Nearly two years after being awarded the U.S. Department of Education’s Title III grant, UTM continues to implement change for faculty, staff, current and prospective students.
The grant, called the Strengthening Institutions Initiative, was awarded in April of 2014, and funding began in October of that year. It was the second of two Title III grants awarded to the university. The first was largely responsible for the creation of the Student Success Center.
Dr. Bonnie Daniel, senior research associate in the Office of Research, Grants and Contracts, and Patty Flowers, now Assessment Coordinator, outlined the university’s strengths and weaknesses in a 50-page document called a comprehensive development plan. This included two broad goals selected to accomplish among a pre-determined set by the US D.O.E. These are enhancing post-secondary success and improving productivity.
Within these two goals are five segments, including implementation of a new degree audit software, development of student leadership and peer academic coaching, a faculty mentoring program, the creation of a culture of evidence and enhancements made to the vet tech program.
Daniel and Flowers consulted with many individuals on campus to decide upon these goals over a period of three to four months.
Funding is given over a five-year period and Dr. Brian Donavant, interim executive director of the Office of Educational Outreach, is the project director.
“It’s a very nimble grant,” said Donavant. “It can be used for lots of different things. The actual initiative from the Department of Education is ‘Strengthening Institutions,’ and that’s exactly what the grant does. It provides resources to institutions to address exactly where an institution is.”
Among grant implementations are renovations made to an old hog barn located near Graves Stables. Completed in fall of 2015, a new classroom space for 40 students was created with touch screen monitors and provided four offices for faculty. A space behind the classroom will also be reconstructed as a lab for the project’s third phase in the same building. Completion of the lab is scheduled for the fall semester of 2017.
“We wouldn’t have the number of students we have now without the grant,” said Dr. Jason Roberts, associate professor of Animal Science and overseer of this portion of the grant. “It would have greatly limited the number of students getting in the program, so very simply we couldn’t do what we’re doing without it.”
According to Roberts, the program has grown in size to 64 registered students.
The Strengthening Institutions Initiative also established a culture of evidence for the university to address the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ concerns of institutional effectiveness that led to academic probation. These measures affirm the use of data to inform decisions made on campus. The grant additionally established the assessment coordinator position and funded the faculty workshops that revised student learning outcomes. External consultants were similarly funded.
“The timing was just perfect in that we got the funds to start that just before SACS put us on probation for not having a culture of evidence,” said Flowers.
The grant additionally fashioned a faculty mentoring program for teachers that have been with the university for five years or less. The mentoring is designed to help new teachers juggle teaching, researching and serving on a committee as well as guide them through the tenure and review process.
The first groups met last year and consisted of five members apiece, in what is called a learning community. In meetings, the groups discuss feedback on effective teaching and different techniques. Currently, there are nine faculty members led by Dr. Roberto Mancusi, associate professor of Music and Dr. Kevin Hammond, professor of Management, Marketing and Information Systems.
“UTM is a teaching institution, that’s what we pride ourselves on,” said Daniel, who oversees this portion of the grant.
Peer Academic Coaches were also created to assist undeclared major students as part of FYI. Each student that remains undecided after their first semester of courses is assigned a P.A.C. as peer support. P.A.C.s are trained through the nationally recognized Student Leadership Challenge program. Dr. George Daniel, coordinator for Student Affairs Program Evaluation, monitors this portion of the project and described it as a way to provide leadership skills.
“It gives students a big sister or brother who can relate to what they are going through, so that they can appreciate that from a student perspective,” said Dr. George Daniel.
Yet to come is the addition of a new degree audit program to replace CAPP called Degree Works. The Ellucian program has many features that enable students to more clearly understand their college course load and plan for the future. For example, a “what if” button allows students that are contemplating changing majors to see which of their previously taken classes will account for the new path of study. Other features include a GPA calculator and planner for students to organize their future classes, which will also inform teachers about the demand for certain courses.
Degree Works uses the catalog information from CAPP as its backbone along with four-year course plans submitted by faculty. The software is currently being scribed by Ellucian representatives and will be implemented in the fall of 2017.
Project advisor Martha Barnett, registrar in the Office of Academic Records, described the software as the icing, cherry and sprinkles on top.
“To me, this is the best there is, so why wouldn’t we give UT Martin students the best that we can give them?” said Barnett.
Donavant called the grant’s progress “phenomenal.”
“Things that we could not have accomplished without this initial funding and things that quite frankly we didn’t even envision at the time the funding was awarded, we’ve been able to accomplish,” said Donavant. “By the time we get to year five, we’re really limited almost only by our imaginations by how far we can take this.”