Category: Finance

OPINION: Internships, more hurt by COVID-19

OPINION: Internships, more hurt by COVID-19

By Tomas Cruz
Bridge Marketing Director
Published Monday, May 11, 2020

The Spring 2020 semester rapidly became one of the toughest semesters for many students’ academic journey at TAMIU. The coronavirus pandemic impacted not only our university, but the rest of the world.

As a Texas A&M International University senior, I faced many bumps on the road to finish my degree. This spring semester I was interning at a marketing/advertising agency for my COMM 4350 Internship course.

Due to the COVID-19 shutdown, many interns faced issues with internship locations closing and not being able to complete their hours. While some of us were able to work remotely, many others were unfortunately not able to return to their internship because numerous businesses temporarily closed. This prevented students from trying to put their academic skills into the work environment face-to-face and frightened those of us seniors looking at the job market after graduation. 

As a former student employee of the A.R. Sanchez School of Business Dean’s office, it was unfortunate I was not able to physically be there at work my last days. I would like to recognize the entire college for allowing me to work all four years of my academic journey, everyone was very nice and helpful to one another. I would also like to recognize the Center for the Study of Western Hemispheric Trade for allowing me to photograph their speaker series events and conferences.

Like many employees once the lock-down began, I had to work remotely from home and finish all my tasks from work, school and my internship. Even The Bridge student newspaper transitioned into more of an online publication. While it was a new and difficult situation for many, we are finally here at the end of the semester. I can officially say I received my bachelor’s degree in communication with a minor in marketing. Although, it does not feel like it yet. Sadly, every graduate was supposed to walk across the stage this May, but commencement was postponed until August.

The cancellation of everything saddens most individuals. Commencement, internships, jobs, traveling and more, suffered cancellations due to this pandemic. However, life must go on and everyone should think positive. Many people’s lives are at risk right now and the best we can do is be glad we are alive and remain safe. Although we weren’t able to walk the stage this May, we will hopefully walk in August. For now, my only wish is for all TAMIU and everyone in this world to get through these tough times taking precautions and staying safe. 

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Spring graduation falls shy of fall semester

Spring graduation falls shy of fall semester

By David Gomez Jr.
Editor-in-chief
Published Monday, May 11, 2020 

This spring’s graduation occurs at the beginning of the fall semester on Thursday, Aug. 13, at the Sames Auto Arena, due to the pandemic.

On April 17, Texas A&M International University President Pablo Arenaz, appeared in a video in full regalia, in front of the Center for the Fine and Performing Arts organ, speaking to the 50th graduating class in TAMIU history. He said the graduation ceremony, along with summer commencement exercises, would be postponed until mid-August before the start of the fall semester because of the coronavirus pandemic affecting day-to-day routines.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on life as we know it,” Arenaz told viewers of the video. “… The senior class of 2020, you have seen your last semester delivered online, and the traditions and celebrations that have always framed the senior year experience either canceled or postponed.”

Soon after saying so, Arenaz offered some good news that the postponed ceremony would still be held at the Sames Auto Arena, as so for the past four years.

“For we are TAMIU together, always,” Arenaz added.

Then around May 7, Arenaz spoke again in another video. This time in a full suit and tie, inside the Great Hall on the third floor of the Sue & Radcliffe Killam Library.

He brought up again the bittersweetness of graduation from the presentation of the flags representing various students’ countries, the student respondent speech’s heartfelt words and the roaring cannons of confetti that spray on the graduates.

Though, his new message was directly to the point–conferring of the students’ degrees.

“So by the authority vested in me, by the Chancellor, and by the Board of Regents of the Texas A&M University System, acting under the enabling legislation establishing this University, I hereby confer upon each of you the degree to which you are entitled with all its rights, privileges and responsibilities,” Arenaz said, concluding with “Congratulations!”

