Enhancing the opportunities for student success is the goal of a reorganization currently under way in the Division of Academic Affairs at The University of Texas-Pan American.
The reorganization initiated by Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, UTPA's provost and vice president for academic affairs since January 2011, began with two new appointments effective Sept. 1.
Rodríguez appointed Dr. Kenneth Buckman, director of the Rafael A. "Felo" & Carmen Guerra Honors Program at UTPA, to the new position of associate provost for Student Engagement and Experiential Learning, and Dr. Kristin Croyle, associate dean and former interim dean of UTPA's College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, as vice provost for undergraduate studies. Both were selected following an internal search and review of candidates by a search committee.
"They are recognized and valued by their colleagues across the institution and that is key," he said.
The Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning, headed by Buckman, will bring together the honors program, undergraduate research, service learning, international programs and the Archer Fellows program, an internship program in Washington, D.C. The Office for International Programs, the Honors Program, and the Office for Undergraduate Research and Service Learning will each have a faculty director who will retain their faculty positions while engaging in each of the initiatives. Planning is already under way for an annual conference on undergraduate research that will provide undergraduate students an opportunity to present the research they have done in collaboration with faculty.
"The research literature shows that students who engage in these types of experiential learning initiatives have significantly higher retention and graduation rates relative to students who do not participate in these initiatives. Our primary goal is to create a central location where we can promote, stimulate and provide incentives for these types of initiatives," Rodríguez said.
At UTPA since 1992, Buckman is an associate professor of philosophy and has directed the Guerra Honors Program since 2007. He earned his Ph.D. in philosophy from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and specializes in 19th century philosophy and 20th century continental philosophy.
In 2009, he was named a Piper Professor by the Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation, which honors 15 professors in Texas each academic year for their outstanding academic, scientific and scholarly achievement. That year he also received The University of Texas System's Chancellor's Council Award for Outstanding Teaching. In 2010, he won one of the UT System Regents' Awards for Outstanding Teaching.
"This position fits all my interests and I get to do some creative structuring that is going to impact the University. I am very excited about it," Buckman said.
He said he appreciated that Rodríguez and Nelsen recognize the importance of global learning.
"Having a global investment keeps us in contact with all the changes going on both in terms of education and the world. It also makes global citizens of our students," he said.
"We want to ensure that students get excellent advisement, that they register in the courses that they need to graduate, and that they graduate in a timely manner," Rodríguez said.
Croyle, a professor of psychology, came to UTPA in 2002. Her specialty is clinical psychology and she is a licensed psychologist in Texas. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Montana and did a two-year postdoctoral fellowship in clinical neuropsychology at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Washington. Her research has focused on emotion regulation among student populations.
In 2010, Croyle won UTPA's Faculty Excellence Award in Teaching, which recognizes faculty contributions to the development and delivery of effective teaching and learning experiences.
Croyle said she is looking forward to continuing to work closely with faculty, President Nelsen, the provost, the deans and other vice provosts to give students the best university experience possible.
"I really care about our students, their experience at UTPA and their future as community leaders. I have been consistently impressed that our faculty and University administrators all have a similar perspective -- they put the students first," she said.
Rodríguez indicated that UT Pan American is also considering establishing a University College within the Division of Academic Affairs.
The University College primarily focuses on the first two years of college with the goal of ensuring students have a smooth and successful transition to college life by providing them with the necessary support services and resources aimed at improving their educational success, such as tutoring, mentoring and advising.
"The goal is to ensure a successful transition, that we retain our students and that students complete their degrees in a timely manner," Rodríguez said. "We want to bring students to UT Pan Am, we want students to stay at UT Pan Am, and we want students to be successful, and graduate from Pan Am. This is really the driving force and the motivation for some of the changes we are implementing."
He said he has researched nearly 20 different University Colleges nationwide and they differ in terms of some of their goals and organizational structure - some serve only undeclared students and require all first year and sophomore students form part of the University College, while others offer four-year degree programs.
The primary focus of the University College at UTPA, Rodríguez said, would be on advising, mentoring, and providing other support services to all freshman and sophomore students. In the future, he hopes to create a University Studies Program serving undeclared students during their first two years and establish a Center for Learning and Teaching.
"This will be a major change for the institution, but we still need to seek feedback and buy-in from the University community. This will transform how we do undergraduate education at UT Pan American," Rodríguez said.