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UTPA joins national student exchange

January 31st, 2013

Beginning this semester, The University of Texas-Pan American will offer students the opportunity to study at select universities nationwide for a semester while still enrolled in the University.

As a member of the National Student Exchange program since August 2012, UTPA now joins nearly 200 universities in the United States, Canada, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands that serve as a network for inter-university exchange. The NSE, a not-for-profit education consortium established in 1968, is funded through institutional membership fees of $800 per year and student application fees. An NSE coordinator is assigned to each member university.

The NSE allows students to study out-of-state and within U.S. territory for a semester and in some cases, up to a year. Summer terms may also be available at select campuses.

Christopher Keller, director of the Guerra Honors Program, a UTPA English professor and the University’s National Student Exchange coordinator, said interested students should apply by Feb. 24 to be able to attend the host campus of their choice by next fall.

While UTPA currently offers study abroad programs, the NSE may appeal to students who are not ready to study overseas but are still looking forward to the “study away” experience.

“The NSE program is a wonderful opportunity for UT Pan American students to experience the culture and academic environment of other universities in the US,” said Sandra Hansmann, the director of international programs. “Participation in NSE can be an ideal experience for students seeking a meaningful exchange experience but for whom international study abroad isn’t quite right.”

According to Keller, UTPA study abroad programs are usually ‘faculty-led’ where students travel with a professor to a foreign country and take a course. Study abroad courses usually take place in the summer. With the NSE, a student takes a full course-load during a semester at another university with that school’s professors, has an ID card and lives on campus.

“A student traveling in the U.S. can gain as much diversity and experience as going to Europe,” Keller said. “It will still be a transformative experience going to Oregon as to France. You get to immerse more with the host university in a semester than at a three-week study abroad program.”

Keller said it is more common for students to pay the normal tuition to UTPA instead of paying directly to the host university.

In this tuition-reciprocal exchange program, two forms of payment are used. In plan A, students pay in-state tuition and fees directly to the host campus. In plan B, students pay the normal tuition and fees to their home university, but students are required to pay their own housing and meals if planning to live on campus.

The NSE is open to all UTPA students but recommended for juniors and seniors. The program is designed for students to take courses that complement their academic majors, Keller said.

Ten students, according to Keller, have expressed interest in participating in the NSE program and are currently in the process of filing applications.

“One student wants to study (music) away because the kind of guitar training he’s interested in is not available at UTPA,” Keller said. “Another student is interested in marine biology and wants to study somewhere on the West Coast so she can have direct access to marine life that isn’t available here in the Gulf of Mexico.”

To be eligible to participate in NSE, students must be enrolled in a member university full-time, have a cumulative 2.5 GPA and be in good academic standing.

Available placement for NSE participants at member universities depends on the campus and its available program and courses. Under what is known as a “1:1 ratio,” universities trade an equal number of students. Other students are accepted if space permits. In the case of an “even campus,” such as UTPA, the host campus accepts the same number of students it intends to exchange. In an uneven campus, the host campus accepts a few more students than it intends to send. Open campuses accept all qualified students.

Interested students are encouraged to stop by UTPA’s NSE office housed in the Guerra Honors Program, located in the Lamar Building, Room 130. Keller also hopes to have a link of the NSE available on the UTPA website in a month or so.

Having recently joined the NSE, the new program at UTPA is in its promotional stages. As of now no UTPA students have studied away as part of the NSE.

“We don’t expect to have 500 students leave campus, but we do hope some students will jump on the prospect. “It’ll take some time but if we get eight to ten students, then that’ll be a good start,” Keller said.

For more information about the National Student Exchange program, visit their website at


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DegreeWorks works?

December 6th, 2012

DegreeWorks hasn’t been around for too long, but students at UTPA are already familiar with the role it plays in advisement. However, there are still some issues that the registrar’s office is ironing out.

The program is designed to help a student track their completed and pending classes for graduation, and became available through ASSIST in spring 2012.

