Do What You Love and Do it Well, Gill Tells Sul Ross Graduates, December 18, 2012

Sul Ross, Midland College Near Agreement For Law Enforcement Academy

                Sul Ross State University and Midland College are finalizing an agreement that will provide expanded opportunities for enrollment in the Sul Ross Law Enforcement Academy (LEA).

                A memorandum of understanding – in the final stages of the approval process – will enable qualified cadets to enroll in all three Sul Ross academies and receive financial aid as well as earn up to 12 semester credit hours in criminal justice through Midland College. “The agreement between Sul Ross and Midland College offers a number of advantages and should significantly increase enrollment,” said Lloyd Dragoo, Sul Ross LEA director. By enrolling through Midland College, financial aid is available to eligible cadets to cover the $1,900 tuition.

                “In addition, cadets who qualify can receive 12 credit hours in criminal justice through Midland College at no additional charge,” Dragoo said. “These hours are fully transferable toward a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at Sul Ross.”

                Sul Ross presently offers two day academies, from January-May and August-December, as well as a night academy at Fort Stockton. The night academy, which started Aug. 6, is offered Monday-Thursday evenings from 6 -10 p.m. and enrolls 11 cadets. Completion date is May 30, 2013.

                Applications are presently being accepted for the next Sul Ross LEA academy, which begins Jan. 7, 2013.

                “We are delighted with this most recent collaboration with Midland College to better serve our region,” said Dr. Quint Thurman, Sul Ross Provost and Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs.

                “Our institutions have developed an excellent partnership and we look forward to providing additional educational and professional opportunities through this collaboration.”

                For more information, contact Dragoo, (432) 837-8614 or


                Dr. Richardson Gill offered stepping stones of advice to assist graduates on their lifelong journeys.

                Gill, a noted author, archaeologist and entrepreneur, delivered the commencement address at Sul Ross State University-Alpine graduation ceremonies, held Saturday (Dec. 15) in the Pete P. Gallego Center. A total of 155 students were candidates for degrees.

                Gill, who holds six degrees from the University of Texas at Austin, said the only graduation ceremony he attended was his final one, “and it gave me such a sense of pride...I hope you feel that same sense of pride.”

Dr. Richardson Gill

Commencement speaker

Dr. Richardson Gill, noted author, archaeologist and former general manager of Cibolo Creek Ranch, delivered the commencement address during Sul Ross-Alpine graduation ceremonies. Commencement exercises were held Saturday (Dec. 15) in the Pete P. Gallego Center. (Photo by Steve Lang)



                 More importantly, he urged graduates to consider their future, because, despite recent doomsday claims, Dec. 21, 2012 does not signal the end of the world, at least not based on Maya prophecy.

                “Nowhere is there any sort of prophecy in the Maya calendar about the world coming to an end,” said Gill, regarded as an expert in Maya culture.

                “The bottom line of all this is, you all have a future.”

                While praising scholastic high achievers, Gill also addressed average or “C” students, saying “I am one of you.” He said that despite the grades earned by graduates through their college careers, studies have shown “there is no relationship between grades in school and success in life.

                “You’ve got the same shot at life; you all have the same chance,” he said. “My best advice is to do what you love. Doing what you love is incredibly important.”

                Gill said that economic and regulatory circumstances in the 1980s prompted him to leave his position as a bank officer to pursue his love of writing and learning.

                “I realized I loved academics, loved writing and (gaining) knowledge, and I’ve never looked back,” he said.

                He called happiness a journey, not a destination, adding, “it’s what we do along the way that makes us happy.” In addition to doing what one likes, he cited building personal relationships as the two most important factors of happiness.

                Gill recalled an incident that became a life lesson. At 13, he was kept after school for an infraction and assigned to clean the blackboard. As he haphazardly worked at his assigned task, the school principal walked past, observed Gill’s progress and said, “that’s not how you clean a blackboard.”

                The principal proceeded to complete the task thoroughly, and when finished, said, “that is how you clean a blackboard.”

                “The lesson I learned was, whatever you do in life, do it well,” Gill said.

                Calling commencement “a beginning of the next stage,” Gill recalled a conversation with famed author James Michener. Michener said that he believed the people that are most successful in life are those who are the best read. Gill urged the graduates to stay engaged in the process of lifelong learning.

                “Today is not the end of your education; it is the next phase of your education which I hope lasts a lifetime.”

                Finally, he encouraged graduates to give back to their alma mater.

                “Be a part of the ongoing life of this university,” he said. “Give back to Sul Ross; they have given a lot to you.”

                Gill, who formerly served as general manager of the Cibolo Creek Ranch near Marfa, has also forged an impressive academic career. He is the author of the groundbreaking book, The Great Maya Droughts: Water, Life, and Death (University of New Mexico, 2000). In this book, he developed the revolutionary theory that the collapse of Maya civilization was caused by devastating drought over which they had no control. The book was translated into Spanish and published by one of the most prestigious publishers in Mexico, the Fondo de Cultura Económica. He has authored numerous academic articles and book chapters.

