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UTPA welcomes more than 80 new faculty at luncheon
By Jennifer Berghom, Public Affairs Representative
Posted: 09/06/2013
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Dr. Thuy Vu is looking forward to helping The University of Texas-Pan American build its civil engineering program.


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UTPA welcomed its newest faculty with a luncheon held this summer. The luncheon is part of the Univesity's New Faculty Support Program, which helps the those starting their career in academia acclimate to their new jobs and the Univeristy. Pictured from left to right are UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen, new Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering Dr. Thuy Vu, College of Engineering and Computer Science Dean Dr. Miguel A. González and Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Havidán Rodríguez.

With a background in studying the strength of foundations for bridges, sky rises and other infrastructure, Vu, an assistant professor of Civil Engineering, hopes to share her expertise in the College of Engineering and Computer Science's newest — and ever growing — program.

"We have about 300 undergraduate students and about 4-5 faculty members, so there's actually a need to expand the program and I have the chance to challenge myself with developing the program, and be a part of the expansion of the department," said Vu, who graduated with a doctorate from the University of Missouri in Columbia, Mo. "At the University of Missouri, I had the opportunity to take part in a $3 million research project, a huge project. I really want to have something like that here."

Vu said she is also excited to teach, as she is a fourth-generation teacher in her family.

"My mom is a faculty member in Vietnam and I have five years of teaching experience in Vietnam, so I love to teach and I really am committed to being an excellent teacher," she said.

Vu is among more than 80 new faculty members at UT Pan American for the 2013-2014 academic year. The new faculty, which includes more than 40 who are tenure-track and four female faculty members who specialize in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), underwent a weeklong orientation that culminated with a luncheon on Aug. 19. The orientation is part of UTPA's New Faculty Support Program, now in its sixth year. The program is intended to support and retain new faculty through structured activities and experiences throughout the year to help them adjust to their new environment in academia and the University.

At the luncheon, the new faculty and their mentors heard from Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, who updated them on the various grants and other accolades the University has received and initiatives it has started. They also heard from UTPA Alumna Jacqueline Odum (BA '13), an Archer Fellow, who talked about how UT Pan American and its faculty encouraged her to take advantage of opportunities that led to her success. She urged the new faculty to step out of their comfort zones and take risks to further engage their students.

UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen gave the educators the lay of the land of the University and its students, which included him telling the stories of successful alumni, some of whom were undocumented immigrants but later became legal residents and obtained gainful employment.

"You get to know them (students), you get to love them," Nelsen said. "This is a place where this is an honor to teach."

Dr. Marika Dawkins, an assistant professor of Criminal Justice, said she felt she made the right decision to start her academic career at UT Pan American when she met the faculty and administrators at her interview.

"Everybody was so warm and friendly and it was easy to ask my questions, it seemed like it was a good environment for me to begin," said Dawkins, who earned her Ph.D. in juvenile justice from Prairie View A&M University.

Dawkins, who is originally from Jamaica, said she has always had a fascination with criminal justice and originally planned to attend law school. But a mentor she had at Prairie View inspired her to enter academia.

She said she is looking forward to working with her students this year and likes the dedication she sees in her fellow faculty members.

"They seem like they really care, like there is heart in what they're doing," she said. "They seem really involved and willing to answer questions."