Arenaz then went on to say, “You have a bright future ahead of you. You have been prepared by outstanding faculty to enter the workforce, graduate or professional school …”

This message of good will was sent to all of the graduating class of 2020, but when unemployment currently resides at more than 20 percent due to the pandemic, Arenaz’s message falls on the fearful ears of job seekers.

“It … sucks,” former editor-in-chief of The Bridge and fall 2019 TAMIU graduate Matthew Balderas said about the current job market.

“I had one official job offer from a TV company and made it to second-round interviews with the Houston Astros and had just secured an interview with the Houston Dynamo right before they decided to suspend the sports season,” Balderas said.

“Unfortunately, the job offer and interviews fell through but I’m hoping once this is all over, I can backpack up where I left off, if at all possible.”

For some, Arenaz’s message of “graduate or professional school” might feel like a safer route.

“For now, I have entered into a master’s program with TAMIU for my MBA [with a] concentration of international business for the upcoming Fall 2020 semester,” Balderas said.

As of now, with businesses opening throughout Texas, and across the nation, no one knows what summer has in store.

“Our commitment on this is clear, but I must caution that we will not proceed should public health conditions force us to revisit the plan,” Arenaz said, regarding the rescheduled commencement.

“Class of 2020, I look forward to handing you your diplomas.”

For the latest updates, visit the dedicated commencement website at www.tamiu.edu/commencment/

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$4.75 million TAMIU CARES Program grants emergency funds to students

$4.75 million TAMIU CARES Program grants emergency funds to students

By Jessica Rodriguez
Director of Photography
Published Monday, May 4, 2020

On April 24, TAMIU announced it will give emergency grants to students thanks to the TAMIU CARES Program. These funds could begin disbursing to applicants as early as May 8.

As one of the many universities which received this emergency grant from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act approved by the Department of Education, Texas A&M International University was awarded $9 million. This amount was based on the number of students enrolled who qualify for the Pell Grant and those who do not. According to the CARES Act, the money would be split in half so $4.75 million will go to the university and the other half provided to students in the form of grants, refunds, loan forgiveness or campus-based waivers.

TAMIU President Pablo Arenaz said this emergency aid would help students directly affected by COVID-19.

“Thousands of TAMIU students and their families have been impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” Arenaz began in an email sent to students, faculty and staff. “ Some students may even be questioning their ability to continue their degree dream. The availability of this assistance will be a welcome relief and we are thankful to our congressional delegation for their leadership on this.”

Those interested may look up additional information at https://www.tamiu.edu/cares/.

Jessica Rodriguez | Bridge Photo Illustration
A TAMIU student reviews the TAMIU CARES Emergency Funds website for the spring semester.

Because of this aid, the University set up the TAMIU CARES Emergency Fund. The money would go directly into the form of emergency grants distributed during the spring, summer and fall semesters for 2020. In order to access these grants, students must apply through an online application. TAMIU requested students apply through this application with supporting documentation of unforeseen hardships due to COVID-19, which include: food insecurity, urgent medical expenses, utility bills, school expenses, and on-campus and off-campus housing. Other requirements may apply.

In addition, students must have a FAFSA file with TAMIU or be eligible for Title IV student assistance.  TAMIU Finance Director Laura Elizondo said TAMIU has 5,760 students who currently meet Title IV eligibility and can qualify for this grant. However, some students have not started or completed their FAFSA, so that number might increase or change. As of last week, about 1,478 students applied but numbers continue to increase.

Elizondo said she and the committee in charge of the TAMIU CARES Program are looking closely at the applications and said all details are important in determining whether a student is eligible for the grant. She said some applications show students focused on their needs for the spring semester, while others did not.

“There’s a lot of students who are submitting, ‘I need help in the summer for tuition,, well this is not the summer right now,” she said. “Anybody who’s submitting right now for applications for summer or next fall they will close up the application and let the students know at this time we’re not processing summer applications. You need to wait and come back and apply later in May. Right now, we have to concentrate and pay out our spring needs.”