A very noticeable disclaimer at the bottom of the page informs users that DegreeWorks is not intended to replace one’s adviser, but is rather considered an advisement tool. It also helps a student calculate their grade point average and predict future GPAs by inputting additional classes with anticipated grades.

This program has helped the registrar’s office efficiency when it comes to planning classes for the upcoming semester. With DegreeWorks, the office can predict future semester classes depending on how far along a student is on the degree process.

The software was purchased in Spring 2011 from Ellucian for $300,000, paid for by standard operating funds (budgeted University monies). President Robert Nelsen became interested in the software when he saw it functioning at his former home, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, according to Jeff Rhodes, registrar.

“We want students to graduate in the shortest amount of time possible and take only the classes that they absolutely need for their degree,” Rhodes said. “That’s what DegreeWorks does. It lets the students know exactly what courses they need to get their degree so that they don’t waste time taking classes that are unnecessary.”

According to Nelsen at the 2011 fall convocation, an average student takes 165 credit hours, but only earns 141 credit hours at UTPA. However, a typical degree plan only requires 124 credit hours.

In 2011, the four-year graduation rate at UTPA was 15.6 percent. That means that out of 100 students who started at UTPA, on average about 16 graduated in four years, or on time, in other words.

In order to raise both of these statistics and solve what the University perceives as a problem, DegreeWorks was introduced.

In Rhodes’ opinion, the first semester the software received good feedback. In the most recent survey taken at the end of last semester, 51 percent of students agreed that DegreeWorks is an effective advisement tool.

“What I’ve seen from other systems is that they are not very user-friendly,” he said. “What DegreeWorks does is put (class progress) in student-speak. It builds a very simple checklist and says, ‘Here are the courses you need. Here are the options.’ And when they’re completed, it checks them off.”

Screen Shot 2012 12 06 at 3.52.01 AM DegreeWorks works?

Because DegreeWorks is a fairly new deal, there are still some kinks that need to be sorted with the software. Graduate students at UTPA are still not able to use it. The degree plans for graduate students are “much more sticky,” Rhodes said.

The graduate degree plans are more complicated because their classes are more specialized, so the registrar’s office is working toward having those degree plans online by the end of next spring as a “soft target,” Rhodes said.

Along with the graduate implementation to DegreeWorks, the registrar’s office is also planning to set aside two weeks this spring to fix any road bumps, such as updated degree plans, with the software.

Also, in the case that a student’s major or concentration is incorrect in DegreeWorks, Rhodes recommends that the student turn in a change-of-major form to the registrar’s office. There is a simpler, updated version of the form available online at their UTPA page.

“There was a lot of missing data, especially the tracks (for degrees),” Rhodes added. “That data actually resided in the departmental offices and had not been reported to us, so we’ve been working very hard to get students to fill out the form.”


Screen Shot 2012 12 06 at 3.51.50 AM DegreeWorks works?

Ayssa Cabrera has found DegreeWorks to be a useful tool as she maps out future classes.

“It was helpful and it made my degree plan pretty clear to me,” the 20-year-old accounting major said. “I recommend it to my friends because it’s pretty efficient. You get to see what you’re doing, what you’ve done, and what you need to do when it comes to classes.”

Cabrera also likes a feature that informs her of prerequisites she may need for a class, saving her from having to call the registrar’s office and ask.

However, Adriana Ramon doesn’t see DegreeWorks as a useful tool. The nursing major believes it could be more user-friendly.

“I couldn’t understand how it works,” the 18-year-old said. “I was really confused by the percentage bar. It was saying I already had a percentage but I don’t know how that works since I just started taking classes.”

But Hugo Sanchez, a criminal justice major, agrees with Cabrera. He put his appreciation for the program in simple terms.

“DegreeWorks is like an adviser,” he suggested.

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UTPA unveils one-year MBA

October 25th, 2012

Twenty-two years after receiving her bachelor’s of business administration in accounting, UTPA alumna and Director of Auxiliary Services Leticia Benavides will hit the books once again, but this time for online courses under the University’s new accelerated master’s of business administration program.

