Anticipation and hope were thicker than the humid air Friday morning as hundreds of Texas A&M University-San Antonio’s (A&M-SA) first freshman jaguars symbolized the university’s ambition to leave a bigger pawprint on the Southside and San Antonio in a one-mile march into the campus.

You could imagine the residence and lecture halls that would someday line the lush stretch from the Torre de Esperanza to the University Fountain as A&M-San Antonio builds toward its goal of expanding from approximately 5,000 students to 25,000 in 10 years.

“It’s pretty awesome,” incoming freshman Alyssa Perez, who plans to study business management this year, told the Rivard Report. “It’s great that we’re going to be the ones that get to look back on how the university has grown and get to see that we were there first.”

Texas A&M University – San Antonio’s (TAMU-SA)'s freshman share a laugh before starting the one-mile march. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.
Texas A&M University – San Antonio’s freshman share a laugh before starting the one-mile march. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.

Established as a stand-alone university in 2009, A&M-SA originally only served juniors, seniors, and graduate students. Making its mark this year as the first four-year university south of the city, the institution hopes to continue expanding its impact on a community long cut off from the opportunities of higher education both geographically and socioeconomically.

“It will transform the Southside and it will transform San Antonio like we’ve never seen before,” said State Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-19), who grew up three miles from the campus and whose legislative work has contributed to the $11 million used to support the university’s four-year program. “Just like you saw UTSA (do) on the Northside, you’re going to see that happen here.”

Preceding the march, Uresti shared his personal experience leaving the Southside for St. Mary’s University.

“There was no where else to go if you were a Southsider,” he said. “I think of all the other students that graduated with me that didn’t have that opportunity I had.”

According to A&M-San Antonio President Cynthia Teniente-Matson, the current freshman class of 513 – 74% of which come from Bexar County – exceeds the university’s targets, but it’s still just a starting point.

“These students will spur economic development in this area,” Teniente-Matson told the Rivard Report. “There will be new housing and all kinds of new services to support them,”

Defying stereotypical university demographics, A&M-San Antonio draws students from all across Texas and the nation, but proudly reflects its local population as well. Of the current student body, 67% identify as Hispanic and 74% identify as the first-generation in their families to attend college, according to the University website. The majority of its undergraduate students (61%) receive scholarships and 50% receive Federal Pell Grants.

Freshmen Sarah Vazquez and Destiny Casillas, who attended Hallandale and South San Antonio high schools, respectively, said A&M-San Antonio’s welcoming environment has made being the first college students in their families a source of empowerment.

“Everyone here is really helpful,” Vazquez said. “It just feels like a good way to start college. You’re not scared about it.”

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A&M-San Antonio is one of the fastest growing universities in the state. It currently offers 25 undergraduate and 11 graduate programs. The school is constructing its first residential building to open during the fall 2017 semester. While business and education are currently the university’s top degrees, it hopes to expand its offerings with the construction of a $63 million science and technology building over the next five years, Teniente-Matson said. You can see renderings of the university’s development plans here.

In 2014, A&M-San Antonio became one of four Texas universities – and the only in San Antonio – designated a Purple Heart University, with approximately 17% of its students identifying as part of the military population.

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To encourage greater post-secondary attainment for community college students, A&M-San Antonio also has partnered with Alamo Colleges in a program called TEAMSA, which streamlines credit transfers by allowing students to co-enroll in both institutions. Students who complete 30 credit hours toward associate’s degrees at an Alamo College can transfer these credits to A&M-San Antonio in full and forego certain developmental education requirements.

It’s all part of the school’s ambition to be a regional hub of growth.

“We’re creating opportunities that didn’t exist before, and it’s going to change families’ lives,” Uresti said. “If this were here when I graduated from high school, who knows what it would have done.”

Top image: Hundreds of Texas A&M University – San Antonio freshman walk towards campus as the school’s first freshman class.  Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.

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Daniel Kleifgen

Daniel Kleifgen graduated from Cornell University with a bachelor’s degree in English and philosophy. A native of Pittsburgh, Pa., he came to San Antonio in 2013 as a Teach For America corps member.