Convocation 2019

President Evans’ annual speech focuses on enhanced student support

Lamar University President Kenneth Evans praised the students, faculty and staff for their various achievements throughout the 2018-19 school year at his annual convocation, Aug. 20, in the Montagne Center.

Lamar is currently undergoing a reaffirmation of accreditation process and has developed a Quality Enhancement Plan, or QEP, which has been renamed to “Math to a Degree.”

“What the program basically does, is it tries to align requirements from specific programs that the students are engaged in and more effectively help in their matriculation process,” Evans said. “We’re very pleased with the outcome of that program and where they seem to be heading.”

Evans said LU is ranked first in two or more minority-serving areas of doctoral degrees, research, scholarship and education.

“It ranked first in the top 45 most affordable online graduate programs in 2019,” he said. “It ranked fifth nationally amongst the best value colleges for engineering majors for ­­­­­return on investment for in-state engineering students, and 11th for out-of-state engineering students. LU ranked ninth in graduating the most Hispanic master’s degree students in education and it ranked 11th in graduating the most African-American master’s degree students in the area of education.

“(Lamar) ranked in the top 10 percent of universities in the nation on the 2018 Social Mobility Index, which recognizes schools that do the best at helping disadvantaged students graduate and begin their careers.”

Evans announced a collaboration between Lamar and Apple computers that was secured last year.

“Some of you may know, that there are 500,000 job opening nationwide in computer coding and analytics,” he said. “Apple is working collaboratively with Lamar University in the preparation of future coders and individuals in the analytics area. They are also funding 50 faculty who can secure 12 hours of credit towards a graduate degree, a master’s in education, so it’s a tremendous opportunity for us to collaborate with them in what I think is a very meaningful difference.”

Evans talked about the importance of offering new opportunities to students and giving them the tools they need to succeed. Evans introduced Craig Escamilla, director of retention and student success, who spoke about the department’s restructuring and the initiatives Lamar is undertaking to further improve student success.

“This team is more focused on data than ever before,” Escamilla said. “Last year was our research and data collection phase to understand who our students are, where they come from, and what will help us serve them in more personalized ways.

“We’ve been looking at what causes students to leave, categorizing certain students to tailored services, contacting them proactively to ask them about how we can help them progress, and collecting data from students who tell us they’re not returning so we can plan for the future.

“We’ve met just about everybody on campus that will spend time with us to find out what is the and is not working for our students and to hear the truth about improvement opportunities.”

Escamilla said Lamar is also implementing real-time dashboards for retention and graduation rates.

“We’ve piloted our fully implemented new processes to help students stay on track, including recruiting back continuing students, helping students address financial balances, improving communication between the UAC and departments, updates academic progress reporting process with increased communication about results, and individual proactive support to help students one at a time,” he said. “One thing we’re not doing is coming up with quick-fix solutions to pump up retention and graduation rates in the short-term. We want sustainable, long-term improvement.”

Escamilla said four-year graduation rates have improved and that early indications are that the first-year retention rate will be up.

“The number of students on probation or suspended each semester has decreased over the last several years,” he said. “Three out of four fall 2018 freshman students earned a cumulative GPA above 2.0 last year, and students marked at-risk in progress report who attended support services are more likely to persist.”

Escamilla ended by asking for support in overall enrollment and completion efforts of Lamar.

Evans told faculty and staff to let their students know about LUstrong, which provides grant money for students who were affected by Hurricane Harvey.

“We received more than $6 million dollars overall within the last biennium in special funding which goes a long way in helping us with our budget,” he said.

Faculty and staff will also receive a raise of three percent within the next academic year, Evans said.

Evans introduced Shawn Gray, director of the Student Health Center, to talk about the importance of physical, mental and sexual health on campus.

“Last year, a student came into the clinic asking for a medical appointment,” Grey said. “She was your typical, all-American college freshman. After about 20 minutes, my medical staff had diagnosed her with an STI. Can you imagine the chaos that occurred shortly after that? Do you think she was worried about studying that afternoon?

“Our mission at Lamar is to engage students and empower them with skills and knowledge so that they can thrive in their personal and professional lives. We have this opportunity every day.”

Gray said that students are more than just students — she said they are whole human beings with lives full of worries, illnesses and heartaches outside of Lamar’s campus.

“Both physical and mental health is vital to their personal and academic success,” she said. “If we neglect their humanity, we support their failure.”

Gray said a recent survey about habits and behaviors and perceptions related to health and wellness revealed that students were struggling with thoughts of suicide, alcohol, physical illnesses and safety concerns.

“The Student Health Center is here to do our part in educating students about how to navigate healthcare resources to receive the best possible care,” she said. “We treat their physical and mental illnesses, so they can return to the class and resume their studies.

“We promote healthy behaviors and preventative medicine and we tie those ideas to a conductive and successful life.”

Gray closed by saying that a healthy body and a stable mind is the foundation on which a student’s success is built.

Evans introduced Rachel Hoover, director of STAR services, to speak about the programs her department offers.

“Almost 2,000 students used at least one of our programs last year with 500 of them using more than one,” Hoover said. “We strive to provide quality services and are proud to share that both the LU success and tutoring programs recently earned the College Reading and Learning Association’s Level I and II certification. This certification means that our programs were reviewed by peers in our field and they achieved high professional standards in training and skills for tutoring.”

Hoover closed by thanking the university for its continued support of STAR services.

Evans recognized 2019 David J. Beck Fellows, Cesar Delgado and Omar Hamza, as well as the 2019 Presidential Fellows Kyle Delk and Hannah Rumsey.

“These are undergraduate students, which is a testament to the preparation that we provide students here and their capacity to do this kind of work,” Evans said.

Evans spotlighted the school’s new Texas State University System’s Regents Professors. Xuejun Fan, professor of mechanical engineering, who was promoted last year to The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering IEEE Fellows — a distinction awarded only to one-tenth of one percent of professional members worldwide — and Jim Westgate, professor emeritus of earth and space sciences.

“The bottom line is that this is a tremendous testament to the quality of our faculty, and these two individuals,” Evans said.

Evans also recognized Omar Gonzales, Port Neches senior and biology major, who was accepted into the Immunology doctoral program at Yale University and received the Gruber Science Fellowship, the highest honor a doctoral student can receive at Yale.

Evans concluded convocation by noting the increases in usage of several services on campus like STAR services and the Disability Resource Center.

“I look forward to the year to come and wish you a very successful year,” he said.

 

Olivia Malick, UP editor

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