                A one-hour documentary about Gill and his archaeological accomplishments, entitled Ancient Apocalypse: The Maya Collapse, was produced by the BBC and The Learning Channel. In January, he will begin filming another documentary about his work with The Weather Channel in Guatemala and Belize. 

                In March 2011, Gill presented the 23rd Mary Thomas Marshall University Lecture at Sul Ross, “The Great Maya Droughts: The Cause of the Collapse of Maya Civilization.” He was also the guest speaker at a recent lecture at Sul Ross State University, “The Maya Calendar and December 21, 2012.”


Sul Ross holds fall graduation

155 students were candidates for degrees at Sul Ross State University's fall commencement exercises. Ceremonies were held at the Pete P. Gallego Center Saturday (Dec. 13). Thomas Leyva, Alpine, receives congratulations from President Ricardo Maestas after receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice. (Photo by Steve Lang)



Papa Bear's banner

Erin Villanueva peeks from behind her banner as her dad, James, receives congratulations from Sul Ross President Dr. Ricardo Maestas. James Villanueva, El Paso, received a Master of Business Administration degree during fall commencement exercises Saturday (Dec. 15) at the Pete P. Gallego Center. (Photo by Steve Lang)





                Sul Ross State University will be closed Monday, Dec. 24-Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013 for the Christmas holiday.

                Offices will re-open and mid-winter session classes will begin at 8 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013.




Robbie Ray

Although Robbie Ray is ending a 22-year association with Sul Ross State University, she will remain rooted in Alpine.

Ray, a lecturer in Mathematics for the Academic Center for Excellence, retired at the conclusion of her teaching duties at the end of the 2012 Fall Semester. She has taught developmental math at Sul Ross since September 1994, after receiving her Bachelor of Science degree here. She received a Master of Education degree, also from Sul Ross, in 2001.

“I have loved knowing young people and working with them,” she said. “I spent a lot of time trying to make math accessible and a more universal subject for all students, and I think I had some success.”

During her teaching career, first with the Department of Computer Science and Mathematics and more recently with the Academic Center for Excellence, Ray also paired her subject matter with other areas, including athletics, Renaissance thinking and even chocolate.

“I also set out to acknowledge each student with unconditional, positive regard,” she said. “It was appropriate and possible.”

While at Sul Ross, she was also active in the Quality Enhancement Program (QEP) and received a Pilots of Engagement Award for her contributions.         

                She called Sul Ross “the most beautiful place to work,” and said she took advantage of the campus’ scenic vistas at every opportunity, including at least five hikes up Hancock Mountain to visit The Desk.

                Retirement plans include extensive activity. “I plan to go motorcycle riding, journal a lot, travel a little and in general, do things I’ve wanted to do but was too busy before.”

                Ray, a Fort Worth native, has maintained a daily journal since 1979 and her writing has filled 209 volumes. Beginning in January, she has planned various month-long activities as journal topics, ranging from reading to motorcycling to riding on Amtrak.

                She and her husband, Dan, a retired structural engineer, have lived in Alpine since 1986. Her sister, Stephanie Reatz, and mother, Joyce Johnson, live in Charleston, S.C.




                Sul Ross State University graduate student Masahiro Ohnishi presented a poster at the Association for Fire Ecology’s fifth International Fire Ecology and Management Congress, held Dec. 3-7 in Portland, Ore.

                Ohnishi, a graduate research assistant for the Borderlands Research Institute, presented Influence of fire on and succession of microbial communities after disturbance in the Chihuahuan Desert grasslands. His research addressed the Rock House Fire of April 2011 that burned through 90 percent of the Mimms Ranch and the west side of Marfa and continued to the Davis Mountains, more than 20 miles away.

                His research was conducted on the Mimms Ranch, owned by the Dixon Water Foundation, north of Marfa. Ohnishi collected data from nine sample sites. Research objectives were to analyze the microflora of the soil surface in burned, trampled and unburned areas; and to evaluate mechanisms of recovery and growth of the microflora and herbaceous plants of the soil surface in the Marfa Grasslands.

                The Association for Fire Ecology is an organization of professionals dedicated to improving the knowledge and use of fire in land management through science and education. AFE’s motto is “Promoting Fire Ecology Research, Education, and Management.

                The conference included numerous oral presentations from scientists, professionals and students from the U.S., Canada and abroad, as well as over 100 poster presentations.





by Robert Parvin, RGC Media Relations

                Presentations by Rio Grande College Counseling Program students on subjects ranging from the efficacy of traditional folk medicine practices to the socio/economic impacts of the Eagle Ford Shale boom captured the attention of participants at the annual Conference of the Texas Counseling Association in Galveston last month.

                Four RGC teams comprised of bachelor’s and graduate-level students unveiled their studies in Power Point programs at the three-day conference. More than 2200 professional counselors and graduate-level counseling students attended the mid-November meeting. 

                The RGC contingent was sponsored by Drs. Todd Russell and Monica Gutierrez.

                Afterwards, in a thank-you to his students, Dr. Russell cited their “amazing contributions to the profession of counseling, as well as heartfelt promotion of the RGC Counseling Program.”

