A $1 million gift from VAMOS (Valley Alliance of Mentors for Opportunities & Scholarships) that will be matched dollar-for-dollar by The University of Texas -Pan American Foundation is a boon to the University in its efforts to help more and more students succeed, said UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen.

Sonia Falcon, VAMOS president, and several members of the board convened on the UTPA campus Monday (Aug. 30) to present a $1 million check to President Nelsen, who accepted on behalf of the UTPA Foundation Board of Trustees.

The $2 million from VAMOS and the UTPA Foundation will fund the VAMOS/UTPA Endowed Scholarship program exclusively for Hidalgo, Cameron and Starr county students who enter the university as freshmen. The scholarships are then renewable for up to four years as long as the VAMOS/UTPA Scholars meet the eligibility criteria.

Nelsen said the scholarships are a boon to the University because they will allow the institution to help more students afford their education and move on toward further success.

“VAMOS has done something wonderful,” Nelsen said. “We don’t want to have to charge students more. This will support students more. We want to support students.”

Tears welled up in the eyes of UTPA Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Ana Maria Rodriguez as she expressed her gratitude toward VAMOS and the UTPA Foundation.

“This is the final frosting on the cake,” Rodriguez said. “Everything we’ve been doing to help our students has just been given a major boost. Also, the message it sends is that VAMOS is behind what we’re doing; it’s validating what we do.”

Undergraduate students who qualify for the scholarship can receive up to $2,000 annually for four years. The first VAMOS/UTPA Endowed Scholarships are expected to be awarded for the 2010-2011 academic year, said Janice Odom, vice president for university advancement at UTPA.

VAMOS and the UTPA Foundation have been working on the endowment for a couple of years because the majority of the students who apply for VAMOS scholarships plan to attend UTPA, said Falcon.

“It makes me feel wonderful. I am a UTPA alumna and to be able to give back to this University has always been a goal of mine,” she said. “I can only hope the students who will apply have the same experience that I did when I came here and have the same love to want to give back to the University.”

Falcon said she and fellow board members often hear stories from scholarship recipients — many of whom are the first in their families to attend college — about how UTPA has prepared them for successful careers.

“The satisfaction of a scholarship like this is that not only the students benefit, but the whole family benefits. We hope it changes the whole family dynamic.”

Jaime Ramon, chair of the UTPA Foundation, called the endowment a “win-win situation for everybody.”

“The endowed scholarships will provide a number of excellent opportunities for students who go to UT Pan American,” Ramon said. “We’re just so privileged to be a part of this.”

VAMOS is a nonprofit organization that a group of local business and community leaders began in 1996 to improve and broaden the educational opportunities for Hispanic students in South Texas. Its main function is to raise money for academically accomplished Hispanic students.

In addition to the new VAMOS/UTPA Endowed Scholarship, VAMOS awards four-year scholarships every year to deserving high school graduates from various backgrounds for enrollment at a university of their choice. In addition, VAMOS not only supports students by paying for tuition and books but helps with motivation and encouragement through its Mentoring Program.

which monitors students throughout their college careers to ensure their success, according to its website.

The UTPA Foundation is an independent nonprofit organization, chartered in 1982 to raise, manage and invest funds for charitable, educational, and scientific purposes to benefit the University.

For more information about VAMOS, visit www.vamosscholars.org. For more information about the UTPA Foundation, visit http://dua.utpa.edu/foundation.