The position, which was formerly titled vice president for Enrollment and Student Services, became available Dec. 31, 2010, when Dr. John Edwards retired after holding the position for a decade.
“I have asked Dr. Martha Cantu to serve in this capacity and to provide stability as we go through these tough budget times,” Nelsen said. “Dr. Cantu has demonstrated her commitment to helping the students of the Rio Grande Valley succeed in their educational pursuits, and I know she will bring that passion and dedication to our UT Pan Am students.”
Cantu's passion for students began 25 years ago as a special education teacher, speech therapist and educational diagnostician for the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District and as the director of special education for the McAllen Independent School District. She has had the privilege of working with superintendents, school-based administrators and most recently University officials.
Cantu is a product of UTPA where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in speech and hearing, 1985, a Master of Education in educational diagnostician, 1990, and a Doctorate of Education in educational leadership, 2002. For three years she also served as a lecturer for the College of Education. Cantu began working with the UTPA Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) project in 2005 as director. For six years she has supervised the second largest GEAR UP grant in the nation, managed a $7 million annual budget for the project and worked closely with 22 high schools in 12 school districts to ensure that close to 9,000 students enroll and succeed in an institution of higher education.
“I have enjoyed working with the students in GEAR UP and seeing them grow,” Cantu said. “We started working with them in seventh grade and now they’re seniors getting ready for college and to know that our staff had a lot to do with that gives me satisfaction and makes me proud.”
Under Cantu's guidance, the UTPA GEAR UP project has been recognized nationally as a model of best practices by the U.S. Secretary of Education. Based on the success of UTPA's GEAR UP project, Cantu has also provided congressional testimony in Washington, D.C. to the Higher Education, Lifelong Learning, and Competitiveness Subcommittee concerning the effect of GEAR UP on college preparation.
Cantu said although she is going to miss working with GEAR UP, she is grateful for the opportunity she has been given as the newly appointed acting vice president of Student Affairs. Her first goal is to meet everyone on her new team and ensure everyone is working efficiently and moving in the same direction to make college the best experience possible for all UTPA students.
"I am going to work so hard to do my very best. I am so passionate about my work," Cantu said. "I am going to have an open door policy and I want students to feel comfortable to call me or meet with me if they need to talk. I'm going to spend time with the students, listen to them and look out for their best interests."
As the mother of two sons who are in college, one here at UTPA and one in Boston, Cantu said she knows how difficult it is for students to be away from home. This is why she said it is important to her, not only as the acting vice-president of Student Affairs, but as a parent, to meet all students' needs and make them feel welcomed.
"My main responsibility is to serve as an advocate for students and ensure that all their voices are heard," Cantu said.
Cantu will begin her new role as acting vice-president of Student Affairs on March 21.