With classes set to start Monday, Aug. 31 for the fall semester at The University of Texas-Pan American, Interim President Charles A. Sorber rallied the staff and faculty at the annual Fall Convocation in preparation for the upcoming school year.
Convocation, held Friday, Aug. 28 at the Fine Arts Auditorium and beamed out via the World Wide Web, offered Sorber the opportunity to share the institutions upcoming plans and share his message of "Maintaining the Momentum" for the new fiscal year. In addition, he reflected on the events and distinctions of the past year.
"We have been very busy maintaining the momentum of this institution and we are on the right track. We are making some improvements and are becoming more efficient along the way. Simply put, we are moving forward," Sorber said.
Sorber started off by congratulating students, faculty and staff for all their accomplishments over the past year, including faculty promotions and awards, student achievements, new hires, and the University's 32nd ranking as one of the country's Best Public Colleges in Forbes recently published "America's Best Colleges 2009" publication. Also mentioned was UTPA's major milestone celebrated during summer commencement with the awarding of its 50,000th bachelor's degree.
"It has been all about the accomplishments of our students, faculty and staff over this past year," he said.
A highlight of Convocation, the first gathering of the academic year for faculty and staff, was the unveiling of the newly renovated UTPA home page, which went live in the morning hours of the day. The Web Advisory Group, comprised of 10 members from various departments on campus, had been working for the last five months to research and implement the new design for the UTPA Web site, which underwent its last facelift three years ago.
"Beginning today the UTPA Web site is going live with a whole new look. ... The committee has come up with a new reader-friendly, innovative site that some say has a cool factor that college students are looking for," Sorber said.
In addition, Sorber introduced UTPA's newest department, the Office of Marketing and Creative Services, under the Division of University Advancement, which will concentrate on strategic communications and marketing plans, media planning and buying, market research, and the production of communication pieces for the entire campus. The new office will be under the direction of Dr. Kimberly Selber, associate professor in the Department of Communication.
"The Office of Marketing and Creative Services will offer comprehensive integrated communications throughout the University in a turn-key operation, including strategic communications and marketing planning," he said.
Another new office revealed during Convocation was the Veterans Services Center, which is expected to officially open in early September. The goal of the center, which is temporarily housed out of the University Center, is to provide veterans with assistance on how to apply, enroll, succeed and graduate at UTPA.
"We have created a one-stop shop for veterans in response to the expected influx of new veteran graduate students and the new post-9/11 GI Bill. ... We created the service center to help them understand what their opportunities are and how they can take advantage of that bill," Sorber said.
Sorber also displayed a rendering of the new and permanent Starr County Upper-Level Center in Rio Grande City that will be ready for students and faculty in the summer of 2010. The current temporary facility offers an average 35 courses a year and services more than 1,000 students. Sorber also mentioned the UTPA McAllen Teaching Site that officially opened Aug. 26 and will offer 12 graduate-level courses focused on education and business and will benefit nearly 200 students already enrolled.
"We need to remember that this institution is not just an Edinburg institution, we are a regional institution. Take a look at that map and see the spread of this institution that will increase, and our reach will also increase as we mature," he said.
As for enrollment this fall semester, Sorber said it is estimated to be more than 18,000 students, which would represent a three percent increase over last year. UTPA is anticipating enrolling 812 transfer students, 2,800 new entering freshmen, and 2,450 graduate students. In addition, the University is expecting a freshmen retention rate, the movement of freshmen to sophomores, of 74.2 percent.
"By the time we get to the end of the year it will probably be higher so consider that number when you think of the national average of 70 percent. We are doing pretty good folks and that is because of what you do in the classrooms and what you do as advisers," he said.
On the UTPA presidential search front, Sorber said the UTPA Presidential Search Committee has met several times during the summer and had a strong pool of applicants, which has been slimmed down to 10 to 11 candidates.
"They narrowed that pool of applicants to 10-11 and those candidates are in the process of doing face-to-face interviews with the advisory committee," Sorber said. "We anticipate that the UT System will announce the final candidates within the next month and perhaps in that timeframe will bring these folks to campus so you have a chance to meet them. We want you to take part in that process and help us make that final decision."