EDINBURG — University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa visited UT—Pan American on Thursday and responded to questions and comments from community members, students, faculty and staff at two separate town hall meetings about the university merger.

The town hall meetings were hosted in the UTPA Student Union Theater, and the first forum for community members and UTPA faculty had the union almost filled to capacity at 500 people. Cigarroa began the town hall by updating the audience about Project South Texas, which is the name given to the process of merging UTPA with UT-Brownsville and starting a medical school at the combined university.

Cigarroa told the audience at the forum that a presidential search committee will present candidates to UT System Regents by fall 2014, which was later corrected to mean before the end of spring 2014, said Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, spokeswoman for the UT System.

Cigarroa told the audience that forming the presidential search committee is the next step for Project South Texas.

He said that in three weeks, they will be presenting the Board of Regents a request for the allocation of funds to “embark to the next stage of work that needs to be done” for the merger.

Cigarroa said that the UT System needs money to fund advisory committees, fund travel to visit other universities that will provide ideas to the UT System and hire a master planner who will bring together UTPA and UTB and eye potential sites for growth in the surrounding cities and counties in the Rio Grande Valley.

“How does all of this settle into this new university and how can we utilize the facilities to the best of our abilities?” Cigarroa hypothetically asked the audience. “(It is) a privilege to be able to have and embark upon these conversations.”

Cigarroa also told the audience that seven to nine potential names for the new university have already been drafted, but before a few of them go to the regents for a final vote at the end of this year, locals will have a chance to voice their opinions on the names when they’re released by using social media, or by calling or emailing the UT System.

Cigarroa also said that they are also looking for a new dean for the new medical school, who will be appointed before the president, and that new facilities will be needed for the Brownsville campus due to the “shortage of space” as a result of the split between UTB and Texas Southmost College.

At the second forum, which was for UTPA students, Nelsen spoke to the roughly 50 students who came to listen to Cigarroa and urged them to share their concerns about the university with him.

“He wants to hear what your questions are and what you’re thinking about the new university as we’re moving forward on that,” Nelsen told the students. “(Cigarroa) has given us a chance to be able to change lives and save lives. Education saves lives — that’s his phrase, not mine, and he uses it all of the time.”

Cigarroa also stopped by La Joya High School before the UTPA forums to talk with students about the changes that will come to their local university.

“There is no campus, no region of Texas that I’ve visited more than the Rio Grande Valley because of the work at hand,” Cigarroa said during the forum. “We care about this (merger) a lot and I promise you this: our Board of Regents is extremely interested and energetic in ensuring the success of this new university.”