EDITORIAL: Big birthday

Texas A&M campus adds much to Valley education

Congratulations to the Texas A& M University Higher Education Center in McAllen, which recently celebrated its first anniversary in the Rio Grande Valley.

The 65,000-squarefoot center in north McAllen opened Oct. 25 of last year as the newest arm of Texas’ oldest publicly supported university system. It joined A& M campuses that stretch across the state as well as law schools, public health centers and other specialty institutions.

While the local center is new, the Texas A& M System’s presence in the area isn’t. The university was among the leading research institutions that worked to find a cause for a sudden increase in anencephaly and other neural tube birth defects that occurred in the Valley in 1990 and 1991. In addition to finding benefits from increased intake of folic acid, A& M’s research found that tap water had higher nitrate concentrations in areas where the rate of neural tube defects was higher. That research helped officials address a similar spike of anencephaly cases that occurred in 2014 in Washington state.

Even as Valley officials worked to establish the University of Texas Regional Academic Health Center, the precursor to the current UT medical school, Texas A& M was expressing interest in bringing its School of Public Health to the Valley.

And of course, the Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Weslaco has been a mainstay in South Texas since 1923, providing information and services to agricultural interests in the area and conducting much of the research that has made the 1015Y sweet onion one of South Texas’ most successful crops.

The McAllen center has also proven successful, with more than 200 students attending classes there.

“This place is already full … that’s three or four years earlier than we thought it would happen,” Texas A& M System Chancellor John Sharp said at the Oct. 21 anniversary celebration in McAllen. He noted that its popularity, and the fact that the center offers the same courses taught at campuses in College Station and other universities, indicates the void that the system sought to fill with the center.

“The same values, the same courses and all that,” he said. “So it just bore out what our initial thought was: that there’s a heck of a lot of kids that should be at UT or A& M, one of those flagships, but are not because of some limiting reason in the Rio Grande Valley that doesn’t allow them to travel or pay for a dorm and that kind of stuff ….”

Sharp pledged that the university would expand to address even more students’ needs. He talked about erecting a second building, years ahead of the original schedule.

Evidence of his pledge is apparent in its outreach to other parts of the Valley; the system recently forged a deal with the Port of Brownsville and Texas State Technical College to provide specialized training that will prepare workers for port-based companies.

We applaud the contributions Texas A& M has made to the Valley in its short tenure here and look forward to an even greater involvement in our community in future years.