Tuesday, September 6, 2022

UTSA grant program helps first-year students connect with faculty and peers

UTSA grant program helps first-year students connect with faculty and peers

Brian Brigham, assistant professor of instruction in the Department of Integrative Biology, with his students at UTSA’s Bioswale and the Pollinator Garden.

SEPTEMBER 6, 2022 — The first semester of college can set the tone for a student’s entire academic career. To help promote a positive experience and foster a sense of belonging for first-year students, UTSA’s divisions of Student Success and Academic Innovation partnered to create the First-Year Student Experience and Faculty Engagement Mini-Grant. First offered in spring 2022, the grants awarded up to $1,000 for faculty members to create engaging activities for their students outside of the classroom.

This fall, the mini-grant program will resume and distribute $30,000 in funding, more than twice the amount offered in the spring. Applications will open to faculty on September 6.

“The pandemic upended the traditional face-to-face classroom experience,” said Melissa Vito, UTSA vice provost for academic innovation. “While emergency remote instruction caused higher education to innovate in classroom technology and transformed course delivery, there is still work to do to ensure that the creativity and connection that results from informal, in-person activities is not lost.”


“The mini-grant allowed us to meet and connect with students on a more individualized level.”



UTSA grant program helps first-year students

During the pilot phase of the grant, 11 UTSA professors hosted 23 different events during the semester to help build and strengthen connections between students and faculty. Each faculty member formed a ‘familia’ of 10 or more students and held various activities with that group throughout the spring term. Over 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.

“We understand that students have their own unique journeys to UTSA and services that help make one student successful may have no impact on another,” said Tammy Wyatt, UTSA vice provost for student success. “This grant program is an expansion of our efforts to create dynamic learning and campus experiences to promote student success and show our students they have a home at UTSA.”

Rita Mitra and Andrea Marquez, both professors in the Carlos Alvarez College of Business, partnered on their mini-grant proposal to host a movie night to screen the Social Dilemma. They used the documentary as a springboard to discuss mental health­—a challenge that many students have faced since the beginning of the pandemic—and unpack key themes in the film, including technology, social media, and its impact on our mindset.

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

Min Wang, associate professor of management science and statistics in the Alvarez College of Business, said that the experience revealed and then bridged a gap between research-oriented faculty and first-year students. Wang typically only teaches graduate students, but he reveled in the opportunity to help undergraduates explore a future in business. During one meeting with his familia, Wang invited Marc Sandoval, Vice President and Audit Manager from Frost Bank, to share actionable advice on how to begin and advance their careers.

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

“UTSA faculty are very encouraging of participation that exceeds the classroom,” said Fiona Velorz, an environmental science and global affairs major who visited a pollinator garden with fellow students to learn about sustainable agriculture and research opportunities in STEM. “I’m grateful for this event as it lessened the barriers and hesitance associated with contacting faculty. It’s a reminder that faculty care about their students’ success and actively choose to invest in us.”

The mini-grant is one of several programs created to assist with the unique needs of UTSA’s first-year students. The division of Student Success has a variety of centralized support services including tutoring, academic success coaching, academic advising, and several programs designed to engage students in campus life. In addition, Roadrunners have access to the First-Year Experience Program (FYE), which connects incoming freshmen with a peer mentor who provides academic, social and personal support to promote a positive first year of college and ensure that mentees are equipped to navigate their time at UTSA. 

Chloe Johnson



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of The University of Texas at San Antonio.

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UTSA Today is produced by University Communications and Marketing, the official news source of The University of Texas at San Antonio. Send your feedback to news@utsa.edu. Keep up-to-date on UTSA news by visiting UTSA Today. Connect with UTSA online at Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Instagram.


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