                The RGC Counseling Program has gained a reputation as one of the state’s prominent counselor training programs because of its emphasis on working with Border region populations and its specialization of bilingual counseling and psychotherapy.

                Russell added: “Each of our four presentations was a significant and valuable contribution to our profession.” With their focus on timely Borderland social issues, Russell and Gutierrez plan to compile current and former research presentations into a formal publication for use by professionals in the region and beyond. Proceeds from book sales will go toward the Pete Carrillo Memorial Scholarship Endowment, honoring the name of a recently-deceased RGC counseling student.

                The good, bad and ugly effects of South Texas’ Eagle Ford oil shale boom on counseling and mental health were dissected by Russell and Gutierrez, along with advanced graduate students Sonia A. Flores of Eagle Pass, Melissa Cabralez of Uvalde, and Marilu Vargas of Del Rio.

                In their presentation, “Texas Boomtowns of the 21st Century: Impact of the Eagle Ford Shale on Counseling and Mental Health,” the researchers examined some 30 Texas counties along the 250-mile Eagle Ford Shale oil and gas production belt. Nearly $3 billion profits, 13,000 jobs, and some $48 million in local government revenues were tallied here in 2010, alone. But the RGC report also cites a concurrent rise in uncontrolled mental health problems associated with drug use, displacement, and long and dangerous work routines.

                Their study tells severe housing shortages and unaffordable rental costs that cause families to double and triple-up, leaving little personal space for parents and their youngsters. Families residing in travel trailers are considered transient and their children – now accounting for some 15 percent of current public school enrollments -- are classified as homeless. Additionally, “man camps,” that accommodate oil field workers, are attractors for prostitutes, drug dealers and alcohol abuse.

                Added to these problems, says the study, is the degradation of small town life, the deterioration of roadways and infrastructure, inflated prices, and steady decreases in school enrollment, as well as ordinary service jobs, to the allure of higher-paying oil field work.

                Counseling services are not among the growth professions in the region, say the RGC researchers. The Eagle Ford housing shortage is partly to blame, they offer. Many outside professionals willing to serve the area must commute from urban areas, and those who maintain practices in the oil belt are in “desperate need” because of strained capacities to serve clients with depression and other mental issues.

                Whether an afflicted person works in the oil patch or resides in a normal neighborhood, the social stigma of mental or physical health issues often keeps them from knocking at a counselor’s door.

To probe this touchy subject, the authors of the Eagle Ford study led a workshop focused on the needs for counseling the often sidelined gay and lesbian populations of South Texas.

Titled “Gay and Lesbian Life in the Mexican American Culture of South Texas: Implications for Counseling,” the presentation examined cultural intersections of the gay/lesbian communities in the Borderlands. The social and familial acceptance (or rejection) of sexual minorities related to “coming out,” and trying to carry out a normal life were addressed. The study cites the need for the church and educational institutions at all levels to teach equality, tolerance, justice and social support.

The stigmatization and related mental health issues suffered by gays and lesbians is not unlike the aspects of the trauma experienced by Hispanic youth in the Border region who follow paths leading to crime.

“Trauma-informed Counseling of At-Risk Hispanic Youth in the Border Region,” was presented at the Galveston conference by RGC Counseling Program alumni, Barbara McFadden of Kerrville, Mary Telisik of Eagle Pass, and Del Rio’s Janeshka Almaguer, Carolina Cardenas, and Jesus Garcia. Audiences at their presentation learned how easily Hispanic youth become disenfranchised by poverty and are pulled into Border drug smuggling, violent crimes, human trafficking, and substance abuse.

In exchange for “easy money, beliefs of minimal or no consequences, power and respect,” affected youth often find themselves in need of counseling for PTSD, severe depression, stress management, and emotional as well as cognitive restructuring, cites the report.

In a culture where trust in folk medicine still runs high, why shouldn’t professional counselors become more sensitive to the trust many Borderland Hispanics still have in the emotional and physical healing powers of so-called curanderos?

This question was explored during a three-hour workshop led by RGC Counseling students, Elia Guzman of Hondo and Gracie Torres of Eagle Pass in a presentation called, “Counseling and Curanderismo: A Curious Collaboration.”

Through their beliefs as instruments of God in achieving a balance between health, nature and religion, the many ancient and complex ministrations of Curanderos are all basically aimed at achieving the same results sought from professional counseling, say the researchers.

 The practitioner first attempts to learn about the patient and create an atmosphere, or ambiance, for a curing process – the consultation.

Next, the RGC report describes that in both scientific and non-scientific processes, there is the process of “opening of the heart and soul – the whole being of the patient,” which leads to guidance and cure.

                The study polled 173 college and university students Del Rio and Brownsville. One-third of the students reported curanderisimo participation and belief in faith healing. Twice as many held trust in herbal remedies.

Yet, among the 53 mental health professionals polled in the study region, the majority reflected insensitivity to “culture-bound syndromes and folk medicine practices of their Mexican-American clients.”

                “There may be times when it is professionally okay to refer a Mexican-American mental health client to a folk practitioner, integrating practices,” suggests the report.