She said they are focusing on students who expressed urgent need of funds.

“If you do not own a computer and now you have to work from home and you use a credit card to purchase a computer, that’s a perfect item that we can help reimburse you for,” Elizondo said. “If you do not have internet at home and now you have to add it, that is a perfect item that we can help you pay for. So some students are giving us a lot of [information] while others are not saying much.”

Jessica Rodriguez | Bridge Photo Illustration
A TAMIU student reviews the TAMIU CARES Emergency Funds website for the spring semester.

Moreover, she said if a student does not submit enough documentation for a claim, the committee will contact that student with an email or mobile phone number on file and allow them 48 hours to resubmit any photos of bills or proof to tamiucares@tamiu.edu and someone there will upload the documents for them onto their application.

Elizondo said the first round of funds will go out at the end of the week, possibly May 8 and onward.

For those who do not receive any money for the spring semester, they can still apply for the summer and fall if they are enrolled for classes. The summer application opens up on May 18 and August 17 for fall. Elizondo said summer applications will process through the end of May, June, July and even August because of the different summer sessions students might be enrolled.

She also said it is extremely important for students to apply because this money goes directly to them.

“Students don’t have to confirm what they use [the money] for,” Elizondo said. “If the student said they need it because x,y, z and then they get the money and something else happens and they need it for something else, that is their prerogative. They decide. They don’t have to come back and give us any type of proof of what they used it for.”

A BankMobile account is recommended in order to receive the funds. She encourages people to be patient and know that the University is doing everything it can to help the students during this time.

In addition, students can still apply for other grants like the Student Emergency Grant, the Texas A&M University System Emergency Regent’s Grant and the Lamar Bruni Vergara Emergency Fund—all with their own eligibility requirements.

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Stimulus package falls short for many college students

Stimulus package falls short for many college students

By Alejandro Hernandez
Bridge Staff Writer
and
By Jessica Rodriguez
Director of Photography
Published Monday, May 4, 2020

On March 26, Congress passed a $2 trillion stimulus bill in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The CARES Act bill secured $1,200 for U.S. citizens ages 18 and older and $500 for every dependent child 16 years and younger as a stimulus payment in April.

While some received their checks through direct deposit, a large population still awaits theirs. Many college students became disappointed to find out they would not receive financial assistance through the stimulus. The bill did not guarantee a payment made for those claimed as a dependent on a federal tax return; this includes a significant number of college students. Even if these students are financially independent of their parents and filed their own taxes, their parents could still claim them.

According to the U.S. Department of Treasury, “The CARES Act provides for Economic Impact Payments to American households of up to $1,200 per adult for individuals whose income was less than $99,000 ( or $198,000 for joint filers) and $500 per child under 17 years old–or up to $3,400 for a family of four.” Thus, these young adults are left out: they are too old for the parents who claimed them to receive $500 for the claimed dependent and since they were claimed as a dependent, they do not qualify for the $1,200 stimulus payment.

Some of these young college students are part of the most disadvantaged populations in the country. Riled with student debt and college fees, many struggle to live on a weekly basis. A large percentage of college students work in service industry jobs, an industry hit hard by recent events, which led to many layoffs.

Sergio Martinez, double major in political science and history, said he was not eligible for the stimulus package since he is a permanent resident, a non-citizen with a Green Card or visa.

“I, unfortunately, was not eligible for the stimulus,” Martinez said. “Personally, my family was hit by [COVID-19] as one of my parents was furloughed and well, bills keep stacking up.”

He said although he was ineligible for the stimulus package, he plans to apply for the TAMIU CARES Grant, which is $9 million provided by the U.S. Department of Education to TAMIU. Half of those funds are earmarked to help students who suffered economic hardships due to COVID-19.

