Texas A&M Higher Education Center At McAllen Distributes Aggie Rings, Thanks Donors
Texas A&M University’s Higher Education Center at McAllen (HECM), awarded Aggie rings to 11 students April 5, marking a milestone for the Rio Grande Valley center.
“The Aggie Ring is one of the most important symbols we offer our students,” said Adolfo Santos, HECM assistant provost. “It not only encapsulates a great milestone, it also symbolizes belonging to the Aggie family.”
The students received their rings at a ceremony at the HECM which featured speakers including Santos; HECM Director of Operations Rick Margo ’89; McAllen Mayor Jim Darling; Mirbel Perez Lopez ’17 of The Association of Former Students; and a Yell Practice with Texas A&M Yell Leaders Keller Cox ’21 and Memo Salinas ‘22.
Santos said the majority of the ring recipients did not have to pay for their rings thanks to the Bridget and Daniel ‘98 Hernandez Aggie Ring Scholarship for McAllen students. Daniel Hernandez, who earned his bachelor’s degree in management from Texas A&M, was also on hand at the event to congratulate the students.
“The Aggie Ring Day is especially important to us because it’s part of the tradition of the Hernandez family, not only giving back to our Aggie family, but also setting a representation and an example with our kids in the community,” he said.
Hernandez is a practicing attorney who serves on the HECM Advisory Board. Santos said he played an important role in the center’s creation.
“This scholarship is particularly important in our community because so many of our students would not be able to afford to purchase the Aggie Ring,” Santos said, adding that two dozen past recipients of the ring scholarship attended the ceremony so they might meet and thank their ring donors.
“Because of the pandemic, we have not been able to adequately express our gratitude to the Hernandezes for their generosity,” Santos said.
The students who earned their rings this week are from the HECM’s biomedical science, engineering and public health programs.
Biomedical sciences major Roberto Lopez ’21 said he appreciated being able to see the donors in person when he got his Aggie Ring, which his parents presented to him. As part of the “pioneer” class of students at the center, Lopez described it as an emotional day marking the culmination of a four-year journey.
“Now, one step closer to graduation, this Aggie Ring means the world to me,” he said.
Katia Melo Medina ’22 said her ring will serve as a reminder of her goals.
“It stands for more than the Core Values. It stands for so many peoples’ sacrifices, so many people supporting me, so many people that have helped me get this far,” she said. “And the things that I still need to accomplish in life.”
Belinda Bernal, who plans to attend medical school after graduating in December, calls being able to wear the Aggie Ring a “once in a lifetime opportunity.” In addition to the pride she feels for herself, Bernal also hopes to set an example for her three younger sisters.
“I hope they one day will also follow through and will also be where I’m standing here today with my Aggie Ring,” she said. “I’m really thankful for the donors for the opportunity to get my ring and to fulfill this Aggie tradition.”
The center, which opened to students in fall 2018, currently has 200 students enrolled. Santos said its programs were carefully selected to serve the needs of the Rio Grande Valley and South Texas.
“When we first began, we only offered two engineering programs – interdisciplinary engineering and multidisciplinary engineering technology,” he said. “In our second year we increased our program offerings to include biomedical sciences and public health. This year, we rolled out construction science, agricultural economics and university studies in arts and sciences.”
Next year, Santos said, the center has plans to roll out programs in maritime business administration, STEM education for middle grades, international studies, and human resource development.
The number of faculty has grown from five professors at the start to now 26 full-time professors and four part-time professors. “We have very intentionally hired the best teaching faculty around to serve our students,” Santos said. “Practically all of the professors are full-time faculty and hold Ph.D.s in their respective fields.”
The HECM is a 65,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility with labs and classrooms designed with the latest pedagogy in mind.
“Our building was designed from the ground up to serve as a 21st century teaching and learning facility,” Santos said. “Our classrooms and labs were designed for small classes where lots of individualized attention can be offered. Even the classroom furniture was thoughtfully selected to promote social learning and hands-on learning.”
Santos said the HECM’s location in South Texas has been a critical step forward in Texas A&M’s fulfillment of its land-grant mission to bring quality higher education to all who seek it.
“Being in the Rio Grande Valley, we are offering our community all the benefits of attending one of the world’s premier universities, without ever having to leave the Valley,” he said. “Every year, Texas A&M University admits roughly 1,500 students from the RGV, but less than half ever enroll at Texas A&M University. Our presence gives students a place to go that is close to home, that offers degrees that are very relevant to the region, that offers small class sizes, that creates a sense of belonging, and that has been made very affordable by our leadership.”
Santos said it was a joy to be able to watch students presented with their well-deserved Aggie rings.
“Their pioneering spirit is evident in the hard work they put into their coursework, their commitment to our Aggie values and living up to the Aggie spirit,” he said. “This is not just a ring. It is a tie that binds our students to others. It is a measure of character. It is a key that will open doors. And it was very moving to see.”