Higher Education Center At McAllen Offers New Opportunities For Biomedical Sciences Students
To biomedical sciences (BIMS) graduate Roberto Lopez, ‘Howdy’ is more than just a greeting.
“You go to College Station and there’s not one person who doesn’t say ‘Howdy,’” he said. “It’s like you’re meeting a family, not just meeting an institution; just saying ‘Howdy’ enables you to open up.When you walk in and the first thing someone says is ‘Howdy,’ you’re getting recognized. It feels good. It’s empowering. You’re not just a number. And that, to me, is a big, big tradition.”
For the last several years, Lopez has tried to bring that same feeling he got when visiting College Station to the Texas A&M Higher Education Center at McAllen.
Lopez, like all students in McAllen, is an Aggie. The center isn’t a system school; it’s an extension of Texas A&M University, where the students wear maroon, receive Aggie Rings and even have “Home of the 12th Man” banners outside of the building.
As a member of McAllen’s first biomedical sciences graduating class, Lopez’s entire college experience has been one of firsts.
In 2017, he was among the first to attend Texas A&M classes in McAllen when the only major offered was engineering, and the classes were held at a nearby junior college since the campus wasn’t completed until 2018. That year helped him decide that his future lay elsewhere, so he was one of the first McAllen students to change majors when biomedical sciences became an option in 2018.
“One year went by really fast, and now it’s been four years; I look back and think, ‘Wow, time has flown by,’” he said. “Hopefully my graduation is going to set an example for other students — that they are capable of completing a four-year degree here, that being able to come here is an option.”
Along with the academic firsts, he’s also had the opportunity to lay the groundwork for events that are already becoming traditions. As a student event planner, he’s helped organize a staff and student soccer day, an all-campus Thanksgiving celebration, and a student versus staff volleyball night.
For Lopez, and the campus, helping raise awareness that the Higher Education Center at McAllen is part of Texas A&M is one of the biggest goals, because being an Aggie is the reason he chose the Center in the first place.
Lopez was accepted at the College Station campus, but when he looked at the cost of moving away from home, it just didn’t seem feasible.
“I read the newspaper, and that’s how I found out about the Higher Education Center,” he said. “It said that Texas A&M was going to do a program here, so I immediately called the admissions department here in McAllen and asked about it. They were only going to have engineering the first year, but I thought, ‘Why not?’
“I always wanted to be a part of the Aggie family, and I think (the Center) was a perfect choice for me,” he said. “I get to stay at home and do this amazing degree from Texas A&M. It’s one of the universities I always wanted to go to, so my goal was to graduate from Texas A&M.”
Lopez’s story is not uncommon among the students in McAllen. According to academic adviser Josette Gonzalez ’11, leaving home to go off to college for four years is simply not possible for many students.
“A lot of the times, our students down here in the (Rio Grande) Valley wear multiple hats,” she said. “Not only are they first-generation college students attending a top-tier institution, but they’re also caregivers. We have students who live in multi-generational homes, so they may be helping take care of their younger siblings or older grandparents and parents. So, for Texas A&M University to choose McAllen to have an extension of Aggieland is opening up opportunities for generations to come. Now, our students have the opportunity to get a top-tier education without having to leave their homes.”
Lopez is hoping to go to medical school next.
Like many of his classmates, he’s seen the need for more medical professionals in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV). Dealing with COVID-19, which hit the RGV harder than most other parts of Texas, brought home that goal of wanting to get an education and work to better his community.
“It’s given me a new perspective on life. We have to value life more,” he said. “We knew how important life was before COVID, and we knew that we needed to graduate, but sometimes we lose track of where we come from. This pandemic has made me realize what’s important to me. And for me, what’s most important is family. Being home during the pandemic made me realize that this is where I come from, this is my family, and I want to protect them.”
He’s not alone in his goal to use his education to help protect his family. One of the first student organizations established in McAllen was the Border Pre-Med Society, an organization for not only biomedical sciences students, but also students from the Texas A&M School of Public Health.
The need for more healthcare professionals combined with the fact that many students in the McAllen area can’t leave home is exactly why College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences associate dean of undergraduate education Elizabeth Crouch is excited about the college’s involvement at the campus.
“I hope it will be a premiere place to look at One Health in the Rio Grande Valley in a way that is really impactful,” she said. “Having a footprint for biomedical sciences in South Texas is just really dynamite. I’m very, very excited about the future.
“I know that the McAllen campus is meant to grow,” Crouch said. “Right now, it’s one building but it will continue to grow. I think we’re going to see pretty significant growth there over the next 10 years or so.”
Gonzalez agrees that a bright future is ahead for the campus and is proud that she’s been part of it since the beginning.
“Had Texas A&M not chosen McAllen to put the Higher Education Center, our students would be missing out on something that’s essentially going to change their lives,” Gonzalez said. “All of the degrees brought to McAllen fulfill a need. In the Valley, right now, we have a shortage of health professionals, so degrees like public health or biomedical sciences are going to be filling that need. It’s going to be filled by the students who are from here, who want to stay here, work here, and give back to the community.
“Our students recognize that they can be founders and start a legacy for future Aggies to come,” she said. “And when they’re applying to their professional schools and whatnot, those schools will get to see that this student took initiative to start something that would last forever.”