Students at The University of Texas-Pan American will now have less confusion on where to go for academic advisement and an enhanced path to a more timely graduation and satisfying career.
"We wanted to simplify it so that students know where to go for academic advisement. When they come in to our University, we want them to know that this is the advising center," said Marilyn Hagerty, UAAC director.
The change to a single advisement center followed the July 2011 recommendations of UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen's appointed taskforce on advisement comprising professional staff, students and faculty. Previously, advisement functions were also under the Division of Student Affairs in the University Center for TSI-affected students or students who are considered as "not college ready" and had to take developmental coursework.
This reorganization aligns with the plan to create a University College at UTPA which accommodates students who are undecided on a major. More professional development for advisement staff, as well as faculty advisors, who take on more of the advisement role for juniors and seniors in their major area, is planned to enhance developmental advising, Hagerty said.
"A lot of times questions come up about careers during advising. Advising for us is not just what classes a student takes. Developmental advising is really helping students to decide on what they want as a career and how their major lines up with their career choice," Hagerty said.
She said advisors look at students' goals, interests and what they want to do when they graduate and often suggest job shadowing, internships and volunteer work to help a student make their career choice.
"What we are doing is trying to help them develop their critical thinking skills about life ... we want them to ask the questions 'is this what I want to do' and also, 'do I have the ability to do this,'" Hagerty said.
Two new professional guidance counselors have been added - one will work specifically with transfer students and the other with students who are undecided on their major.
Another professional counselor will be hired to work with faculty advisors in the College of Engineering and Computer Science. The center also oversees all students who serve as mentors in the Sophomore Academic Mentoring program.
Other advisement task force recommendations included going paperless as much as possible while still providing student confidentially and information they need to avoid taking excessive hours and graduate in a timely manner.
Hagerty said this goal will be made easier with DegreeWorks, a software program implemented recently at UT Pan American that allows students to see all their academic information, including what classes they have taken and the grades they earned, what courses they need to take, their grade point averages and what advising they would need. DegreeWorks will also allow advisor notes that subsequent advisors and the student will be able to read.
"The advantages of going paperless are there are more chances of communication from one advisor to the next; there are more chances for students to see what they were advised; and there are more chances of them to monitor their own academic progress. It fosters more student responsibility," she said.
Hagerty said helping students shorten the time to graduation is imperative with the state instituting an enrollment cap to limit the number of hours students take to no more than 30 hours beyond what their degree plan requires. For hours beyond the cap, students will have to pay upward to out-of-state tuition. Also, effective in July 2012, the federal government will institute a new limit on the lifetime use of the Pell Grant to no more than 12 semesters, which will particularly affect part-time students, she said.
"Everything is pushing students to graduate in four to six years," she said.
Students' motivation is higher if they feel like they know where they are going, Hagerty said.
"The more we ask the kinds of questions that help them do career goal setting and academic planning from the beginning, the more it helps them to stay on track and not take courses they don't need. Advising is not telling another person what to do, advising is a partnership," she said.
The UAAC will showcase its new organizational structure as well as recent renovations that expanded the center's student reception area and added a computer lab at an open house on Tuesday, April 24 from 3-5 p.m. Students, faculty and staff are invited to enjoy refreshments and visit with the center's advisors during the event.
For more information, contact the UACC at (956) 665-7120.