Hunt: Academics Vital for Regional Success

By Daniel Perez

UTEP News Service

The goal of The University of Texas at El Paso’s Opportunity Days conference on May 2 is to create a consensus among community leaders for economic development and social mobility within the Paso del Norte region and beyond, according to an event stakeholder.

Woody Hunt, chairman and CEO of Hunt Companies Inc. and a featured speaker at UTEP’s “Building Opportunity and Social Mobility through Collaboration: The El Paso Model” conference, recently discussed why he believes everyone who attends the event should get behind the effort that involves higher education, industry and global competitiveness.El Paso businessman Woody Hunt will be a featured speaker at UTEP's Opportunity Days conference on May 2. El Paso businessman Woody Hunt will be a featured speaker at UTEP's Opportunity Days conference on May 2.

Hunt said the concepts that will be shared during May 2 conference were born during a unique Opportunity Nation Summit conducted in fall 2011 in New York. It involved a cross section of the country’s thought leaders who traded ideas meant to give Americans a better shot at a brighter future.

The concepts introduced at the UTEP conference will be developed during the next three years to create an executable plan to promote El Paso as a place where high-level jobs are available.

“Higher education attainment is absolutely critical if we want a high quality of life,” Hunt said. “Today’s high incomes require a very competitive education. UTEP delivers that competitive education. The business community needs to buy into that concept and be very supportive of UTEP and our other higher education institutions.”

Opportunity Nation leaders selected UTEP as one of its 12 regional partners because they were impressed with the University’s successful “access and excellence” model and programs that provided students with the skills and training needed to take on tomorrow’s challenges.

Hunt, who will close the meeting with UTEP President Diana Natalicio, said it is up to industry to create complex, highly compensated jobs for college graduates to make the Paso del Norte region competitive in the global economy. He lamented the status quo where students learn skills in El Paso and leave for better paying jobs because that hurts the region’s economic and education levels.

The bottom line is that America cannot reach its potential unless every American can reach theirs, said Mark Edwards, Opportunity Nation executive director. He warned that the current situation will keep the United States from being as successful and competitive as it could be. The answer will require input and investments from every corner of society including all political persuasions, he said. 

Edwards said a strong education and the right job opportunities will help future generations break the cycle of poverty that has trapped some families. He said some studies have showed that children born in Canada and various European countries have a better chance of improving their economic standing than their American peers.

“That’s not the American Dream that our parents taught us about,” he said.

UTEP Opportunity Days will culminate with “Pick Your Dream,” a campus open house on May 3 for about 7,500 fifth- and seventh-grade students from area school districts. The students will tour parts of campus and see various examples of the kind of work – and fun – that occurs at UTEP every day. It will include testimonials of successful UTEP alumni and activities that involve science, technology, engineering and math.

The purpose is to get the students to see themselves as college material who should begin to prepare mentally and academically for higher education – and that includes conversations at home with parents and guardians.

President Natalicio said she hopes the University experience excites the young visitors and raises their aspirations to attend college.

“If we can achieve that kind of goal, it will be a very successful day,” President Natalicio said. She later added that those students are like many UTEP students who went to the same elementary and secondary schools, who have achieved so much, and whose lives are totally changed by attending the University.