Dr. Rodolfo Rocha, interim dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at The University of Texas-Pan American, recently returned to UTPA after a semester-long internship at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos under the auspices of the prestigious American Council on Education Fellows Program.
"The purpose of the program is to train people to become tomorrow's leaders in the issues facing higher education," Dr. Rocha said. "We deal with critical issues, those issues that are on the cutting edge of education right now."
Dr. Rocha, who is the university's first ACE Fellow, is continuing his internship experiences at UT Pan American during the spring semester. While at SWT, he worked with Dr. Jerome Supple, SWT's president, and Dr. Robert Gratz, the vice president for academic affairs.
"My job was to observe and learn about the decision-making process, how the university runs at the level of the presidency and vice presidency," Dr. Rocha said. "I also worked with the other vice presidents, watching and learning how they run the university.
"Now that I am back here (UTPA), I am going to be mentoring under President (Miguel) Nevárez and (provost and vice president for academic affairs) Dr. (Rodolfo) Arévalo, doing the same thing, watching how they move the university forward."
While serving the internship, ACE Fellows develop a strategic plan or project for the host institution. While at SWT, Dr. Rocha worked with the president and Council of Deans to develop a model for academic program review, and he will be working on another complex project during his internship at UTPA.
In addition to the internship experiences at the two universities, Dr. Rocha also has participated in three week-long seminars at which the Fellows discussed the "critical issues of higher education."
"We worked on teaching and learning, faculty development, distance learning and technology resources," he said. "And of course, we discussed issues like diversity, decision-making and developing curriculum, especially graduate curriculum.
"Improving quality with diminishing resources, selecting and developing faculty for the 21st century, ensuring access, diversity and success for all students - these are the topics that we get immersed in as Fellows, because the outcome of the fellowship is (the expectation) that you will grow to become a high-level university administrator."
Launched in 1965, the ACE Fellows Program has provided professional development experiences for more than 1,200 men and women to gain the knowledge, skills and perspectives they need to assume significant leadership roles in higher education.
The American Council on Education is an association of some 1,800 colleges and universities, as well as national and regional associations. It promotes the improvement of higher education standards, policies, procedures and services.
About 35 ACE Fellows are selected each year. In addition to the week-long seminars and the structured internship experiences on a host campus to enhance their leadership skills, Fellows also are encouraged to visit other campuses to broaden their perspectives on leadership and management issues.
Dr. Rocha visited three institutions in Colorado - Colorado College, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and the University of Southern Colorado in Pueblo - last November.
"I observed how they did faculty development, and I visited with the presidents - they call them 'chancellors' there - and the vice presidents. We had a roundtable discussion on how they make decisions, and I actually sat in on the President's Council and watched how they operated," he said.
Another important part of the program is the network of past and current ACE Fellows, Dr. Rocha said.
"Our network is the 35 of us plus the other 1,000 ACE Fellows who have come before us," he said. "If I need assistance in a project or the making of a decision, I have a tremendous network of resource people I can call who are now presidents and vice presidents."
Dr. Rocha has nothing but praise for his ACE Fellowship, which began in August and continues through June.
"I should have done this 10 years ago," he said. "I learned to have a much broader perspective of what higher education is all about. I've been immersed in those issues that are impacting higher education that will move us into the new century. Part of this process is learning to become a better administrator - a more effective, efficient and humane administrator, because we deal a lot with the humanistic aspect.
"I have enhanced my administrative skill," he said. "They have trained us in how to make decisions, how to handle personnel problems, how to handle curriculum, how to manage conflict. One of the things that we are told to do is observe and learn. When I was in San Marcos, my job there was to observe and learn, and to listen to what was going on. We need those kinds of skills as administrators."
Dr. Rocha was named interim dean of the College of Arts and Humanities effective Jan. 1. Prior to his new appointment, he was chair of UTPA's Department of History and Philosophy for five years. He received his PhD in history from Texas Tech University and also holds BA and MA degrees in history from then-Pan American University.
He has been a full-time faculty member at UTPA since 1978, and has also taught history in the public schools, as a part-time instructor at Texas Tech and as a visiting professor at the Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León in Monterrey.
"I'm making a career change, from faculty to administration, and I'm doing that with tremendous passion," he said. "I am passionate about this change because I've learned there is so much to be done in higher education to move us towards the 21st century. I've got so many ideas on how to improve the quality of higher education, and by quality I mean everything, including student accessibility, student retention and faculty development."