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Campus News
Your faculty and staff news since 1965
Current Issue: March 17, 2003
Volume 38, Number 16

Aguilar: Graduate Studies can be institution hallmark

By Carolyn Gonzales

Teresita Aguilar accepted the Office of Graduate Studies deanship six months ago. Already she’s visited with many campus units, brought office staff together to assess effectiveness and moved toward making graduate education a hallmark of the institution.

She wastes no time.

The big picture

She’s also making a case to change the office’s name to UNM Graduate School.

“As a school, we can give more attention to critical local, regional, national and international issues that impact graduate education. We can also collaborate with our campus constituents to establish a UNM vision of graduate education while expressing our mission externally,” said Aguilar.

She spent the first few months as dean getting acquainted with key offices with whom OGS interacts.

“We’ve established the priorities for our office consistent with the University’s Strategic Plan,” said Aguilar. “I needed to develop a sense of where we fit in the operational scheme of things.”

She also attended department meetings of some academic units.

“People want to see improvement in Graduate Studies. They have seen the office as a bureaucratic nightmare,” she said.

Since hosting a staff retreat, Graduate Studies first critiqued, then streamlined the workflow, she said. “We hold regular staff meetings where we provide announcements and direction. When I got here, people were just keeping things going. They had no time to pull back and reflect. Now we’re changing some projects from manual to electronic formats and we’re looking at timeliness and responsiveness,” she said.

Graduate Studies needs additional resources to enhance the experiences, support and professional preparation of graduate students. “I am working with the Development Office to develop fundraising strategies in collaboration with others,” she said.

She created a marketing task force of 20 from across campus – the Teaching Assistant Resource Center (TARC), associate deans, KNME, research and other offices to look at ways to market, improve the visibility and perception of graduate education and to raise money.

The marketing group is looking at ways departments and Graduate Studies can market various graduate programs. “We are looking at the image of our graduate programs locally and nationally. We are assessing the resource base for recruiting to our graduate programs,” she said.

Aguilar plans an aggressive approach to draw graduate students to UNM. “We can’t depend upon a single strategy to attract graduate students. We can’t afford a piecemeal approach to graduate student recruitment or graduate program promotion. We can, however, afford to educate more graduate students in many of our programs and we need to invest strategically in recruitment efforts that work for us,” she said.

Students are the reason

Aguilar said that she would like to link current students to awards available through foundations and organizations.

“There are yearly competitions for graduate support offered by the Ford Foundation, the AAUW and the Spencer Foundation. Our students fit the targeted group for these programs, yet we have so few engaged in these national competitions,” she said.

“With 4,500 graduate students and only 1,500 assistantships, we want to be instrumental in increasing fellowships and scholarships. We want our students to be competitive when it comes to receiving grants and contracts,” she said.

Aguilar makes it clear that Graduate Studies doesn’t create policy, rather it is charged to enforce it. For example, a graduate student must maintain a 3.0 GPA to qualify for an assistantship. The deadline to submit paperwork for spring assistantships is November.

“If a student earns a 2.6 GPA, we won’t know until January. The policy states that the student loses the assistantship, but that isn’t practical with class scheduling. We are proposing that the student be allowed to continue for the spring semester but be dropped as a teaching assistant the following semester,” she said.

She would like to facilitate discussions about “best practices” for mentoring graduate students.

“We would like to identify some faculty who are strongly committed to mentoring graduate students,” said Aguilar.

Creating a model of diversity

Asked where she sees graduate education in five years, Aguilar said it will be more visible and “unapologetically diverse.”

“It will not be odd to see women of all races in science; more men in nursing, physical therapy and other helping professions. Ethnic diversity will extend across the board. That will be one of UNM’s recognized strengths,” she said.

UNM is classified a Hispanic Serving Institution based solely on its undergraduate enrollment.

“Of our 189 doctoral students who graduated last year, only three were Hispanics, eight or nine Native American and 33 were international students,” she said.

Aguilar said that at the graduate level, UNM is not very diverse. “Programmatically we are. We have great offerings through the Latin American Studies and other programs, but we are not personally diverse with our graduate students. That requires changing criteria,” she said.

The Graduate Record Examination is one of the best predictors of one’s social class, she said, but “it does not assess the ability to finish a graduate program,” she noted. Likewise, a student’s GPA is a record of past achievement only.

If we value diversity, then the criteria addressed in admissions needs to be revisited, she said.

“We can look at a student’s volunteer work at a food bank, for example, and recognize that he or she has had direct experience with people of color and people in poverty,” she said.

Aguilar said that if students have had leadership roles in their volunteer experiences in diverse settings then they would be more apt to value diversity.

“I am opposed to using race as a stand-alone criterion. There are other criteria that could result in a more diverse graduate student body. For example, valuing bilingualism demonstrates a value in diversity. Our criteria must reflect what we value,” she said.

Failure to change criteria increases the likelihood of maintaining the status quo, she said.

“We need to change to make the institution and its programs more attractive to a more diverse student population. We should not ask students to change to fit in a box,” she said. “Dealing with complicated issues requires some discomfort, but we can build a critical mass of people who want to see graduate education with a more positive image and inclusive practices.”