Infusing a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) summer enrichment program at UTRGV with a journalism component has turned out to be a great combination for the College of Education and P-16 Integration (CEP), and Continuing Education.

This summer, both entities have come together to offer the JSTEM (Journalism/STEM) pilot program to 40 high schools students from the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District.

With support and funding from PSJA, UTRGV was able to launch this new and innovative program for the first time this year.

Dr. Patricia McHatton, CEP dean, said she is grateful for the support from PSJA.

“We believe very strongly in collaboration,” McHatton said. “We can't do this alone.”

JSTEM was the result of many conversations between the three groups, with a goal of “supporting the development of high school students interested in STEM fields by engaging them in project-based instruction,” she said.

“We also felt it was important to expand the focus so that we also engaged students beyond the STEM fields. Thus, we proposed having a journalism strand along with the STEM strand. The STEM student would explore a complex issue, and the journalism students would work on disseminating information about the camp and chronicle what was taking place,” McHatton said.

Jayshree Bhat, director of UTRGV Continuing Education, said McHatton’s idea to add the journalism component to the non-credit program was a great idea.

“If you think about it, STEM gets a lot of attention to inspire future scientists and engineers. But there is no focused program for students who want to get into journalism. We thought this was a really cool hands-on project,” Bhat said.

In the STEM portion, students are participating in the research of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a bacterium that can be found anywhere, and the journalism portion is geared toward students interested in learning more about that field.

As part of the journalism curriculum, students are tasked with chronicling the research being done by the STEM students through video, articles and other activities. The group also has created a logo for JSTEM.

At the end of the five-week program, which started June 6 and concludes July 8, students will present what they have learned and premiere their video.

“The journalism component focuses on another segment of our student population and provides opportunities for them to come to the university, learn from our wonderful faculty, and gain knowledge and skills pertinent to the field of journalism,” McHatton said.



For Roxana Hernandez, 17, a senior at T-STEM Early College High School, JSTEM has been a very engaging experience and she has enjoyed learning new journalism techniques she probably will use next school year.

“I think it kind of changed me as a person because I learned new techniques and new skills,” Hernandez said.

She also has learned about Bt, thanks to the research that had to be done to complete the project.

Patricia Buhidar, lecturer in the Department of Bilingual and Literacy studies, helped coordinate the journalism group’s activities. She said she was excited to be part of this first-time program.

“I think it is wonderful. It is great to see young people excited about reporting on science and math. Hopefully this brings more excitement into those areas and we get more participation,” Buhidar said.

Buhidar hopes that, through JSTEM, students walk away with leadership skills and confidence.

“I hope they look back and say that, through all their hard work and effort, they were able to create a film they were proud of, and that they were able to find the bacteria they were looking for, and that they all accomplished their goals,” she said.

On the STEM side, Antonio Reyna, the UTRGV mobile lab coordinator for the Department of Chemistry, who regularly visits Rio Grande Valley schools throughout the year to promote careers in STEM, said being part of JSTEM was right up his alley.

“I enjoy showing them around and teaching them the microbiological research. I think Bt is a good subject, since it is everywhere,” Reyna said. “Hopefully, they walk away with the same sense of curiosity that I had when I started doing research. Bt is not just an organism – it has a specific use and function, and it is very valuable bacteria.”

Reyna said the study of Bt was ideal for this group, because organic farmers in the Valley use it as a bio-pesticide.

“Bt is able to fight off many of the pests that affect plants, and has certain subspecies that are able to fight off mosquitoes,” he said.

Angel David Piña, a PSJA North senior, said he is very involved with STEM activities and projects at school, so this was a perfect fit for him this summer.

“We definitely have been learning a lot and I love working in an actual lab,” Piña said. “This type of bacteria (Bt) we are looking for is found everywhere – all over the world.”

The fact that his research may be used for future applications to help people and the environment is absolutely fascinating to Piña.

“This has been a really great program,” he said, “and I am proud to be one of the first to experience it.”