Two faculty members at The University of Texas-Pan American were appointed recently to positions in the Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning (SEEL) at the University.
Dr. Hassan Ahmad, professor of chemistry, was selected as the faculty director of The Rafael A. "Felo" and Carmen Guerra Honors Program. Dr. Danika M. Brown, associate professor of English, was appointed as faculty director for the Office of Undergraduate Research and Service Learning.
The appointments were announced by Dr. Kenneth Buckman, associate provost for SEEL, who cited Ahmad and Brown's excellent research and publishing records, administrative experience and demonstrated people skills.
"They both also have excellent reputations for caring for and interacting with students," said Buckman. "Each appointee is a powerful addition to administrative efforts to assist students and faculty in pursuing a rich and productive undergraduate experience."
In addition to their specialized roles, Buckman said they will also work together to initiate an Undergraduate Research Conference highlighting the best undergraduate research going on at UTPA. He said both directors will continue their faculty roles and teach courses but will be provided release time to allow them to lead their respective offices.
Ahmad, who came to UTPA in 1992, has worked with the Honors Program since 1998 and served as chair or a member of honors theses committees of 50 of its students. He served as the program's assistant director for the past two years under Buckman, who was then the Honors Program director.
A former chemistry department chair, Ahmad's current research focuses on strategies for cancer prevention through naturally occurring phytochemicals and the immobilization of proteins on nanofibers for industrial application. He has received research and training grants from the U. S. Department of Agriculture, National Institutes of Health, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He also received the prestigious University of Texas System Chancellor's Outstanding Teaching Award and the UT System Regent's Outstanding Teaching Award. He earned his Ph.D. in biochemistry from Aligarh Muslim University in India.
Ahmad said that he has worked for three honors program directors in the past and is humbled and honored to be selected as its newest director. He said he plans to focus on recruitment of more quality students into the program by providing additional incentives.
"If additional financial incentives are available, we intend to change the program requirements, such as requiring a higher GPA and the inclusion of a service-learning component to enhance and maintain the integrity of the program at the highest possible level," he said.
Ahmad also plans to work with the University Honors Council to make the program more adaptable to colleges that have less student representation in it as well as initiate new honors level courses and consider offering one section of the most popular courses within the various disciplines as an honors course.
"Working with Dr. Buckman is always an enjoyable and fulfilling experience," Ahmad said. "We both believe we can make significant changes to the current program and bring the Guerra Honors Program to the forefront of the academic programs on campus."
Brown, who completed her Ph.D. in English at the University of Arizona, joined the University faculty in 2003. She has a specialization in rhetoric and her areas of research include critical theories of rhetoric as well as service learning and institutional critique. She has served as a National Service Fellow and a peer reviewer for the Corporation for National and Community Service. She has numerous publications and participated in several National Endowment for the Humanities institutes.
"I am very excited that UTPA has committed as an institution to support and facilitate opportunities for students to become active in research in their fields as well as to have expanded opportunities to serve the community to enhance their learning," Brown said. "As director of this office, my goals will be to work closely with faculty and community organizations to coordinate and expand those opportunities."
Brown said she would also work to promote student and faculty achievements in student-engaged research and community partnerships.
"I believe this office will be an important contributor to UTPA's student-centered mission and I am thrilled to be a part of that effort," she said.
Buckman said the SEEL office was created by the Office of the Provost for Academic Affairs to enhance programs which enrich the college experience, globalize student perspectives, enhance research avenues, and create opportunities for students to engage the community, remain in school and graduate in a timely manner. The Office of International Programs, which oversees travel abroad experiences and faculty and student exchange programs, is also under the umbrella of SEEL.
"The Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning's purpose is to bring organizational clarity to activities that already exist across the University and to bring dynamic synergy of cooperation and action to these efforts," Buckman said. "Research indicates that each of these offices is a significant contributor to student retention and graduation."
The appointments of Ahmad and Brown were effective Jan. 1, 2012.
For more information about SEEL, contact Buckman at firstname.lastname@example.org.