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  • Writer's pictureCollege 1st Program

UTRGV GEAR UP Prepares La Joya ISD Students for STEM Careers

Updated: Sep 25, 2019

La Joya ISD Students design an earth-quake resistant structure during the UTRGV GEAR UP Career Exploration CAMP.

La Joya, TX­–Teams of students tasked with constructing a high-rise structure in minutes work diligently and speedily. La Joya ISD GEAR UP students huddle together intermittently as the clock keeps ticking, they are focused on collaboration and communication as they analyze where to put the next piece and look for creative ways to keep building their structure upward. They wonder if the structural integrity of their project will pass the earthquake resistance test, they race against time to build the tallest structure in the room.

You would be hard-pressed to find a room where the intensity of competition was more profound. This activity is the CAMP opening act as they realize the importance of 21st Century Skills and the importance of a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education. The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) GEAR UP Program, working with La Joya ISD, Edinburg CISD and Brownsville ISD, developed these UTRGV GEAR UP Career Exploration CAMPs in partnership with the College 1st Program, to bring awareness on the importance of STEM Careers. UTRGV GEAR UP outreach initiatives are immersive, rigorous, and innovative. These CAMPs operate within a context of burgeoning competition through the implementation of academic-enrichment activities combined with life-changing mentorship experiences. Improving post-secondary credential attainment across Rio Grande Valley Communities is a priority to UTRGV GEAR UP and the College 1st Program to develop a sturdy base of skilled workforce for the region.

“These activities have inspired me to become an engineer…. this CAMP has also motivated me to go to college”, said Carlos Martinez, La Joya ISD GEAR UP Student.

Without question, we are at the precipice of profound change. The digital age and global integration demand new skillsets for the jobs of tomorrow and completion of a post-secondary credential has become more important than ever. For many parents in the Rio Grande Valley, a college degree has either remained elusive or seems like an unknown possibility. UTRGV GEAR UP has been working with many parents across the Valley to promote the importance of a college education, define what college readiness is and actively engage them in their children’s education. These Family Sessions have been conducted by the College 1st Team through their Family Engagement Session Component. “I believe programs like these helps our kids and our community become more college-driven,” said Alberto Guerrero, La Joya ISD GEAR UP parent.

UTRGV GEAR UP and the College 1st Program are collaborating in hopes to upend this trend, increase educational attainment, and expand opportunity by providing students with a breakdown of growing careers in the STEM fields and develop those critical “soft-skills” companies are looking for in their workforce, “I want to become a Doctor and help people in the future so I will continue to concentrate on my education and improve my skills.” Said Mia Hernandez, La Joya ISD GEAR UP student.

Through a series of hands-on activities that allow students to step into the shoes of engineers and medical professionals for a day, students develop a comprehensive set of “soft skills” – creativity, critical-thinking, communication, and collaboration – and academic skills. “It was so cool to have the opportunity to have activities that are hands-on, like building the structure, because it feels so much more real.” Said La Joya ISD GEAR UP student, Deven Garcia. Interspersed within these activities are visuals and academic-enrichment content that provide students the unique educational requirements, benefits and descriptions of different STEM-related careers. “[This CAMP] inspired me because it would help me chose what I want to be when I grow up, and also get more prepared for the future,” said Abigail Barrera, La Joya ISD GEAR UP student.

Written by Roberto Diaz

UTRGV GEAR UP working with Brownsville ISD, Edinburg CISD and La Joya ISD are providing students a unique approach to closing post-secondary education attainment gaps, while promoting occupations and careers in the region leading to a prosperous economic development trend across the Rio Grande Valley.

For more information about the UTRGV GEAR UP Program, please call us at 956-665-2090 or visit us at

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