For Dr. Jane LeMaster, The University of Texas-Pan American gave her two degrees, a career, and a marriage for which she will always be grateful.
After 15 years of working at UTPA, LeMaster prepares to head into the next chapter of her life - retirement - along with her husband Dr. Edwin LeMaster, College of Science and Engineering dean. Both will officially retire Aug. 31.
LeMaster, executive director for the Center for Online Learning, Teaching & Technology (COLT), said her love for UTPA began when she enrolled at the University at age 36 after having worked in the health care industry for some time.
"I knew I needed a formal education because I was always getting promoted to the next level, but eventually I would reach a level that I could not be promoted too because I did not have the credential. I knew I had to get the credential and that is why I came to college," she said.
It seemed for LeMaster everything fell into place during her college career. She was able to earn her bachelor's degree in business administration in 1986 and meet the man she would marry during her sophomore year at UTPA.
"He was chair of the Department of Physics and Geology at that time and a mutual friend introduced us. The rest is history as they would say," LeMaster said.
The LeMasters have been married for 26 years.
She also earned an MBA from New Mexico Highlands University-Las Vegas and a Ph.D. in organizational theory and policy from University of North Texas-Denton.
During her tenure at UTPA, LeMaster served the University in numerous capacities since starting in 1995 as a lecturer in the College of Business Administration. Her positions have included associate professor in management, Master of Business Administration Program director, chair of the management department, and COBA associate dean.
LeMaster, a Weslaco native, said she never imagined toward the end of her career she would be serving in her latest position with COLT. Since becoming the COLT leader, she has increased the number of online classes that UTPA offers at a rate of 25 percent per year. In addition, she helped bring online learning to the faculty and the staff by training the faculty to produce quality online classes.
"From the first year to the second year that I came on we have doubled the number of online courses and we have just continued to grow. We have 100 fully online classes now," LeMaster said.
To date, Lemaster said there are over 15,000 students online and more than 90 percent are enrolled in some form in an online course UTPA offers. LeMaster said the first online class was held in 1994 when the center opened.
"It has been wonderful. We have a lot to be proud of at this University," she said.
Former Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs Paul Sale appointed Lemaster to head COLT four years ago.
"I met Jane in one of my first days on campus when she was associate dean of the College of Business. She shared her vision and passion about distance education with me, and how she used it to enhance instruction and increase access. She was very passionate about this teaching methodology. That passion demanded that I use it for the betterment of UTPA," Sale said.
Sale said LeMaster used her business acumen and knowledge of teaching to build a strong and cohesive team - 12 full-time employees and 8 student workers - at the center.
"The results are readily observable - increased online and reduced seat time courses, introduction of new technology such as Second Life, and the acquisition of external dollars to support instruction," he said.
LeMaster said what she is most proud of during her tenure at UTPA is developing an MBA Online for the Physicians program, which graduated 42 physicians with MBA degrees.
"We had the program for two years before it was closed. Many of the physicians have done things specifically from having their MBA such as opening their own offices," LeMaster said. "It was a real benefit to the Valley and I think it could be a benefit for the Valley again because of the emphasis on health care nowadays."
She is also proud of UTPA's membership in the University of Texas System collaborative program MBA Online for the past 11 years. MBA Online is offered through UT TeleCampus, a central support unit for online education within the UT System. UTPA is one of eight participating UT System universities in the program that allows students to earn their MBA degrees at their respective universities while taking online courses from the participating campuses.
As for what LeMaster will be doing during her well-deserved time off, she plans to work in her home studio on her ceramics and glass art. She holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in art from UTPA. She is most looking forward to traveling extensively with her husband to see their children and grandchildren who live in Florida and Georgia as well as take a much-needed vacation to Egypt in the fall.
Making the decision to retire was not an easy choice for her, LeMaster said she is going to miss the everyday challenges that come with the job and working with the faculty. She knows, however that she is leaving COLT in good hands and it will continue with the goal of making accessibility available for students a major focus for UTPA.
"I am not the least bit concerned about the center continuing to grow and moving forward," she said.