Founding Trustee Gurwitz Bids Farewell
As STC’s longest serving trustee, Gary Gurwitz had a hand in establishing the college when he was appointed by former Texas Gov. Ann Richards as a founding board member in 1993. Now after nearly 30 years, Gurwitz announced he would not be seeking a sixth term.
Nearly 30 years ago, Gary Gurwitz said he looked at the small cluster of buildings located near the heart of McAllen and considered all the limitless possibilities of a budding campus.
In those days, unemployment hovered around 24% in surrounding communities and became even higher as you traveled further west into Starr County.
It was 1993, and then Gov. Ann Richards had just signed legislation creating South Texas Community College, which established the 50th community college in Texas and the first ever campus in the upper Valley. Gurwitz was among those founding members she appointed to improve access to higher education in Hidalgo and Starr Counties.
Founding trustees at the time included Manuel Benavidez for District 1, Rosalinda Gonzalez for District 2, Glen Roney for District 3, Pearl Mathis for District 5, Dr. Amparo Cardenas for District 6 and Ruben Hinojosa for District 7 prior to his election to Congress.
Gurwitz represented District 4, which includes north McAllen, northwest Pharr, Palmhurst, northeast Mission and southwest Edinburg.
As the only founding trustee left from those days, Gurwitz was among those charged with converting the former Texas State Technical College campus located on 10 acres in McAllen into a locally-governed community college.
While success in establishing the college didn’t come easy, early challenges still offered a glimpse into what was to become a long and successful journey on the board, Gurwitz said.
“Back then, we were a branch of TSTC that was almost all technical with no academic courses that could transfer anywhere. We had no faculty of our own, no income of our own, no computers, no library, no bookkeeping. We just had these buildings, so virtually we started from scratch and with less than 1,000 students. Some of our first classes were in old laundromats,” Gurwitz said. “Once, we thought we might not be able to make a payroll and had to take out a short-term bank loan.”
South Texas College has come a long way from those early classrooms in laundromats. South Texas College has become a hub for industry training and workforce development in the region, currently serving nearly 30,000 students with a faculty and staff of more than 2,700, offering 127 different degree and certificate programs, five bachelor programs, six state-of-the-art campuses, two higher education centers and one virtual campus.
“I think one of the strongest benefits and assets we have had as board members has been having someone who has been there from day one, and who has been an exemplary example of governance, integrity and quite frankly just leadership as a whole. He (Gurwitz) was able to bring his perspective on the accelerated growth and impact that was taking place so we could shape our policy moving forward. It has been extremely helpful to have someone who has been there, who had seen the beginning of the college and who could see its growth today and into the future.”
Now after almost three decades of having served South Texas College, Gurwitz will complete his service as a trustee at his last regular meeting of the Board of Trustees on April 26, 2022.
Gurwitz had been reelected to the board ever since the start of the college for an impressive five terms.
“Gary Gurwitz has been a devoted public servant to this college and this community. This institution and its many successes serve as a proud legacy,” said current President Ricardo Solis. “The Rio Grande Valley and our students past and present owe him a debt of gratitude.”
During his time as a trustee he has served as board chair, vice chair, secretary and has sat on South Texas College’s Facilities Committee and Education and Workforce Development Committee.
When asked about the reasons for establishing South Texas College nearly 30 years ago, Gurwitz recalls the tremendous need for a community college that could operate in a different way from a four-year university.
Since that time, he said it has been extremely satisfying to see massive growth at the college. Over his time as a trustee, Gurwitz said he has watched the Rio Grande Valley transform from a region with unemployment rates higher than 20% in Hidalgo County and over 40% in Starr County, to a bustling destination for families and businesses in large part attributable to South Texas College’s impact on communities.
Mr. Gurwitz believes that if you talk to the head of any economic development council, any mayor, or any elected official, they will tell you that the single most important thing that has happened to our region in the last 28 years is South Texas College.
“Education is the foundation or catalyst or main ingredient to everything. You’re not going to improve your community as a whole without it. You have to have education to get any employment, but to educate our community we knew it had to be convenient (and) reasonably priced, but that wasn’t readily available back then,” said Gurwitz.
Gurwitz is particularly proud of the hiring of Shirley Reed and the establishment of the Dual Credit Programs, which has since grown to encompass 21 school districts and 70 high school partners across Hidalgo and Starr Counties.
As one of the largest Dual Credit Programs in the state and since its establishment in 1997, over 11,000 certificates and/or associate degrees have been awarded to more than 115,000 dual credit students saving families over $278 million in tuition and fees.
“I think one of the strongest benefits and assets we have had as board members has been having someone who has been there from day one, and who has been an exemplary example of governance, integrity and quite frankly just leadership as a whole,” said South Texas College Board of Trustees Chair Rose Benavidez. “He (Gurwitz) was able to bring his perspective on the accelerated growth and impact that was taking place so we could shape our policy moving forward. It has been extremely helpful to have someone who has been there, who had seen the beginning of the college and who could see its growth today and into the future.”