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First UTeach Graduates to Walk at Spring Commencement

BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – MAY 5, 2014 – Jessica Capistran, Karla Lopez and Amber Rodriguez and will become the first UTeach graduates at The University of Texas at Brownsville during Spring Commencement at 8 a.m. Saturday, May 10 on the Student Union Lawn.

The three students were joined by fellow classmates, faculty members and family to celebrate their accomplishment at a luncheon on Wednesday, April 3 at Main’s Salon Cassia.

UT Brownsville students Amber Rodriguez, Jessica Capistran and Karla Lopez were honored as the first graduates of the UTeach program at a reception on Wednesday, Apr. 30, 2014 at Salon Cassia.UT Brownsville students Amber Rodriguez, Jessica Capistran and Karla Lopez were honored as the first graduates of the UTeach program at a reception on Wednesday, Apr. 30, 2014 at Salon Cassia.

Developed at The University of Texas at Austin, UTeach is an innovative teacher preparation program that allows mathematics and science majors to receive teacher certification while earning a degree in their chosen field. The first UTeach cohort began at UTB two years ago.

The first UTeach recruit, Capistran, will carry the College of Science, Math and Technology banner at Spring Commencement. A graduate of San Benito High School, she has been practice teaching at Brownsville’s Lopez High School.

“I love my students; they are smart, and they do their work,” Capistran said. “My mentor teacher is there in the classroom with me, and he would add something if necessary. And Mr. Gustavo Valencia (Clinical Assistant Professor) and Dr. James Telese (Professor, Department of Teaching, Learning, and Innovation) have been observing me in the classroom and guiding me through this process.”

A critical feature of the UTeach program is student mentoring throughout the course work; each student receives individual support and mentoring by faculty and master teachers. Further, students will receive continuous support for two years after graduation.

Capistran plans to sign a contract with the Houston Independent School District; she has already been introduced to her mentor on the UTeach team at the University of Houston.

Rodriguez, a biology major, said graduating on time has always been a goal for her and her parents.

“By being able to accomplish graduating not only on time but also with a teaching certification in science grades 8-12, I know my parents are proud,” said Rodriguez.

A 2010 graduate of Brownsville’s Hanna High School, she has practiced teaching this semester at Brownsville’s Veterans Memorial High School, where she felt she was able to help her students discover the fascination of science. Rodriguez wants to teach in Brownsville and is looking for a position with Brownsville Independent School District.

“Many faculty members of the UTeach program have made a major impact on my life,” Rodriguez said. “Each member has brought a different element to the table; each teacher has made me into the future educator I am today, and for that I would like to thank them all.”

Lopez, determined to finish as quickly as possible, took overloads and summer classes. She, Rodriguez and Capistran convinced one of their professors, Dr. Reynaldo Ramirez, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Teaching, Learning and Innovation, to offer a Wintermester class that would enable them to finish their credits in time for a May graduation.

“With the help of my advisor, Dr. Jerzy Mogilski, (Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Mathematics) and the UTeach faculty, I was able to complete my bachelor’s degree in a total of three years,” Lopez said. “It required many sacrifices and hard work, but I am happy to say I am one step closer to where I want to be. I am extremely happy knowing I will make my family proud the moment I received my diploma.”

Lopez has decided to continue her education instead of taking a teaching job; she starts working on her master’s degree this summer. She will also continue to support herself, working for the Department of Mathematics as a tutor and teaching assistant. As president of the UTeach New Generation Educators campus organization that she helped establish, she will carry on as a leader and role model to her classmates.

“I am happy I will continue to work with such an extraordinary department, and I am excited to start a new journey and accomplish another goal in my life,” Lopez said. “Through the Mathematics Department, as well as the UTeach program, I have met great students that became some of my closet friends. Working with them has made a huge difference in my life; I enjoyed every minute working together and I cherish having such amazing classmates.”

Lopez also praised the UTeach faculty for making a difference in her life.

“The moment he found out I was a math major, my first semester, Dr. Mogilski has helped me in any way he could, guiding me through these past three years,” Lopez said. “He became my adviser, helped me plan every semester and challenged me to take courses that would push me to my limits. I am thankful for encountering this great man in my journey and lucky to have the honor to meet such an extraordinary person as Dr. Mogilski.”

For more information on the UTeach program, contact Dr. Roger Contreras at 956-882-6635 or

Read about the launch of UTeach online at UTeach Brownsville Launches with the Sound of a Bell.

Read about careers in mathematics in the February 2014 Career Center of The Brownsville Herald.

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