AUGUST 29, 2022 — The M.S. in Environmental Science program at the UTSA College of Sciences and the UTSA Master of Social Work program in the College for Health, Community and Policy were recently named finalists in the graduate category for the 2022 Examples of Excelencia program by Excelencia in Education. UTSA is the only university in the nation to have two finalists this year out of the group of 20.
Excelencia is the nation’s premier authority in efforts to accelerate Latino student success in higher education. The programs recognized were assessed on the strength of innovative, intentional, culturally relevant and effective high-impact practices tailored to Latino students and their communities. This year, Excelencia chose finalists from more than 93 program submissions from 17 states, including Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico.
The environmental science program has cultivated Latino student success through three interventions: holistic mentoring, science writing, and public science communication. By providing the support and training required for graduate students to produce scientific research and communicate that research into effective community engagement and public leadership, the program plays a crucial role in its students’ science identity.
Starting in 2015, the program’s practices were intentionally developed to serve Latino students through an evaluation of success measures and by consulting with leading experts on how to enhance Latino student success across STEM fields.
These measures led to outcomes that included creating professionalization opportunities designed explicitly for minoritized students, recruiting successful minority role-model professionals and developing workshops for faculty to specifically address the unique need for mentoring and validating Latino participants.
“The M.S. in Environmental Science is proud to be recognized as a 2022 finalist by Excelencia in Education,” said Janis Bush, chair of the Department of Integrative Biology. “We are committed to ensuring that the natural resource and conservation workforce is diverse. This honor is a result of dedication by staff and faculty, but most importantly by students eager to learn and develop the skills needed to be successful scientists.”
The number of Latino students in the program has increased steadily. Of the 53 students currently enrolled in the environmental science graduate program, 60% are Latino. Three years ago, only 32% of the students were Latino. Additionally, Latino student retention increased from 91% to 98%, and Latino participants who completed the thesis track increased from 33% to 45% during these three years.
One of the key ways the program has achieved its mission to accelerate Latino student success was by assembling a cross-disciplinary team that included faculty from the UTSA Department of English and the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies to focus on increasing its Latino student enrollment. In 2018, the program also received funding from the National Science Foundation’s Innovative Graduate Education Program to implement and test a model to improve Latino participants' accomplishments and success in their graduate theses.
“Congratulations to the hard-working UTSA faculty, staff and students in the graduate programs of social work and environmental science for their recent recognition by Excelencia in Education,” said UTSA Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Kimberly Andrews Espy. “As a founding member of the Alliance of Hispanic Serving Research Universities (HRSU), UTSA is committed to becoming a Hispanic Thriving university. The recognition by Excelenica in Education reinforces our momentum to support our Hispanic students and the greater community with high quality programs in support of our dual mission of access and excellence.”
In 2020, UTSA earned the prestigious Seal of Excelencia, a comprehensive certification recognizing the university’s commitment and ability to accelerate Latino student success.
The Seal demonstrates the university’s forward momentum in becoming a Hispanic thriving institution, a model Hispanic Serving Institution that provides the highest quality education to advance social mobility and economic opportunities for Latino students and their communities. The university is currently ranked No. 2 among all 20 founding members of the HRSU, according to percentage of master’s degrees awarded to Latino students.
“Excelencia increases national awareness of efforts effectively engaging the growing Latino student population,” said Sarita Brown, co-founder and president of Excelencia in Education. “We are relentless, as are these program leaders, in promoting the benefits to institutions and this country through intentionally serving Latino and other post-traditional students.”
Examples of Excelencia was created in 2005 and is the country’s only national effort to recognize and promote evidence-based practices accelerating Latino student success in higher education.
In addition to environmental science, the UTSA Master of Social Work program was also named a 2022 Example of Excelencia finalist. Graduates of UTSA’s MSW program demonstrate a commitment to cultural competence, multidimensional contextual practice, social responsibility and transformative social work.
The program provides exemplary preparation for future Latino social workers. It balances the assets and cultural richness of the community with the dire unmet needs in health and human service areas, and trains students to take on the many challenges disproportionately impacting Latino families, including poverty and poor health.
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