Dr. David A. Ortiz has been thanked by countless numbers of students over the years. But he will never forget one special encounter with the grandmother of a recent graduate.
Ortiz, the founding director of the University of the Incarnate Word’s Graduate Support Center, said it happened last spring, when a first-generation Latina graduate student walked into his office and introduced him to her family.
“No one in her family had a bachelor’s degree, much less a master’s degree. At the end of our conversation, her grandmother gave me an impassioned hug and whispered in my ear: “Un mil gracias.” Translated, that means 1,000 thanks. Many students have said thanks to me during my time at UIW. But I can honestly say I will always vividly remember that one,” he recalled.
A unit within the Office of Research and Graduate Studies, the Graduate Support Center at UIW was established in 2010, through a $2.5 million grant from the Department of Education. The center was created to increase the graduation rate of all graduate students, with a particular emphasis on Hispanic students.
“The center was charged with creating academic support services and a revised orientation. Our data analysis in 2015 revealed that since the creation of the Graduate Support Center, graduation rates for Latino graduate students had increased by over 20 percent,” Ortiz marveled.
Ortiz said, specifically, the Fall 2011 cohort experienced a 74 percent four-year graduation rate compared to the Fall 2006 cohort, who had a 52 percent rate. While comprehensive national data on master’s students’ completion rates has not been collected, the data that does exist suggests the center has raised graduation rates to nationally competitive levels.
“We’ve singularly ushered in a new era of success and a sense of belonging for our graduate students,” he said. “We are often the first line of questions for everything ranging from parking questions to graduation procedures.”
Carlos de León, a graduate assistant at the Graduate Support Center for the past three years, said the center helps students know they are not alone.
“As staff, it’s a great feeling to know we’ve created a graduate culture that has never been experienced at UIW before. We’re proud to bring together such a strong support network for our graduate students that includes family members, professors and advisors,” de León said.
A native of Guatemala and raised in San Antonio, de León said his history as an immigrant has helped inspire other graduate students at the center. He will graduate in May with his Master of Business Administration. He is also a graduate of the International School of the Americas and UIW with a Bachelor of Arts in Government.
“I’ve been fortunate to share my story with fellow immigrants pursuing their graduate degrees. Here at the center, we take time to build relationships with our students and truly understand their needs. We appreciate different cultures and backgrounds. Bringing these perspectives together makes the learning environment richer for everyone,” de León added.
He feels fortunate to have worked on a variety of projects at the center, like the planning and execution of various workshops for students. Currently, his focus has evolved into working on special projects, such as social media outreach and video productions geared at engaging students with an online presence.
The hard work and dedication of the staff at the Graduate Student Center has not gone unnoticed. Last fall, the center was recognized as a “Bright Spot in Hispanic Education” by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. The center is now part of an online database of over 230 programs that place a high priority on Hispanic-focused education.
“Among the recipients of this award, we were the only awardee that was exclusively dedicated to graduate education. This Bright Spot award singles out UIW as one of the nation’s leading innovators in graduate education, not only among Hispanic serving institutions, but all institutions,” Ortiz noted.
In October, Congressman Joaquin Castro highlighted the center in his House Floor speech as he spoke about the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics and the office’s designation as a Bright Spot.
Yesterday Congressman Joaquin Castro highlighted our office in his House Floor speech as he spoke about the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics and our designation as a Bright Spot.
Posted by UIW Office of Research and Graduate Studies on Wednesday, October 28, 2015
The Graduate Support Center was also honored by Excelencia in Education as the nation’s top program for increasing achievement for Latino students in graduate school.
Ortiz added the center’s services and programs were created from the ground up by the staff, making their success rate and notoriety all the more prestigious.
“Sometimes we have two-hour staff meetings, where we debate and discuss programs and strategies. I often refer to the Graduate Support Center team as my work family. We have built an unprecedented amount of trust and faith in each other. This has permitted us to take high risks in our programing efforts and as a result we have yielded high rewards.”
To view the “Bright Spot in Hispanic Education” online database, visit www2.ed.gov/about/inits/list/hispanic-initiative/bright-spots.html
By Rebecca Esparza ’99 BBA ’03 MBA