 “I do plan on applying for the CARES Grant,” he said. “I hope to take online classes and the money would come in handy for small repairs at home and to pay the summer tuition. Should I get the grant, I would definitely use it to ‘fix some holes’ around the house, not fall behind on rent and reinvest it for summer classes.”

On the other hand, some TAMIU students received the stimulus check, but many believe a one-time payment is not enough to carry them throughout the summer. Many students have overdue bills to pay or family members to take care of.

Psychology major Javier Lopez said he was able to file as an independent and got the stimulus check after moving out of his parent’s house. Still, he plans to apply for the TAMIU grant.

“I am the only person that is working from my family, so everyone relies on me currently for bills and basic needs,” Lopez said. “I plan on [applying], but the grant asks for past due bills. I luckily am not in that situation, but I could definitely use the help because I have been managing by a thread.”

He continued, saying TAMIU should focus on the well being of students at this time. He explains that many students, such as himself, have taken on more hours at work to help their family members who lost their jobs. Now, more than ever, money is heavy on students’ minds.

“Depending on how everything turns out, if necessary, I am willing to take a semester off to financially stabilize myself,” Lopex said.

Currently, a bill introduced by Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, and Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., known as the Emergency Money for The People Act might help those left out by the stimulus bill. It aims to give a supplemental $2,000 payment for at least six months to ensure financial stability to all U.S citizens ages 16 and up and $500 for each child, to a maximum of three. The new bill would provide payments to college students and adults with disabilities, even if claimed as a dependent. However, as the White House moves to reopen the country, chances of a new stimulus bill for the public could remain low.

A new stimulus package could mean the public would not have to return to work to pay expenses. Furthermore, supplementing state and local governments would also allow cities to extend lock-down periods, keeping businesses closed and people at home. To be sure, there is no evidence yet to support what additional lock-down time could do to the U.S. economy. As business continues to decline, so does the tax revenue from which these stimulus payments are funded.

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BUSINESSES & VIRUSES: Local business owners adjust to trying times – Part 1

BUSINESSES & VIRUSES: Local business owners adjust to trying times

Laredo funeral home follows ordinances

By David Gomez Jr.
Editor-in-chief
Published Monday, April 27, 2020

[Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories on local businesses and how they are coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.]

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause disruption for most local businesses, which are  adjusting to the times and new ordinances.

Fred Dickey Funeral & Cremation Services made adjustments to observe the nation’s quarantine and city ordinances to further prevent the spread of coronavirus at public events. This Laredo business operated under different names, and management, since the 19th century.

Bridge | Jessica Rodriguez
Fred Dickey Funeral & Cremation Services on April 19.

Vice President of funeral and cremation services, and second-generation Funeral Director Fred Dickey III knew it was only a matter of time before it would affect his business in a different way.

At funerals, mourners tend to be affectionate with one another to comfort each other in a time of sorrow. This means handshakes, hugs and kisses on the cheek are prohibited. At least in the meantime. Social distancing, the act of keeping a relatively safe distance of 6 feet or more, is enforced inside the funeral home and parlor.

“You can’t quarantine love,” Dickey said.

“To protect ourselves, and the community, we plan the arrangements with one family member or two, but no more than that,” he said. “We also provide 2 gallons of sanitizer, wear masks and follow further ordinances when they are made known.”

Currently, none of his staff tested positive for the virus or showed symptoms of being infected with the disease, he said.

“Thank God, nobody in our staff has contracted or [gotten] sick [with] COVID,” Dickey said, “and It’s not beneath us to keep people as safe as possible.”

That does not include the sanitizing stations at the entrance of the chapel, which serve like holy water in a Catholic church. They thoroughly clean every pew, toilet seat, sink, doorknob and break room.

Of course, as with many businesses, there are a select few who can enter an establishment. This holds true to funeral homes as well. They only allow immediate family members.

“There is no guest book for 10 people or less,” Dickey said. “Service, or public viewings, can be arranged at a later date if they would like and have burial or cremation now. Some people are traditional.”

