UTPA's continuing education: A great investment
Posted: 09/21/2011
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Minerva Lopez is glad her employer knows that investing in employees is good business.

"I wanted the opportunity of professional growth so I could be a better employee for my boss and be able to help her any way I can to reach the high goals she has set for our organization," said Lopez, the executive assistant to South Padre Island's City Manager Joni Clarke.

UTPA's Continuing Education offers a variety of courses to the community in professional development, test preparation, personal enrichment and certification. Digital Photography Safari is one of many personal enrichment classes available.

Clarke sent Lopez, 41, to attend the Certified Public Manager (CPM) certification program offered through The University of Texas-Pan American's Office of Continuing Education (CE).

"The curriculum was wonderfully put together as it incorporates information we need in today's workforce. Every class leaves you in anticipation to the next class and the information one can attain," said Lopez, who obtained her CPM certificate in June 2011. "It's definitely a great way to invest in your employee."

The CPM certification course is one of a variety of courses CE offers said Dr. Cynthia Brown, vice provost for graduate studies, academic centers and continuing education. Brown was given the task to revitalize CE at UTPA in 2008 when it was put under the oversight of the Office of Academic Affairs.

"We have the best resource at our University, which is our faculty, that we can utilize to serve the community for their continuing education needs, in particular professional development type education," she said. "We can give them a truly professional experience at the very highest level."

The University developed a business model that gives the revenues generated by course fees to the academic department of the faculty member providing the instruction.

"These funds have become an important source of income for departments for some of their ongoing programs they want to support. They can be used for operations, travel, graduate assistantships and, of course, to pay the faculty for the time they spend delivering the course," Brown said. "In our budget situation in recent years these funds have become increasingly important."

There are four types of courses CE offers: professional development, test preparation, personal enrichment, and certification. In the past two years, 1,200 people have taken the courses, which have been taught by 75 different faculty members from all seven of UTPA's colleges.

"The majority of our participants are professionals interested in updating their knowledge and skills to stay competitive in their field of work," Brown said.

Brown said the current offerings began with the CPM. Courses were added to serve educators who wanted training in instructional leadership and teaching tools like Google Earth. Test preparation classes were soon initiated for students wanting to take the medical and pharmacy school admission tests or get ready to take the SAT (Scholastic Achievement Test).

Instructor Arnaldo Mata, right, is pictured leading UTPA's Continuing Education course in strategic planning, a professional development course popular among business, government and nonprofit employees.
"We also offer a course to prepare social work graduates to take the Social Work Licensing Exam, which previously people had to travel to Fort Worth to take," she said. "Obviously with the same registration fees, it is a lot cheaper to stay at home to do it."

Most open enrollment courses are held at the McAllen Teaching Site located adjacent to the La Plaza Mall, easily accessible from Highway 83.

The office is currently partnering with the Society of Human Resources in Management at the national level to deliver their curriculum to Rio Grande Valley human resource professionals. They are also working with a local hospital to provide customized, on-site advanced leadership training.

"We would like to do more customized training, " Brown said.

Brown is especially enthusiastic about the CE's medical interpreter training, in which people are trained to act as interpreters in medical settings. She said there is a shortage of this type of training nationwide. In spring 2012, UTPA's CE instructors in this course will deliver this training through UT Austin's CE to people in the Austin, Texas area. New certification programs are also under development in graphic design, web design and multimedia.

"We are trying to take the pulse of the community on what they need to meet new job requirements, gain new skills or stay competitive and move ahead in the workplace," she said.

With UTPA's Alumni Association, CE will host an upcoming series of informational sessions to solicit their professional development, training and personal enrichment needs. Input from community members can also be provided at the Continuing Education website.