End of Year Message from the Provost
Editor’s note: The following message was sent today via email from Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Kimberly Andrews Espy to all faculty:
This past weekend, I took part in the university’s Spring 2021 commencement celebrations, which included 19 in-person ceremonies over three days as well as our newest tradition: Commencement Drive. This weekend, we will finally be able to recognize our 2020 graduates with in-person ceremonies — something we have long awaited. More than 5,300 Roadrunners are earning their degrees this month, a wonderful reminder that, despite the challenges of the past year, our students are persevering towards their goals and achieving their dreams — thanks in no small part to the dedication of you, their faculty. We are beginning to emerge from perhaps one of the most tumultuous periods of our lifetimes. Amidst our own personal challenges over the past 15+ months, as educators and scholars you pivoted and pushed through for the sake of our students, and for the sake of our future as a society. On behalf of university leadership, I thank you for your tremendous efforts and for the care and compassion you showed to your students.
Many of you have spent the better part of last year learning how to — in entirely new ways — teach, engage and connect with students. I believe that supporting teaching excellence is foundational to our students’ success and, to this end, we have relied on your participation as faculty to shape our approach and efforts. Thanks to the tireless efforts and ingenuity of the Academic Innovation division team and your resiliency and commitment, UTSA is in an excellent position to continue making bold moves to ensure our students are getting an exceptional education during the pandemic.
To recap a few important highlights:
- Our faculty and students have access to, and significant support for, a dozen or so teaching and learning technologies that were not available to us prior to the pandemic — tools like Zoom, Panopto and Padlet, which have opened up new opportunities to make our courses more accessible and engaging for today’s diverse learners.
- We now have an innovative peer-to-peer support model that allows our teaching and learning experts to get direct feedback from you in real-time (built-in faculty focus group) so they can more quickly address their needs. I applaud the College POCs and Department Faculty Champions for their continued partnership with division of Academic Innovation colleagues to engage and support their fellow faculty with online teaching.
- Academic Affairs supported more than 50 faculty members’ participation in the ACUE Effective Teaching Practices certification course, in partnership with UT System. In September we will recognize the extraordinary instructors who completed this rigorous and time-intensive course during an already stressful year. Based on overwhelmingly positive feedback, we will support another cohort in the fall.
- Since last spring, you took advantage of the 85 online webinars, 155 hands-on training sessions for faculty and students, and countless hours of virtual consultations and support, as well as used the more than 150 instructional videos (which have been viewed more than 6,000 times this semester alone) created by Academic Innovation staff.
This summer, several new incentive, support and recognition programs for faculty and graduate assistants will be launched to continue to support a culture of pedagogical innovation and digital transformation for student learning and success, and to recognize your hard work. Stay tuned for more details on these and other opportunities.
FACULTY PEER MENTORING
The division of Faculty Success team has also been busy this past year, strengthening UTSA’s faculty mentoring culture by championing several initiatives and programs that support faculty at all stages of their careers. In addition to mentoring at the departmental level, cross-disciplinary and topical peer mentoring teams, particularly those related to online and flexible teaching strategies, are serving as valuable support groups. Two new programs — Mid-Career Mentoring and Mentor Meet-Ups — are set to launch this fall. I encourage you to take a look through the many opportunities available in the Faculty Mentoring Hub.
ACADEMIC SUCCESS DISTRICT – NEW CLASSROOM TECHNOLOGIES
Looking ahead to fall, we are planning for the grand opening of the first phase of the Academic Success District. Twenty highly utilized classrooms are being upgraded this summer to better support innovative pedagogical practices. Each classroom will reflect one of four distinct classroom personas based on current layout and potential usage. And faculty will be pleased to know the design of these classrooms will be standardized so that you can walk into any of them and be familiar with how to use them. Thanks to all of you who participated in the focus groups to give input on technology needs and capabilities — and to the Faculty Senate for ongoing engagement in the overall upgrade planning process.
Also, through this initiative, several key offices that support the academic experience are being relocated to paseo-level spaces to enhance their visibility and navigability and to promote collaborative learning environments for students and faculty. Notably, academic support programs of the Tomás Rivera Center are moving to a front door space on the second floor of the Multidisciplinary Studies Building where students and staff can work together in a collaborative environment. I can’t wait for you to see these revamped spaces — more to come!
Last January, just prior to the start of the pandemic, UTSA launched the Enriching Campus Wellbeing initiative to promote the physical health and emotional and social wellbeing of the entire Roadrunner community. Of course, we did not yet know what was ahead, and to be certain the pandemic has impacted all of us at many levels. As we continue to emerge from the pandemic, I hope you take some time over the summer to rest and recharge, which is particularly important after this grueling year. As you wrap up your post-semester work, you may find value in the webinar hosted by the initiative, Increasing Student and Faculty Wellbeing with Humor; learn how humor can help reduce stress, increase wellbeing, and contribute to effective teaching. In partnership with Faculty Senate and the Department Chairs Council, we will continue to explore additional opportunities to help offer support to all of you who have given so much of yourselves this year.
HISPANIC THRIVING LEADERSHIP COUNCIL
As you know, UTSA was recognized last fall with the prestigious Seal of Excelencia , an honor that is largely a reflection of your tremendous commitment to support our majority Latino student body. As we take our next steps toward becoming a Hispanic Thriving Institution, we will be seeking faculty feedback and participation to implement and advance evidence-based strategies that promote Latino student success, in turn raising excellence across the university for the benefit of all students.
To learn more about the framework we will be using to guide our efforts, I strongly encourage you to register to attend a free webinar on June 8 hosted by Excelencia in Education on Implementing Evidence-Based Practices to Intentionally SERVE Latino Students.
As we continue to emerge from the pandemic, Academic Affairs, in partnership with the Faculty Senate, intends to mark the start of the Fall 2021 semester with a Faculty Convocation. The general idea is to convene our faculty in celebration of the improving public health outlook, recognition of your tireless efforts on behalf of your students, and dialogue about the important lessons we learned during the pandemic and can actualize in the new academic year. We expect that such an event would combine virtual and in-person elements. I understand it’s been a number of years since UTSA held a faculty convocation, so we are working with a blank canvas. I welcome your thoughts and ideas to shape this planning. Please send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org and share your thoughts or volunteer to serve on the planning team.
In conclusion, whatever your plans are for summer, both personal and professional, I hope they prove to be fulfilling and restful. Thank you again for your efforts — I consider myself so fortunate to count you all as colleagues, and I look forward to welcoming you back in the fall.