HESTEC headed for spring 2020

EDINBURG — For the first time in 18 years, there will be no HESTEC this fall.

Traditionally held locally by the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley the first week in October, Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology Week promotes science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM careers and instruction to students across the Valley.

Guest speakers at the event over the years have included Nancy Pelosi and Cheech Marin. There have been dozens of displays of chemistry and physics, airplane simulators, robotics competitions and programs hosted by august figures in science and technology.

Patrick Gonzales, UTRGV’s associate vice president for university marketing and communications, said that HESTEC isn’t gone; it’s just a little delayed.

After an extensive review, Gonzales said, the university opted to move this year’s HESTEC events to the spring, with the ultimate goal being to make the program a year-long affair.

“Because of personnel changes, the oversight of HESTEC changed over the summer to a new department,” Gonzales said. “We just brought a new perspective.”

Although the schedule of HESTEC has drastically changed, Gonzales said its mission has remained the same.

“The number one goal is to stay true to the mission,” he said. “It was founded to introduce students to the STEM field who normally wouldn’t be exposed to it.”

Gonzales said the university is currently finalizing dates for HESTEC’s spring events, which he said will likely take place between January and April. Popular attractions like the robotics competition and the SeaPerch Challenge are still expected to be held, albeit several months after usual.

“Part of our review revealed that it might be best not to confine HESTEC to a week in the fall,” Gonzales said. “We’re going to keep the events that were popular and maybe start phasing out the events that weren’t.”

Traditionally held at UTRGV’s Edinburg campus, Gonzales said under the new format events will be held at other UTRGV locations.

“Spreading it out helps us reach some of those other communities,” he said. “We can show off our Edinburg campus. We can show off our Brownsville campus. We can show off our Clinical Education Building in Harlingen.”

Gonzales said he’s looking forward to seeing the new HESTEC timeline in action.

“I think we’re going to have a great program this year,” he said. “It’s going to be much more hands-on.”

Others were less enthusiastic about the change, including Valley View High School Robotics Club sponsor Randy Perez.

Last year, a dozen schools competed in HESTEC’s robotics day, in which students build a robot that competes in four different obstacle courses. Valley View’s club took first place overall with its all-female team tying for fifth.

Perez said he was surprised when he didn’t receive any announcements about the 2019 competition.

“I was a little disappointed,” Perez said. “A lot of my students are disappointed because we compete every year. They’re a little bummed out because we did so well last year and they wanted to try and do even better.”

Perez said as a result of moving the competition to the spring, last year’s champs will almost certainly not compete.

“Right now we’re starting to change our focus to FRC [a different robotics competition], that starts the first Saturday in January. If they end up postponing till the second semester, we probably wouldn’t have time to do HESTEC,” he said.

Perez does say that the competition could potentially benefit from some restructuring, noting that the current format pits students of vastly different ages against each other.

“Maybe they could expand it in the sense where they have different brackets,” he said.

Gonzales acknowledged that the review and the decision to change the HESTEC timeline put the event behind schedule, but said participants could look forward to some sense of normalcy next year.

“This review took a little longer than expected. It put us behind on what we were hoping to do in the fall,” he said. “Next year the plan is to bring back some of the fall events.”

Others say that a delayed HESTEC won’t affect them, including UTRGV student Enrique Peña, the president of UTRGV’s American Society of Civil Engineers chapter.

Peña said the chapter formerly participated in HESTEC but stopped doing so two years ago for reasons he couldn’t recall.

“We would usually help out,” Peña said. “It was a way to showcase what we were doing at the university.”

Peña said his chapter has managed to stay active without taking part in the science and technology focused event.

“Our organization is doing fine not taking part,” he said. “We’ll be fine with the other events we have throughout the year.”