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Donna senior first to be accepted into Texas A&M in McAllen

March 16, 2017 GMT

McALLEN— The awaited call came as high school senior Marco Piña was in the middle of a Rainbow Six video game battle, and what he heard from a Texas A&M University adviser made him drop the controller.

“She said, ‘Congratulations, you are accepted and you are the first one …’ and I just dropped everything,” he recalled. “I made history, this is amazing. I never thought I would be doing anything like this.”

Eighteen-year-old Piña, of Donna, is officially the first student to be accepted for admission into Texas A&M University’s new McAllen branch campus as part of the first cohort starting this fall.

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The university system announced its plans to bring a campus to the Rio Grande Valley in 2015 and broke ground on the initial 65,000-square-foot building in December 2016. The new facility will be located in the Tres Lagos Community in North McAllen and it’s expected to open its doors in the fall of 2018.

In the meantime, Piña and his soon-to-be classmates will be taking their first courses on property leased from South Texas College. The college will be offering 18 engineering tracks in McAllen and is currently accepting and reviewing applications for the initial cohort.

“Our new McAllen-based Aggies will be forging the way for future generations of South Texans who are interested in getting an education from a world-class institution while being able to stay near their families,” said TAMU Chancellor John Sharp in a written statement. “We are certain that many people will follow their lead.”

University officials said the plan is to start with a cohort of about 150 students and to eventually expand to about 750. The McAllen branch will also offer degrees in biomedical sciences and veterinary medicine.

Piña is a senior at Donna North High School where he also serves as student body president. Ever since he can remember, his goal has been to become an engineer and one day work in the aerospace industry, he said.

With this in mind, his original plan was to head out of state for college, but high tuition rates forced him to focus on in-state universities, and his mind was set on Texas A&M.

After applying to Texas A&M College Station, he was notified that there was no more space in the campus program, but was asked to select a program in either Galveston, Blinn-Bryan or McAllen.

“When I saw McAllen, I said ‘Wait, is this for real?’” Piña said. “It’s going to save me money, to begin with. I’m not receiving much financial aid so this is helping me and my parents out.”

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His parents are extremely happy to keep him close, he said, but he also likes the option of one day transferring to College Station and exploring other parts of the state. But a bigger part of his plan has always been to come back and find work in the Valley.

“Even if I go out of state or anywhere, I did want to come back,” Piña said. “Engineering, the field, it’s only going to grow, and the Valley is growing too, so what better way… We need more engineers here. I see a lot of potential here.”

dperez-hernandez@themonitor.com