Screen shot 2012 10 25 at 2.22.33 AM UTPA unveils one year MBA

The new program, a year in the making, will offer students the opportunity to receive their MBA degree within one calendar year. UTPA faculty initiated the program, according to Cynthia Brown, vice provost for graduate studies.

In the past, Benavides looked at many online MBA programs available at other universities. However, when UTPA developed the new program, she didn’t look any further and applied during
the summer.

“I want to balance my time between family, work and education,” said Benavides, who graduated from McAllen High School and first came to UTPA in fall 1984 for undergraduate work. “I realize that I will be dedicating numerous hours to my studies but at least I will do so from home and still be accessible to my husband and kids.”

“The accelerated MBA program allows for that flexibility but it also is an intensive program that, I expect, will be very challenging,” she said. “In order to balance family, work and school, I needed a program that would allow for versatility in how I managed my time.”

Each of the program’s online courses will be offered in seven-week terms, with a one-week break after each course. Six terms will be offered within one calendar year.

The upcoming fall session will begin Oct. 24. The MBA program consists of 12 courses, totaling 36 credit hours. Courses include financial administration, marketing policy and management and social media in business. Tuition for the accelerated degree program is $14,500. The program will require the same admissions criteria as the graduate degree offered on campus.

“It’s accelerated in terms of time. Through the program, you get to do in a week what you’d normally do in two, it speeds up a traditional MBA within a year,” said Dave Jackson, director of the MBA program. “Online learning will be a huge boom for UTPA students and working adults, allowing them the comfort and flexibility to take their courses at their own convenience.”

The University will also offer the master’s of education in educational administration along with the MBA this fall, including the master’s in public administration set for spring. The master’s in accountancy is also expected to join the accelerated program in
the future.

With 15 students enrolled for the first seven-week term for the accelerated MBA program, Jackson says the number of applicants in the waiting line for the spring module is expected to grow.

“The demand for the new accelerated program is high,” Jackson said. “We started out with an average number of applicants for the first seven-week term since we didn’t have enough time to market the program.”

Jackson explains that students will receive the same quality of education as in a classroom, as courses are built online to help students keep up, using software programs such as
Blackboard Learn.

“It won’t just be notes posted online; short instructional videos will be uploaded through Tegrity as well,” Jackson said. “As a finance instructor, my students will be able to see me solve problems step-by-step as they would in a classroom.”

While the online program is primarily targeted to working adults, to increase their ability to obtain an MBA degree in less time, it is not suited for everyone. UTPA will continue to offer the traditional classroom MBA program on campus as well as online, both taking an estimated two calendar years to complete.

“Some students will just prefer the face-to-face classroom environment,” Jackson said. “If you get behind three or four days, forget it, it’ll be difficult to keep up.”

With 97 percent of the enrolled students from South Texas, Jackson hopes the accelerated MBA degree will serve and benefit students throughout the Valley’s geographically dispersed region who can’t always commute to and from Edinburg.

An MBA is the second most popular graduate degree in the nation, following a Master’s in Education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

“A good portion of the applicants are engineers and medical doctors seeking to understand how to operate their own businesses. We also have working adults in the traditional MBA program that want to make the switch to the accelerated one,” he said. “They want to get in, get qualified and return to the job market as soon as possible.”

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Curtain call for Master’s in Theatre

October 11th, 2012

The final echoes of the Master’s in Theatre program at The University of Texas-Pan American are to be on Aug. 31, 2015. This is the time limit given to the University to finish students in that track.

Last fall, the University received word from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board that they were to no longer accept admissions into the Theatre program, but the news came too late to stop registration for that semester. Because of this, the final cutoff date was held back until the start of the spring semester of 2012.

Two years ago, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, established by the Texas Legislature to oversee all things public higher education, brought the program up for review and looked at the number of graduate students it had pulled in over a five-year period.  At the time there had been only a total of seven degrees produced from the program over the span.

Ultimately, the board concluded that the Maters in Theater program, which was started in the  early 80s by Marian Monta, was not generating enough numbers and decided to close it.
The standards put forth by the coordinating board are as follows: A doctoral program has to produce three graduates a year in order to not be considered low-producing. For a master’s program it is five graduates a year, and eight for bachelors.

