New UTEP Speaker Series Aimed at Entering Students
Last Updated on January 20, 2021 at 12:00 AM
Originally published January 20, 2021
By Daniel Perez
Students at The University of Texas at El Paso with less than 45 semester credit hours are the focus of a new virtual speaker series organized to help them make the most of their time on campus, achieve their academic goals and be job-ready graduates.
UTEP’s Entering Student Experience (ESE) launched its cycle of lunchtime presentations at noon Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. ESE Director Denise Lujan presented an overview of her office’s vision and mission to help new, transfer and returning students.
Future series speakers, who represent various University business and academic offices and departments, will base their topics on the ESE’s five pillars of achievement: Engagement, Belonging, Agency, Academic Success and Professional Preparation. Presenters will serve as mentors and storytellers to promote the practical ways their audiences may apply the pillars to all parts of their lives.
These prominent staffers, administrators and faculty members will weave messages into their talks about inclusion, commitment and empowerment as well as the importance of relationships and awareness of self-interests.
DeAnna Varela, senior lecturer with the Entering Student Program and creator of the speaker series encouraged all UTEP staff, faculty and students to sign-in to the speaker series.
“It is sure to motivate, inspire and encourage all to fulfill their potential on personal, academic and professional levels,” Varela said.
Bill Robertson, Ph.D., professor of teacher education, said his March 3 presentation, “Weaving Your Passion into the Process of Education,” will promote the benefits of drive and engagement in whatever you do. He said that kind of commitment will increase other opportunities throughout someone’s life.
He said he began to achieve academically in middle school after he became as persistent and dedicated to his studies as he was to riding his skateboard. Just as importantly, Robertson, who has earned almost as many awards for his skateboard accomplishments as for his academic scholarship, said that his persistence to master skateboard tricks made him successful.
“You fall down a lot, but you pick yourself back up,” said Robertson, a skateboard enthusiast for more than 45 years. “I learned that it was OK to fail. I learned the value of putting the time in and staying disciplined. It made a big difference.”
The series will culminate with a presentation by Reyna Grande, a young, Latina author of “A Dream Called Home.” Organizers expect Grande to elaborate on her personal experiences as a first-generation college student and aspiring writer.
The ESE is a relatively new campus entity created to give students the best chance to succeed in their first three semesters. This program, which was an initiative of University President Heather Wilson and the Provost’s Office, is a compilation of Developmental English, Developmental Math and the Entering Student Program, as well as UTEP’s Peer Leader Program.
The University formed a committee in 2019 made up of students, administrators and faculty members to investigate what entering students need to build a proper foundation for future academic and professional success. The team used feedback from student focus groups to help build a framework for course design, programs and initiatives to include the pillars of achievement.
The overall goals of ESE are to get students to identify and assess their strengths and develop personal strategies for success. In addition to the speaker series, program officials will organize on- and off-campus events that will involve and engage the students, enhance their self-interests and build networks that will help them academically and professionally.
The opportunity to help students effectively transition to UTEP excites Lujan.
“It is our mission to help students feel that they belong at UTEP and have found their home,” Lujan said. “Working with partners on campus, we are developing initiatives that will focus on providing the support and engagement activities students need to reach their academic goals.”
One of the program’s first tasks was to redesign University 1301 courses, which offered interesting topics and assignments to educate entering students about campus resources. The new version launched during the fall 2020 semester. Lujan said the ESE also plans to pilot a first-generation initiative this spring.