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Convocation: Faculty, staff praised for "doing the right thing"
By Jennifer Berghom and Gail Fagan, Office of Public Affairs
Posted: 08/22/2012
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To continue serving the Rio Grande Valley, state and nation, The University of Texas-Pan American must grow. And as it continues to grow, the University must become even more engaged in the community, UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen told a packed Fieldhouse Tuesday, Aug. 21.


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UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen delivers his 2012 Convocation Speech, titled "The Future of Bronc Country:Doing the Right Thing" Aug. 21 at the UTPA Fieldhouse.

"We have an opportunity, we have a chance to transform the Valley and we have to seize that opportunity," Nelsen said.

Nelsen unveiled the latest draft of the University's Strategic Plan, titled, "Bronc Country — The Engaged University," during his 2012 Convocation speech to faculty and staff.

During his hour-long speech, Nelsen laid out an ambitious 10-year plan that includes hiring 551 new faculty members, increasing research expenditures to $30 million and raising annual giving to $25 million. But he stressed that the heart of the strategic plan lies in its call for community engagement.

"Through this strategic plan, UT Pan American will strive even harder and more diligently to be the best partner in the education, business, health and government arenas as the Rio Grande Valley develops and matures in the 21st century, for without community and personal engagement, there can be no transformation for the better," Nelsen said. "We must do the right thing."

In his speech, Nelsen also hailed the successes of students who graduated and faculty members whose research has put UTPA on par with other research institutions. Nelsen said he would be showing the plan to community leaders to receive their feedback.

"This plan reaches out to them," Nelsen said. "They want to dance, so let's dance."

He is accepting comments and suggestions from the UTPA and Rio Grande Valley communities through Sept. 21.

Representatives of the University's faculty, students and staff said after the speech they were excited about the president's plans to move UT Pan American forward.

"I think it's very innovative, ... it's a great vision for the university," said Dr. Tom White, chair of the Faculty Senate and associate professor of criminal justice. "I'm very impressed by it."

White said the Faculty Senate's executive committee saw a draft of the strategic plan and made some suggestions, but overall its response was positive. White said he liked hearing the plan to hire more faculty because more educators are needed.

"I'm just very hopeful that it works well and we accomplish everything we set out to accomplish," White said.

Gilbert Perez, Staff Senate chair, said the senate already has been working with the Faculty Senate and the Student Government Association to collaborate on community service projects. The committee also has been working with The University of Texas System to introduce programs that benefit staff to the campus.

"I feel very empowered by his speech," Perez said. "I feel that Dr. Nelsen is bringing this University to where it can be and should be ... so we have the success of faculty staff and students."

Matthew Garcia, president of the Student Government Association, said the plan sounds exciting, albeit scary, but that its goals will ultimately help students.

"You can really see that the end goal is that they're really doing all this stuff so that the students can have a better time here at the University," said Garcia, a junior majoring in biology and political science. "It's increasing the resources that the students have on campus ... The students are going to see that and they are going to say, 'This is a university that cares about me, they're working hard to try to make sure that when I come here, I'm going to get a good education.'"

Here is a breakdown of the plan:

Goals:

• provide students a quality education that they complete in a timely fashion;

• identify and focus on targeted research relevant to South Texas, emphasizing collaborative partnerships and entrepreneurship;

• enhance engagement with community constituents to meet challenges and maximize opportunities;

• collaborate with primary, secondary and post-secondary schools to increase access, participation and success in higher education;

• leverage the University's border location as a gateway for the Americas to initiate projects infused with global perspectives;

• optimize the effectiveness and efficiency, especially of processes that affect students, staff and faculty, consistent with high quality organizational standards.

Strategic initiatives:

• building community prosperity

• educating global citizens

• living healthy in the Rio Grande Valley

• creating transformative leaders

• investing in people

• maximizing cost efficiencies

Quantitative targets for 2022:

• increase college going rates from 33 percent to the national average of 49 percent;

• increase enrollment from 19,034 to 30,000 students;

• increase doctoral programs from three to 11;

• increase the number of online courses from 220 to 750;

• increase housing from accommodating 890 students to a total of 4,000 students;

• decrease the student/staff ratio from 16:1 to 13:1;

• increase faculty from 797 to 1,348 and reduce the student/faculty ratio to approximately 24:1;

• increase endowed faculty positions from 12 to 25;

• increase research expenditures from $8.6 million to 30 million;

• increase annual giving from $6.5 million to $25 million;

• increase total endowment from $58.8 million to $105 million;

• increase graduates from 3,486 to 5,500 students per year;

• improve the four-year graduation rate to 26 percent (2015 cohort) from 15.6 percent;

• improve the six-year graduation rate to 55 percent (2015 cohort) from 41.9 percent to meet the expected state rate;

• improve the first-year retention rate from the current 72.5 percent to 85 percent;

• improve the sophomore-year retention rate from 59 percent to 75 percent;

• increase marketing budget from $290,000 to $1 million;

• reduce the average time to degree from the current 153 semester credit hours to 140 semester credit hours;

• add a University College and 15 signature academic programs;

• construct four buildings — Science, Business, University College and Health Sciences;

• create an Academy of Distinguished Scholars with at least 100 members.

Major imperatives:

• boost student enrollment;

• increase faculty size;

• attract additional research funding;

• increase annual giving and endowment;

• improve graduation rates;

• develop focused marketing.

Comments and feedback can be made online by visiting utpa.edu/engaged.