Extending beyond the confines of the classroom and laboratory, community engagement is an effective means of communicating the campus sustainability program to the Rio Grande Valley. Community outreach is the vehicle by which a university connects and collaborates with the surrounding areas, identifies community needs, and works to meet and resolve those needs. The University facilitates resources and services to our community via the Department of Community Engagement (CE), which operates in four areas: Community, Economic, Rural and Business Development. Community outreach is an integral part of any sustainability educational program, and enhances the relationship between UTPA and the Rio South Texas region. UTPA encourages and promotes strategic engagements with the community via two established events and a proposed event to promote sustainable practices and education: HESTEC, FESTIBA, and Viva el Mundo.
The Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology (HESTEC) is a nationally recognized week-long program that seeks to encourage Hispanic students to pursue higher education and a career in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by exposing them to workshops and presentations. HESTEC presenters and keynote speakers successfully change perceptions of and garner support for STEM education at all levels, as well as promote an awareness of green practices and being eco-friendly. HESTEC staff also actively integrates sustainable efforts into all stages of event operation and production. Through a collaboration between the College of Arts and Humanities and CE, the Festival of International Books and Arts (FESTIBA) encourages students of all ages to celebrate the Arts and Humanities, embrace literacy, and broaden cultural awareness through books, poetry, drama, lectures, musical concerts, artistic exhibits, presentations in design, dance, theatre, digital lighting, and films. Although this event is shorter in existence than HESTEC, the Department of CE would like to see FESTIBA embrace the theme of protecting our planet and sustainable efforts in its events in the near future.
At a time when new technologies are introduced around the globe, the demand for energy increases, and our planet suffers from the effects of global warming, UTPA seeks to introduce a new program called Viva El Mundo, tentatively scheduled to begin in April 2011. Currently in its planning stages, spearheaded by the Department of CE, this program will bring governmental, corporate, and educational leaders to discuss topics ranging from addressing the benefits of tapping into economical, eco-friendly renewable energy sources to the importance of embracing and integrating the concept of sustainability as part of the school curriculum.
From UTPA’s perspective, outreach is one of the key mechanisms for staying attuned to community needs. Community outreach is an integral part of any sustainability educational program and enhances the relationship between UTPA and the Rio South Texas region.