Once a program is considered low-producing, the University has to analyze it and either request an exemption from the board, or close the program. If an exemption is requested, a defense has to be put forth as to why the program should be kept. If the exemption is granted by the board, then the program is given two years to bring up its numbers.

The handful of students that had already entered the theater program prior to the cutoff date will be allowed to finish. In fact, some already have, bringing the final days of the drill even closer.

“There are around six students currently in the program. There may be more, but some are inactive. You never know if they are going to finish,” said Eric Wiley, a theatre professor with the Communication Department. “Five graduated this past summer. We probably went from about 16 to six in the last year.”

During the time the decision was made to close the program, the number of students joining had increased, to the point where the numbers would have been adequate, according to Wiley.

“In 2009 through 2010, the economy went bad,” Wiley said. “Our students were having trouble finding work, so they were going back to school to get their master’s.”

However, since the board had been looking at the results over a five-year period, and the number had been low beforehand, the decision was still made to cut.

Currently, there are no plans to replace the program, with focus being put on seeing the students in it to graduation. However, one option that Wiley spoke of that could possibly be offered as a replacement: an interdisciplinary studies MA in theatre. It would be a concentration in theatre, but not an actual master’s degree.

In interdisciplinary studies, students would have to acquire 18 hours in their concentration, which would then qualify them to teach at a community college or junior college. It would also qualify them to teach lower division courses at a university.

Several people in the Communication Department had made an effort to get the program cut exempted.

This included Timothy Mottet, the chair of the department at the time the decision was made. Mottet was involved with the creation of the defense, however, the board rejected the exemption, and the program fell through.

“We were all really disappointed by the decision. We seemed to have some renewed enthusiasm by faculty and students,” said Cynthia Brown, vice provost for graduate studies. “All the work they had done getting students interested was just coming into fruition. There wasn’t time to see the benefits of that enthusiasm.”

With the closing of the theatre master’s, students interested in continuing their education in the field have no choice, unless the option to transform the program into an interdisciplinary study is made, but to seek it elsewhere.

“This was the only master’s in theatre offered south of San Antonio,” Wiley said. “That has always been our main justification for keeping the program.”

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Serving future STEM students

September 22nd, 2012

Graphic by Erick Gonzalez
Jesus Santos graduated from UTPA last May, and is currently trying to get his certification as a registered nurse so that he can help improve healthcare in the Valley. He said he would have never gone to college had he not been part of the Upward Bound Math and Science program at his high school in Donna.
“I was walking down the hallway when I saw something in the auditorium,” Santos said. “I went in there and saw the presentation they were giving. What inspired me to join was the attitude and environment the program gave off.”

The U.S. Department of Education awarded the UBMS program at the University of Texas-Pan American with a $1,312,500 federal grant to continue to assist students. The grant will be split into $262,500 every year from 2013 to 2018.

All the money will be directed toward activities including computer training, college preparation and scientific research conducted by participants. A stipend of $50 will also be given to those who are recruited.

Santos was part of his school’s chapter of Health Occupation Students of America and Upward Bound for the last three years of his high school career.

“The UBMS program provided a big step for me to get into UTPA,” said Santos, who joined in its first year 2003. “They were there to guide me.”

With the ability to serve 63 students, the grant focuses on students at Weslaco East, Weslaco, and Donna high schools who show a potential interest in science, technology, engineering or math fields.

The grant targeted the Mid-Valley area because the superintendents and principals were very cooperative, and open to collaboration to assisting with the program.

Juan Garcia, director of the UBMS program, has been with it since its conception at UTPA in September 2003.

“This is a much needed opportunity for students, and we want to increase their chances for a post-secondary education,” he said.

The superintendents and principals of the schools will allow the program officials to have access to the participating students, and will provide them with extra facilities such as classroom space, computers, and transportation for the students.

Recruitment and interviews will begin in the spring at the selected schools.