For now, under the obituary section on the Dickey website, the funeral service can be seen through a live stream, or private server If the family prefers.

“[In northern areas,] I’ve seen jumbo-trons outside and that was something we didn’t want,” he said. “To have a large gathering outside the funeral home defeats the purpose of social distancing.”

Employees use usher ropes to further enforce social distancing in the parlor.  That includes the departed as well, as there is a barrier between the casket and the family.

“We treat every case as if it were a COVID case,” Dickey said.

“We want to offer the community that they will be safe at our establishment,” he added.

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BUSINESSES & VIRUSES: Local business owners adjust to trying times – Part 2

BUSINESSES & VIRUSES: Local business owners adjust to trying times

Korean BBQ keeps same tastes

By David Gomez Jr.
Editor-in-chief
Published Monday, April 27, 2020

[Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of stories on local businesses and how they are coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.]

Korean BBQ continues to serve Laredo one meal at a time, despite the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on its business.

Owner Carrie Park started the business at the Shiloh location under the name BBQ Park, but since then changed the name to Korean BBQ to avoid confusing potential customers. The restaurant currently sits on Del Mar Boulevard, not far from Alexander High School. The change added new customers, including those from nearby Texas A&M International University.

Bridge | Jessica Rodriguez
Korean BBQ is located on East Del Mar Boulevard, not far from TAMIU.

Suddenly, as spring commenced in late March, the U.S. went into self-quarantine and this caused confusion upfront for many. Businesses, especially restaurants, were tackled with the task to remain open, if possible, and feed a hungry nation.

Park said they were ill prepared, but failure was not an option for her.

“Everything seems frozen,” Park said in an email to The Bridge. “The government allows us to serve our food with only take-out options and we have to operate our business with minimal staff.”

This turn of events put a damper on her business, especially in terms of attracting new customers.

“Not only is our staff minimal, but our profit is diminished,” Park added.

As of late April, the staff did not change the menu and the food is prepared the same as before the city ordinances. If anything, they added to it.

“[We’ve] added a meal box that comes with steamed white rice, choice of meat and three side dishes,” Park said in the email. “Something simple, but good enough to cover a full nutritious meal.”

She would like to keep the menu as is, for now, for the sake of her regular customers.

“We will continue to serve a freshly prepared menu, as usual, and we are also trying to introduce some new dishes for the future,” Park emailed.

Korean BBQ’s business hangs in the balance for now, but the owner knows they are not the only ones feeling the pressure of possibly losing a restaurant.

“Not only us, but everyone is having a hard time because of the pandemic,” Park emailed. “We hope everyone will get through it and will get back to our normal life soon.”

For the time being, Korean BBQ remains open for hungry customers willing to give their taste buds a change of pace.

Park emailed, “We appreciate all of our customers who have always supported and continue to encourage us.”

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Chasing ‘black gold’

Chasing ‘black gold’

By Tiffani De La O
Bridge contributing writer
Published Monday, April 27, 2020

Three hours North of Laredo lies one of many oilfield drilling rigs. These rigs run around the clock without any means of stopping, which makes this profession one of the most demanding in the world. 

Working in the oilfields backtracks to 1859 when the first American oil well was discovered. OPEC started up in 1960 in order to coordinate and create a union between 14 of its members, all foreign countries—the U.S. not among them.

Under the guidelines of that organization, crude oil is being drilled every day, worldwide, to produce energy, gasoline and other resources used on a daily basis. Each barrel, which contains about 40 gallons of crude oil, makes 19 gallons of gasoline. The workforce, which contributes to this organization, comes from drilling companies with crew members who are from different backgrounds and ethnicities.

For Gustavo Chavez, 23, of Laredo, it was one of his dreams to be able to have the chance and experience life in the oilfields. After having a rough childhood, which ranged from poverty to displacement, he decided to get up and make his life better even if it meant being far from home. That is when he became a floor hand for Helmrich & Payne.

