McALLEN — Exactly one year after formally announcing plans to open a Texas A&M University facility in the Rio Grande Valley, Chancellor John Sharp talked to a room full of Valley leaders and education stakeholders about what he hopes to bring to the region.

“There is, as you know, a very family oriented culture right here,” Sharp said. “We have families that going to Texas A&M is like (going to) China … So we decided to bring China here.”

University officials are hoping to break ground on the 60,000-square-foot facility in December, which will be an extension of the Texas A&M College Station campus overseen also by President Michael Young. The idea is to have a cohort of about 750 students, which will be accomplished incrementally over the years.

Sharp said the campus is not being thought of as competition for the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, which opened its doors in 2015, just a few months before the TAMU announcement. The university will instead, he said, fill different educational roles in the community.

The university plans to offer programs not currently available in the area, such as interdisciplinary engineering, engineering technology and biomedical sciences.

“The standards to get into this university will be the same as the flagship at A&M,” he said. “You got to have great SAT scores and things like that. They’ll go here for a couple years and then transfer to the main campus.”

Sharp said once this building is finished — it’s slated to be fully functioning by the fall 2018 — he suspects construction for a second building would not be too far behind.

Recently the university got a step closer to the construction of the project, as the board of regents approved $36 million for the construction of the first facility and its conceptual plans. Now it must wait for approval from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to move forward with construction.

But aside from future plans, Sharp also talked about university efforts in the Valley over the last two years, such as the Healthy South Texas initiative, produce production and engineering.

“One of the things that we announced was that we reactivated, with the help of USDA, the RGV Vegetable and Citrus Research Center,” Sharp said about the project intended to support and increase the vegetable and fruit industry. He added the goal is to bring back to the Valley some of the business being sent to Mexico and take advantage of the ability to export local products.

“We created the engineering academy. The first one was in Southmost College in Brownsville,” he added as another example. “Basically, there’s 100 kids at five community colleges … it’s a lot of kids that want to be engineers, but can’t afford to leave home … They are co-enrolled in both institutions and after two years, they have a direct pipeline into an engineering school at Texas A&M.”

The creation of a teaching facility in McAllen will facilitate the implementation of similar programs in the area, he said. The idea is to also save students money by not having them move to study out of town for the full four years.

In fact, he said, the creation of an IDEA school in the same Tres Lagos subdivision in north McAllen, where the new facility is slated to be located, will open the door for students to complete their entire education in one area.

“If it gets approved, it can be the first place in the nation where you can go from kindergarten, and eventually to a doctorate degree and you never leave the subdivision,” he said. “That doesn’t exist anywhere.”

dperez-hernandez@themonitor.com

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