Graduate Support Center offers means for success

By JoAnn Jones


Since last fall, the Graduate Support Center has provided graduate students at the University of the Incarnate Word with educational and professional services in the hope of increasing graduation rates.

“The Graduate Support Center is designed to provide services to graduate students to increase their persistence to graduation,” said Dr. David Ortiz, center director. “We have a very particular focus on areas such as academic workshops.

“(The center) provides a very visible vehicle for students to interact with the university. You might almost call it a one-stop shop for students to come in and ask a question and be directed in an appropriate manner.”

Since becoming director of the center last May, Ortiz, whose background is in higher education, has worked to improve the center as a result of a grant awarded to the university.

“I think that we have hit the ground running and have made a loud impact, an impact of success, in the short amount of time that we have been around,” Ortiz said.

The five-year grant, called the PPOHA or Promoting Post-Secondary Opportunities for Hispanic Americans, was awarded to UIW by the U.S. Department of Education. Each year, the university begins to assume 20 percent of the operating costs of the center. At the end of the five-year period, the center will be institutionalized in the permanent operating budget of the campus.

“I think this shows the university’s firm commitment to graduate education,” Ortiz said. “I think it sends a loud and clear message that it is supporting the success of all graduate students.”

Because of the funding, the center is able to provide a variety of services geared toward graduate students. These services include academic and professional development workshops, which are offered twice a week to meet the growing needs of UIW’s graduate students.

“We have to meet our students at the places where they are,” Ortiz said. “We have seen an increase in workshop attendance and have had outstanding feedback.”

In addition, the center acts as a communication vehicle for graduate students.

“Our students are what we call ‘Samsonite students,’ ” Ortiz said. “They come with their luggage and bags straight from work to class in the evening and then leave. They do not have permanency in any form or fashion and that keeps them disconnected from the university. We created a dynamic weekly e-mail that is geared directly to graduate students and filter out any information that is not relevant to the graduate student.”

Orientations to the graduate program have been reorganized since the start of the center. These orientations have grown to involve not only the new graduate student, but their families as well. As a result, Ortiz said he has seen an increase in the attendance rate for these orientations.

“All this we do is for the sole purpose of increasing student persistence to graduation,” Ortiz said.

Currently, the Graduate Support Center is working on a pilot program for a writing institute and finding ways to continue to grow as an integral part of the UIW community.

“I envision a place where graduate students can come and have an opportunity to rest before going off to class, a place where we can have a dynamic writing center that focuses on writing from fundamental writing to dissertation boot camps, a comprehensive set of services that are available late into the afternoon and evening hours when graduate students are on campus,” Ortiz said.

“I can see us being a hallmark in graduate education that takes a commuter-based, non-traditional graduate student population and gives them a voice on campus. I see the (center) creating and facilitating the establishment of a culture of graduate student success.”


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