The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley kicked off its Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology (HESTEC) Week with a formal Congressional Dinner on Sunday, Oct. 4, at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance.
This is the first year UTRGV has directed the weeklong conference, but this is the 14th anniversary for the event, which is designed to spur interest in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields for middle and high school students.
HESTEC was spearheaded by U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa and Dr. Miguel Nevárez, who was president at the time of UTRGV’s legacy institution, The University of Texas-Pan American.
Addressing a full room of dignitaries and friends, Hinojosa praised the success of the program, saying it has fostered not only an increase in Hispanic students pursuing careers in STEM, but also has increased diversity in the Rio Grande Valley because people are moving into the area to work and study.
He said 34 percent of the more than 2,000 engineering students UTPA had graduated are women.
“I believe … that education – higher education – is for all, and HESTEC is going to do exactly that,” he said.
There’s a lot of work ahead, though, Hinojosa added.
“The business of innovation is about solving problems, and a diverse workforce does a better job of solving them,” he said. “The more we can demystify STEM careers, the more we can attract students across the range of minorities to pursue them.
“That is why, in this current political climate with deep budget cuts, we must be vigilant about defending the resources necessary to prepare our students for their education to help them develop their (skills) for STEM careers.”
Attendees also heard from U.S. Rep. Filemón Vela and education leaders. They saw videos of students who had attended previous HESTEC events and who now are in college, pursuing STEM-related majors; from former students who now are working in STEM fields
There also was a videotaped message from outgoing U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who will be a participant in a panel discussion at HESTEC 2015.
Actor and comedian Paul Rodriguez closed out the night with a keynote address that was at turns funny and heavy with sentiment.
HESTEC continued Monday with Educator Day, where hundreds of secondary-level math and science teachers heard Hinojosa and invited guests discuss STEM literacy during the Congressional Roundtable, and attended workshops that showed them techniques on how to better engage students in STEM.