“Just like any person, you work at a different job and there is word of mouth that better jobs are out there which pay $2,000 a week,” Chavez said about his motivations. “That is when I decided I have to give it a try because I wanted to better my life and start making good money.”

Ryan Flores pursued a welding career in Oklahoma City before coming to Laredo.

“[It’s] always hard work for everyone, day in and day out, with busted hands and feet,” Flores said of working in the Laredo fields. 

A typical day in the oilfields is nothing less than hot, it gets even worse during the summer. Texas heat will have one of these workers dehydrating and sweating their pores out. Shifts range from 12 to 16 hours, sometimes with no days off for weeks. On workdays, shifts begin with a safety meeting to update the crew on what happens with the rig and about ongoing operations. 

“The meeting is a safety measure to prevent any accidents or to learn about the dangers going through the operations such as drilling, tripping in or out the hole, and other crucial things,” Chavez said. “My primary job as a floor hand is cleaning, maintaining, organizing and being that extra hand the crew might need. It’s like being a custodian for the rigs.”

Flores, on the other hand, would be pre-inspecting equipment to be used and welding metals for the rig with equipment such as grinders, torches, bevel machines and more. “It is usually done way before a rig moves in,” Flores said of the welding process. “It is the main stage for frac welding, or even after in case a pipe has a leak or has been broken.”

Those who work in the fields admit how difficult the work can be.

“Being out on a location is tough but we create a bond through our work ethic,” Chavez said. “You see different kinds of people but there’s people that won’t put out or don’t last their full hitch.”

In fact, the work is so intensive they rarely find time to joke or relax.

“[There’s] not much horsing around,” Flores said. “You have to be alert for anything serious such as [hydrogen sulfide] gas or any explosion on live gas.”

Just like most jobs, some overachieve and others remain satisfied with the work they do—they don’t go the extra mile.

“Not everyone’s work ethic is the same,” he said.

The oilfield lifestyle is not for most, it is a demanding job that puts stress on the crew members who are working far from home. This can also affect life back at home because this career does not allow workers to get up and go home whenever they would like. The people working at Rig 626 have living quarters fully equipped with working stoves, fridges, restrooms and other appliances, but it is not as comfortable as one’s own bed.

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Level up at LVL 2 Gaming

Level up at LVL 2 Gaming

By Ruben Reyes
Bridge contributing writer
Published Monday, April 13, 2020

LVL 2 Gaming offers experiences in trading cards, video games and more for its customers. The store features numerous tournaments and events.

From all kinds of video games, LVL 2 Gaming capitalizes on Laredo’s competitive gaming culture.

Regular patron Gregorio Resendez said LVL 2 Gaming gave him the opportunity to interact with more people and gain new hobby experiences.

“I didn’t live near any gaming stores, so my friends and I wouldn’t really have spots to hang outside of school,” Resendez said. 

Esports currently make considerable profit. LVL 2 Gaming hopes to keep improving the quality of entertainment and competition for its customers. The business hosts weekly tournaments for “Super Smash Bros.” and “Dragon Ball Z: Fighters” with small prize pools added as an incentive for players to join. It sparked an interest in tabletop gaming as well; Dungeons & Dragons sessions are held weekly at the store.

Co-owner Jesus Moreno said opening the business meant a lot to him.

“It was hard at first, but this was always a dream of mine as a kid,” Moreno said. “I used to walk into game shops at the mall and wished that one day I’d have a business of my own. I dedicated my adult life to business and my dream finally came true.”

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TAMIU Eyes Tuition Hike

By Selena Infante

 

For many students, college is not only a necessity but also a luxury, one which many are not able to afford. Universities across the country have been criticized for increasing tuition prices and Texas A&M International University is no exception. Current talks on increasing tuition for the 2017-2018 cycle have created controversy among students.

Continue reading “TAMIU Eyes Tuition Hike”

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