UTEP recognized for championing access and success

Andres Rodriguez | Scripps Howard Foundation Wire

WASHINGTON – Twenty years ago, Junius Gonzales was working for the National Institutes of Health when a colleague asked him if he’d heard about the University of Texas at El Paso. He said no, and his colleague told him to keep an eye on the university.

Institute for Higher Education President Michelle Asha Cooper presents the Institutional Champions of Access and Success Award to UTEP Provost Junius Gonzales on Tuesday. Four institutions were honored with the inaugural award. (Photo courtesy of Kea Taylor/ Imagine Photography)

Institute for Higher Education President Michelle Asha Cooper presents the Institutional Champions of Access and Success Award to UTEP Provost Junius Gonzales on Tuesday. Four institutions were honored with the inaugural award. (Photo courtesy of Kea Taylor/ Imagine Photography)

He did.

Gonzales joined UTEP as provost in 2011 after serving as dean of the College of Behavioral & Community Sciences at the University of South Florida.

In the last 20 years, UTEP has grown through partnerships with local education institutions and by continuing to provide access to low-income students, Gonzales said.

The Institute for Higher Education Policy recognized these efforts Tuesday at a summit here where Gonzales received the Institutional Champions of Access and Success Award on UTEP’s behalf.

“It’s a terrific honor because this is the inaugural award,” Gonzales said. “We know that there were many applicants for this particular award, and we put our best foot forward to describe UTEP’s longer-term commitment to student success.”

UTEP was one of four institutions to receive the award from the D.C. nonprofit organization. Northern Virginia Community College, Salish Kooteni College in Pablo, Mont., and St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas, were also honored.

“The IHEP Champions of Access and Success Awards not only affirm our longstanding commitment to championing increased college access and success for undeserved students across the nation, they also recognize the efforts of UTEP for working to advance this important mission,” IHEP President Michelle Asha Cooper said in a statement.

UTEP was recognized in part for its commitment to using robust data systems to monitor student success and to shape programs to better serve students.

“It allows us to hone in on trying different interventions and options,” Gonzales said.

The data system, for example, led to a program that gives students who are close to failing a math course two extra weeks to complete their work.

“A lot of the students have competing demands, other commitments. Running off to work in the middle of the day, and then trying to get back and they couldn’t get back. So that program has been very successful,” Gonzales said. “It just gives them a little breathing room and a huge number pass.”

Gonzales said that collaborating with other education institutions, including El Paso Community College, has given college credit to high school students taking classes at EPCC and created a  reverse transfer program – in which students can transfer credits earned at UTEP to earn an associate’s degree at EPCC.

“We are especially pleased that this tribute comes as UTEP celebrates our centennial of service to this U.S.-Mexico border region, and thus serves as a fitting validation of the work of dedicated UTEP faculty and staff who, over the past 100 years, have made a strong commitment to offer both access and excellence to all young people who entrust us with their talents and aspirations,” UTEP President Diana Natalicio said in a press release.

Reach reporter Andrés Rodríguez at andres.rodriguez@shns.com or 202-326-9871.

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