UTSA Scholarship Program Helps Freshmen Connect With Faculty and Peers | UTSA today | UTSA


“The pandemic has upended the traditional face-to-face classroom experience,” said Melissa Vito, vice-rector for academic innovation at UTSA. “While emergency distance learning has caused higher education to innovate in classroom technology and transform course delivery, there is still work to be done to ensure that the creativity and connection that resulting from informal in-person activities are not lost.”

During the pilot phase of the grant, 11 UTSA faculty hosted 23 different events during the semester aimed at freshmen. Each faculty member formed a “familia” of 10 or more students and organized various activities with this group throughout the spring term. More than 150 undergraduate students participated in a variety of activities outside of the classroom, including game and movie nights, visits to local art exhibits, and group dinners.

Rita Mitra and Andrea Marquez, both professors at Carlos Alvarez College of Business, teamed up on their mini-grant proposal to discuss mental health, a challenge many students have faced since the pandemic began. Mitra and Marquez hosted a movie night to screen The Social Dilemma, a documentary that explores themes around technology, social media and its impact on our lives and general mindset. Experts from UTSA Wellness Services and the UTSA College for Health, Community and Policy (HCaP) joined the screening and led a post-film discussion.

“The mini-grant allowed us to meet and connect with students on a more individualized level,” Marquez said. “It is important for us to recognize the role we play in supporting our students in their academic journey. »

Of the students who participated in the mini-grants activities, more than 90% reported feeling more connected to their professors and classmates, and 84% felt a stronger sense of belonging to the university.

“I saw this experience as an opportunity to bond with my classmates and my teacher outside of a classroom while being involved in the community,” said Jaline Atenco, a biology major who participated in the mini-grant events. “I was able to meet people from different parts of Texas who are now going to UTSA and studying different majors, which was fun.”

Fiona Velveta freshman majoring in environmental science and global affairs, attended a picnic where students met in a pollinator garden to learn about sustainable agriculture and STEM research opportunities.

“Fortunately, UTSA faculty are very supportive of participation beyond the classroom,” Velorz said. “I am grateful for this event as it reduced the barriers and hesitations associated with reaching out to faculty. It’s a reminder that professors care about their students’ success and actively choose to invest in us.

The Mini-Grant is one of many programs created to meet the unique needs of first-year students at UTSA. The Student Success Division offers a variety of centralized support services, including tutoring, academic success coaching, academic advising, and several programs designed to engage students in campus life. Additionally, Roadrunners have access to the Freshman Experience Program (FYE), which connects incoming freshmen with a peer mentor who provides academic, social, and personal support to promote a positive freshman experience and s ensure mentees are equipped to navigate their time at UTSA.

Participating professors also found that the events helped them better understand their own work. For instance, Min Wangassociate professor of management science and statistics at Alvarez College of Business, said the experiment revealed and then bridged a gap between research-oriented professors and first-year students.

Typically, Wang only interacts with graduate students, but relishes the opportunity to help students explore a future in business. During one of the meetings with his family, Wang invited Marc SandovalVice President and Chief Audit Executive of Frost Bank, to share practical tips on how to get started and grow their careers.


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