UTPA welcomes course in the event industry

Canon’s “Wedding March” plays throughout the church and UTPA students watch from a distance as the crowd stands to welcome the bride.

Fifteen students helped plan a dream wedding last fall for Cassandra and Nick Reyes. They got excellent experience on the job and completed UTPA’s Certificate in Wedding and Event Planning Course which is offered by the Office of Continuing Education. The class is instructed by Leticia Guerra-Cantu, an event planner of 20 years.

The course is scheduled to have its second incoming class, which will be held every Saturday from March 22-May 31 from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. at UTPA’s McAllen Teaching Site with a registration fee of $1,300 per student. The program is taught through readings, online studies and hands-on activities provided by Cantu.

The curriculum for the class is offered by Preston Bailey’s Signature Wedding and Event Design Course, which is supported by the Lovegevity Wedding Planning Institute in Roseville, Calif.

The class allows students to practice actual business objectives in seeing the average workday of an event planner, and students learn such things as how to interview clients, according to the UTPA Continuing Education website. The certificate not only allows students to plan weddings, but also other types of events such as private parties.

Bailey’s design curriculum is currently available in similar classes at 2,000 colleges across the country including UTPA, according to The Wedding Planning Institute website. Others are the University of Texas at Arlington, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and the City College of San Francisco.

Despite the fact that the Bailey owns the curriculum, each university that offers the program is responsible for providing its own title for the class, hence UTPA’s Certificate in Wedding and Event Planning Course.

Cantu, an event-planning professor at UTPA, believes the course is a great way to professionalize the industry in the local area.

“The event planning business is big in the Valley. (The Valley) does things big, (The Valley) does beautiful weddings,” Cantu said. “With this course, I have students out there excited to know that they can do this and have the possibility of doing this because they love it.”


Cantu, 54, has been around fashion her whole life, starting in the early ‘60s when she, her sisters and cousins would sit around her dining room table late into the night watching her mother and aunt sew everything from dresses to swim suits. Cantu picked up the needle at the age of 10 and started designing in high school.

“I took home economics every year in high school and perfected my sewing skills,” the California native said. “I just didn’t know any other field to get into but (fashion). I love it.”

She is also the owner and director of The Valley Wedding Pages, a McAllen company that does an annual planning guide, a social event quarterly magazine, and an online website. She also owns Poise-N-Ivy Designs and her newest boutique, Vintage On Main, both located in McAllen.

Cantu’s passion for the industry is shared by the first class of graduates as well.

UTPA alumna Mariella Gorena grew up watching her mother volunteer through community service and fundraising. As Gorena reached adulthood, she found herself involved with organizations such as McAllen’s International Museum of Art in Science and the Museum of South Texas History.

As a volunteer for McAllen’s Quinta Mazatlan, the 64-year-old discovered the planning class as she helped organize The Valley Wedding Page’s 10-year anniversary Birds of Paradise gala.

Gorena explained that the course offered her a way to polish her skills and enhance her work as a volunteer. She said that the class finished in December, and she was certified as an event planner Feb. 17, 2014.

“Right now, I’d like to do an internship to learn more,” the McAllen native said. “But one of these days, I would like to drive into a little (event planning) business…I just love the people and believe that life is a party.”

Gorena’s classmate Debbie Jimenez explained that she was no stranger to event planning prior to taking the class. As a pastor’s wife, she has done weddings, quinceañeras, and even planned her own wedding.

“It was always a dream of mine to go to school and get certified as an event planner,” the Mission native said. “When I heard about UTPA offering the course, I knew it was going to be my opportunity to have one of my dreams come true.”

The 46-year-old was first inspired to become an event planner at the age of 14 after staying up until 2 a.m. to watch Princess Diana’s wedding July 29, 1981.

“Since then, the desire for wedding planning began to be my heart’s desire,” she said. “By watching (Princess Diana’s) wedding, it made me realize that I could help many young girls make their wedding (day) one of a kind.”

According to Sound Vision, a non-profit organization, 2.3 million couples wed every year in the U.S., which breaks down to about 6,200 weddings a day. Their research suggests that nearly $72 billion is spent on weddings annually.


Now that the first class of 15 event planners have graduated from the course, they continue to do what they love and will help Cantu organize their first event as certified event planners, to be March 6.

Cantu explained that The Valley Wedding Pages will host the Diamonds in the Sky wedding showcase in McAllen, with many first year graduates to help her organize. She hopes the course will continue to grow and one day become a replacement for jobs for future students.

Cantu believes that by teaching students the ropes of event planning, she has allowed them to gain confidence when it comes to organizing events.

“From starting my design business to (teaching), it’s because of a huge desire because I know that there’s a lot of young students out there who are truly interested,” she said. “I tell my children ‘Do what you love, because you have to. Love what you do and make it happen.’”