging online, said Linda Ufland, Director, Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Commercialization, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
“We want to make sure that all of these communities have the opportunity to understand that it can be safe, and that there are tools and resources for small businesses that we are able to share with them,” she said.
For more information on the digital literacy trainings and how to register, contact the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Entrepreneurship and Commercialization Center at 956-882-4119.
Texas Reskilling grant becomes vital resource for students seeking to come back to college
Right out of high school, Claudia Ramos admits that school wasn’t immediately at the top of her list of priorities when she began taking classes at South Texas College for the first time more than 20 years ago.
She stopped short of graduating and only just returned this spring 2022 to take advantage of new assistance for students like her who were right on the cusp of receiving their degrees.
When South Texas College trustees initially approved $112,500 for a Texas Reskilling Support Program from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in January 2022, it confirmed their support for adult learners like Ramos who, mostly for family or financial reasons, have stopped pursuing their college education before graduating.
South Texas College trustees in May 2022 then approved an additional $200,000 for the Reskilling Program bringing the total to more than $537,000 for these so called “stop-out” students.
Reskilling refers to the process of learning new skills needed to do an entirely different job.
In Ramos’ case, she married, had a family and eventually started a lucrative job as a production manager for a flooring company based in Austin for nearly two decades as she raised her children.
Ramos said she returned to South Texas College in the spring of 2022 to pursue an Associate Degree in Accounting. She even made South Texas College’s President’s Honor Roll, which is awarded to students enrolled in more than 12 credit hours and who have earned a perfect grade-point average of 4.0 for the semester.
Currently taking courses this summer, Ramos said she plans to graduate by December 2022.
“You know, it’s very important to show our kids that it is never too late to pursue your dreams,” Ramos said. “There are so many resources out there, including grants, that students can apply for to help them achieve their goals and better their lives and their families.”
The Reskilling Support program originates from the allocation of funds provided to Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board by the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief fund as well as the U.S. Department of Education Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act of 2020, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act and American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
The moneys support displaced Texas workers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic who need to reskill or upskill to return to the workforce and Texas students who were previously enrolled at South Texas College for a certificate or degree but have not completed it.
Upskilling is the process of elevating existing skills to the next level. Typically, upskilling occurs along a set career path, giving employees clear opportunities for advancement as they level up their skills.
For students like Ramos, who said her family was hit hard not just financially but emotionally once the virus began spreading in 2020, this was a lifesaver.
“COVID impacted our lives big time. First my husband’s work declined because he works in construction and then I lost my parents due to the virus. They passed a day apart. After that, I knew I couldn’t stay at work,” Ramos said. “I stayed without a job and came back to the Valley to grieve properly, but in the middle of everything I found my motivation in school. Receiving this grant was perfect timing and it helped me qualify for summer courses.”
Tony Matamoros, South Texas College’s Director of Student Engagement and Completion Services said the grant is getting students excited to come back and finish their degree, giving them the extra nudge they need to return.
“There are a lot of students that we have awarded grants to who are just a few courses away from finishing but haven’t been able to because they may be having difficulty with basic needs like food insecurity, financial insecurity, transportation and childcare,” Matamoros said. “My department is tasked with reengaging those students, helping them go through the enrollment pipeline and then helping them connect to the services that they need in order to take care of specific areas of their lives before they get started with their education again.”
South Texas College awards $2,500 per semester, which is applied to tuition and fees not covered by state or institutional financial aid. So far, the college has helped more than 170 students come back to college.
Eligible students are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis after submitting the Texas Reskilling Support Fund Grant Survey. They are then notified via email if they meet grant eligibility and are awarded.
For more information or to apply to the Texas Reskilling Program, students can visit:
UT System Chancellor Milliken: Serving Hispanic students better enriches Texas
On Sunday, July 17, 2022, the following op-ed – written by UT System Chancellor James B. Milliken – appeared in the Dallas Morning News.
Texas is often defined by its entrepreneurial spirit and determination to push new frontiers.
Businesses are establishing roots here in droves.
People are moving here, working here and staying here.
As our state continues to rapidly grow and diversify, Texas higher education has the responsibility, and the privilege, of ensuring an educated and trained workforce.
Recently, the U.S. Census Bureau released updated national and state population and demographic estimates. Not surprisingly, the growth of Hispanic populations in Texas and the U.S. confirms what we already knew.
Today, Texas is the proud home to 12 million Hispanics, a population that has increased roughly 24 percent since 2010 and is predicted to increase an additional 71 percent by 2050.
The new census data provides a clearer vision of what Texas will look like in the coming decades. It gives state officeholders, businesses and civic leaders – including higher education leadership – the opportunity to better understand who we will serve, and the ways in which Texans can be served most effectively.
Texas institutions of higher education have worked diligently toward the advancement of Hispanic populations for decades – recruiting, enrolling and graduating Latino students, while embracing the influence of Hispanic culture, expanding avenues of success for Hispanic scholars and students, and promoting the art, culture and ideas of the Americas.
Today, six UT institutions are federally designated Hispanic Serving Institutions in our state, and four have been recognized with the prestigious Excelencia in Education seal, the only national data-driven initiative to recognize programs that accelerate Hispanic student success in universities.
Our efforts are making a difference, with Hispanic Texans already making up the state’s highest labor force participation rate at 66 percent.
But there is much work to be done.
In higher education, just five percent of full-time professors in the U.S. are Hispanic, compared to nearly 20 percent of the general population. In addition, higher education degree attainment rates among Hispanics still lag non-Hispanic whites by 22 percent.
As leaders in helping shape the future of the workforce in Texas and the nation, institutions of higher education must do better, and the UT System is taking important new steps.
In June 2022, four UT institutions – UT Arlington, UT Austin, UT El Paso and UT San Antonio – joined 16 other institutions nationwide to launch the new Alliance of Hispanic-Serving Research Universities.
The alliance announced a commitment to two goals by 2030: double the number of Hispanic doctoral students to diversify and enrich the pipeline of talent into academia; and increase the amount of Hispanic university faculty by 20 percent.
These two steps are key to ensuring that all talented Texans – and Americans – have the opportunity to earn a college degree and reap the benefits so clearly associated with that achievement.
UT El Paso president Heather Wilson, a former Secretary of the United States Air Force, will serve as the inaugural chair of the Alliance of Hispanic Serving Research Universities.
As we look ahead to the future of Texas and the nation, we embrace our rich diversity and continue to create more opportunities for more people.
In doing so, we will make our state more creative, more competitive, and better prepared for the opportunities and challenges to come.
Joey Gomez and David A. Díaz 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).