Students and administrators at The University of Texas-Pan American vowed to work together to promote student engagement on campus during the inaugural State of the Student Body Address Sept. 22.
More than 100 students attended the event coordinated by the Student Government Association (SGA), which was held to brief the student body about aspirations for the semester and issues of importance for the SGA.
SGA President Edward Adrian Sandoval, a senior political science and philosophy major, said the first-time event had a twofold purpose.
Sandoval said the event was also meant to serve as a kick off for a new approach of proactively seeking student feedback on issues the SGA will be addressing.
"The goal of SGA this year is to contribute to a positive support structure, not only for the students but for the University leadership. We are all working toward a common goal of helping transform UTPA into an even greater institution," Sandoval said. "SGA promises to do our part on campus. We will not be driven by our ideologies, but by the voice of the students."
Sandoval emphasized the importance of attending town hall meetings - which allow students to be more actively involved on campus. Another goal is to place a student assembly in each college, so students have more access to the decision-making processes.
SGA recommendations include expanding the current shuttle system to increase access for students, ensuring operation of proper campus lighting, enhancing recycling initiatives on campus, increasing parking availability and expanding dining options on the east side of campus, among others.
"Students are usually seen as the proverbial adversary to the administration. That needs to stop," he said. "We are not the enemy of the administration. We are not the antagonist. We are a partner in creating a better institution."
UTPA President Dr. Blandina Cárdenas, who described Sandoval's address as "extraordinary, substantive, disciplined and conscientious," encouraged students to become actively involved on campus and trust that their voices are being heard.
"We need to build our own traditions and rituals and I commend the student government association for creating this new tradition of the State of the Student Body Address at the beginning of each academic year," Cárdenas said.
The administration and the student body are in the process of coming to trust that engagement on important issues will lead to a better product, she said.
"We are coming to trust that the voices of students will not only be heard, but listened to and that those voices will be constructive and inspiring," Cárdenas said.
She said students at UT Pan American have the ability to perform at the same level and even surpass that of students of prestigious universities she has visited.
"They don't hold a candle to you. You are just as smart, your values are extraordinary, your manners are better and your interpersonal skills are extraordinary," she said.
Cárdenas said particularly UTPA students possess the "ganas" - or work ethic that allows them to compete and be successful at the national level.
"It takes that same work ethic to build a vibrant university that can achieve not only academic growth and development, but growth and development as total human beings who take responsibility for the world around you, who challenge yourself to learn more, to create, to inquire and invent better ways of doing things," she said.
Cárdenas challenged students to become engaged on campus and in the community, even though they may have limited free time because they commute to campus or have to work.
"Give yourself that moment of engagement. Give yourself the joy of going to a basketball or volleyball game. It is so much fun," she said. "There are a broad range of experiences at UTPA that can enrich your lives and enrich your mind. A University should give you the criteria to choose what you will put in that mind and into that spirit."
Cárdenas said 18 percent of entering freshmen this semester were in the top 10 percent of their graduating class and the number of valedictorians and salutatorians who enrolled at UTPA also increased significantly.
"UTPA is not the University of last resort, but becoming the University of first choice among the strongest students," she said. "It's becoming the University of first choice, because of what the student body does. You are raising the prestige and the attraction of this University."
Sandoval said it was crucial that the president be present at the address, so students can know that those in leadership positions are listening to their recommendations.
"This is why it is imperative the president attend, not only to show that the administration is dedicated to addressing the issues the students find important, but to show that the administration is eager to have feedback from the students and are ready to formulate timely responses to our concerns," he said.