Those who wish to apply must be low-income students, based on family unit size and taxable income, and/or first-generation college students, and display a need for academic support in order to achieve a higher education. This will be measured by looking at the student’s academic records and recommendations from counselors and teachers.

Representatives of the program will conduct interviews and have the interested students answer essay questions about what the students expect from the program, what their goals and objectives are, and where they see themselves in the future.

Ninety-three percent of students who enter the program go on to pursue post-secondary education after high school graduation, Garcia said. Half are now attending UTPA.

Felipe Salinas, a grant writer for the Division of Student Affairs at UTPA, helped co-write the grant with Juan Garcia.

“I am very excited that we got this grant because it will allow UTPA to continue to prepare students for jobs in the STEM field,” Salinas said. “We have seen the impact that the UBMS program has had on students, especially in the graduation rate.”

Representatives of the program will go out to the schools and give information to selected contacts at the high schools.

“This program is an agent of positive change for the lives of students,” Garcia said. “I’m excited because the grant will have a great impact on the benefits students will receive.”

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Funding Circuitry

September 21st, 2012

Graphic by Erick Gonzalez

Thanks to a $215,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, UTPA will become the only institution in South Texas with a fabrication system for integrated circuits.

The grant, titled “MRI: Acquisition of a Sputtering System for Device and Material Research (SDMR) at Hispanic Gateway Institutions,” will be used to support research in thin film and semiconductors through the purchase of a sputtering system, according to the grant document on the NSF website.

Semiconductors and thin film are materials that help produce integrated circuits. Semiconductors are substances that are commonly used in modern electronic devices such as radios, computers and cell phones, due to their electrical conductivity. Integrated circuits are small electronic devices made out of semiconductor material that are used in several electronic products such as computers and phones.

The project, which went into effect Sept. 1, will run until the end of August 2015. The money will be used to buy instruments to help manufacture integrated circuits because UTPA currently doesn’t have a manufacturing facility.

The Engineering Department has to send its products to a manufacturing company, MOSIS, and wait for it to return before products can be tested. Hasina Huq, the electrical engineering professor in charge of the project, hopes that from the funds being used for a fabrication facility, students can see their work being fabricated and learn real-world lessons.

“The short-term goal is to increase research infrastructure (and) the long-term goal is to have a facility here that will help students get more experience in the engineering world,” she said. “Even without the fabrication facility, students got several job offers from places like Intel and Texas Instruments, so we’re excited to see how far students can go with one.”

The manufacturing facility, known as a sputtering system, will be located on the second floor of the engineering building, in the high bay area. The system, according to Dorina Mihut, associate professor of mechanical engineering, will be used to create the deposits in integrated circuits.

The deposits form the bases of the integrated circuits; the bases are fundamental materials (metals, semiconductors and insulators) and are layered on the IC on a nano scale.

The requirement for the sputtering system involves a room with a hood for ventilation and water supply. Mihut, says that the system works by having a room that’s low in pressure and high in vacuum, creating a condition conducive for molecules bonding together.

So far, the plan is to do the deposits on the IC’s, Huq said. To finish the IC, they’re going to continue to send the ICs to MOSIS.

The plan is to have the room ready by the end of this fall or beginning of the spring semester, and after buying the necessary equipment and having students and faculty go through a training process, the sputtering facility will be ready to use by summer 2013, Huq said.

Huq also stated that the project will be a collaboration between UTPA and UT-Brownsville.

“UTB has no master’s program in engineering, so projects like this make it easier for UTB freshmen if they want to come here (to UTPA,” she said.

She also notes that a travel fund will be used by UTB engineering students, so they can come to UTPA in the summer, while the local department will work on the project year round.

Hector Trevino II, an electrical engineering graduate student who was runner-up in an integrated circuit design competition by Advanced Micro Devices INC in the spring, thinks that the grant will be as beneficial for students as it will be for the University.

“Without the fabrication process, not everyone could get a hands-on approach and fully appreciate what they were doing,” he said. “Now, with this process being added, students will get more experience and it’ll help them be more prepared for more job opportunities and they’ll be all the better for it.” 


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