The warm weather was uppermost in the mind of S.J. Sethi when she and her husband T.J., natives of India, chose The University of Texas-Pan American as the place in the United States to pursue their graduate degrees.
"I don't like cold weather," she said, describing how they applied to several Texas universities they picked out of the Peterson's college guidebook. "Also, UT Pan Am was the only institution that gave us graduate assistance from day one. That was the biggest attraction for us."
Sethi, who served as OIRE's assistant director since 2003, was selected by UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen to replace Susan Griffith, who retired effective Aug. 31. Sethi joins the University's vice presidents, chief information officer, and chief of staff as a member of the President's Cabinet to serve as a top adviser to the institution's leader.
"I'm really excited about this new position and honored that Dr. Nelsen has the confidence in me to promote me," she said.
Sethi's job responsibilities include directing and coordinating institutional reporting, planning and assessment, and conducting policy analysis and institutional research studies. The office, which includes three professional staff members and an administrative associate, is the repository for official institutional data and acts as a liaison for accountability reporting to The University of Texas System and to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
She said the duties her office performs are important for the University.
"All this information we collect for assessment and action plans is necessary for strategic planning and staying on top of all our accreditations. And by reporting to the President directly we are not biased toward any division, we are thinking of the entire institution," she said.
Nelsen said he looks forward to the expertise Sethi will bring to the President's Cabinet.
"S.J. has over 20 years of dedicated service at Pan Am. She understands the University and the important role that the OIRE plays in planning and assessment," he said. "Her presence on the Cabinet will ensure that our decisions are data-driven."
Last year the OIRE compiled two special reports at Nelsen's request, one on academic program needs for the Rio Grande Valley, the other on the economic impact of Pan Am on the community, which was found to be close to $500 million annually.
"We have a big impact not only on Edinburg but all of Hidalgo County and the rest of the Rio Grande Valley. It is important that we do these kinds of studies so that we can inform our community, stakeholders and legislators about some of the differences the University makes in the region," Sethi said.
Sethi began her career at UTPA in 1989 as a graduate assistant in the College of Business Administration and later moved to fill a number of positions at UTPA's Center for Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (CoSERVE), a component of the University's then External Affairs Division, now called Community Engagement. As CoSERVE's associate director, Sethi oversaw the center's numerous community outreach centers involved in data and information systems, census and Mexican business information as well as its projects to assist local communities in strategic planning and data design and analysis.
"I really learned a lot about the community and the University while working at CoSERVE," she said.
She has served on numerous University committees throughout her career, including the additional duty of directing the University's annual Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology conference in 2008.
Sethi earned both her master's and Ph.D. in psychology from Panjab University in Chandigarh, India. She graduated with her MBA from UTPA in 1992.
She said during her Ph.D. studies she realized she wasn't cut out for teaching, but her study of psychology has helped her in the performance of her job.
"It does help you to understand human behavior," she said.
Sethi said she hopes her office can imbed a culture of assessment throughout the University.
"We have worked very hard to bring the departments and various units on campus on the assessment and action plans cycle. We want everyone to be on top of it," she said, noting all action plans are accessible online at www.ie.utpa.edu.
To create more buy in by faculty, directors and staff, Sethi said her office plans to provide additional training on how to assess and how to prepare action plans through webinars and drawing upon faculty expertise in that area.
A devotee of Transcendental Meditation, Sethi meditates 20 minutes a day at least four times a week, which, she said, keeps her calm, clears her mind and releases stress. Sethi noted she is also a real example of where hard work can take an immigrant to this country.
"They say that America is the land of opportunity. I can say that statement is true. It is a land of opportunity and a place where hard work really does pay off in success," she said.