Wrapping up our 2020-21 academic year

We’ve made it to the end of an academic year I don’t think any of us will forget. I want to express my deep appreciation for all that you have done to help support our students during this challenging time. 

As we prepare to celebrate the graduation of many of our students, I want to say thank you to those of you who have helped to make this spring’s commencement special, whether through virtual or in-person events. Your efforts are appreciated. 

With vaccination rates rising, I am hopeful that by fall we will be able to resume many of our typical operations. The President’s Restart Committees will be working throughout the summer reviewing revised CDC guidelines, evaluating our campus operations and making recommendations for our campus. We’ll be holding a back-to-school preparation session to make sure that everyone understands how we will be operating this fall. Information about the time and date will be available closer to the event. 

While COVID-19 has certainly been top-of-mind for much of this year, we have still accomplished substantive progress on many of our strategic goals centered around student success. 

Expand/develop student support services to encourage students’ sense of belonging, growth mindset, well-being and mental health

  • This year we launched a micro scholarship pilot program that engaged 600 FTIC students, funded with the generous support of the Lupe Murchison Foundation and the Amon G. Carter Foundation. There is significant evidence that students who engage in certain behaviors are more likely to be retained and succeed. In this program, students earn small scholarships for each activity they engage in, earning up to $1,000 for the year. Activities are designed to: 
    • Help students academically (For example, scheduling an appointment with an academic advisor, participating in an academic coaching session with the Learning Center or learning about undergraduate research opportunities);
    • Get students engaged (Such as completing the Career Values Assessment through the Career Center, participating in the ACCESS mentoring program or engaging in some of the many activities sponsored by the Division of Student Affairs); and
    • Help students with financial literacy (For example, scheduling a personal financial coaching session with the Student Money Management Center or completing the FAFSA).
  • We will be carefully examining the results of this pilot and making any necessary changes before the second cohort starts this fall. I look forward to sharing the outcomes when they are available.
  • Another pilot program is our new First Year Experience program, with 50 Emerald Eagle Scholars participating in programming aimed at helping students learn how to thrive in a college environment. Participants are placed into small groups and take a zero credit hour course in which they discover and connect with UNT’s many campus resources; identify and practice the academic and professional skills necessary for undergraduate success; develop strategies that promote personal growth and well-being; foster relationships with peers, faculty and staff; and cultivate curiosity and self-awareness by exploring countless opportunities throughout their first semester. We will be assessing the results and examining how we can scale up the program. 

Expand/develop inclusion and student success practices and policies

  • President Smatresk is focused on increasing the affordability of education for students. One way we can support affordability is through focusing on textbook and course related materials. There are two opportunities for you to help.
    • I would appreciate your participation in this brief survey to share your perspective on Open Educational Resources (OER). The survey results will be compiled for UNT and aggregated with other institutions to gain a broad understanding of faculty perspectives on OER. The survey is completely anonymous. Overall survey results will be available in June 2021. Contact Mike.Simmons@unt.edu for more information.
    • There is funding available to support work this summer to adopt, adapt, and/or create OER for use when teaching courses at UNT. Grant applications will be reviewed as they are received, with funding available first come, first serve basis. For more on the brief application, see the OER Summer Grants webpage
  • Many of you are aware of our campus rollout of Navigate, a student success management system. This system makes it easier for students to schedule advising appointments not only with their academic advisor but also with the Learning Center, Student Money Management Center, Career Center and other student-serving offices. Through the Navigate app, students can also keep up with UNT dates and deadlines, sign up for study buddies in their courses and get career information about their major. Additionally, Navigate enables faculty and staff to more easily identify students who may need additional outreach through a coordinated care network. The Navigate rollout is largely complete, with remaining aspects such as alerts and a robust analytics platform to be implemented during the next academic year. You can learn more on the Navigate website.
  • We know this year has been a difficult transition for many of our FTIC students, and we have more students than usual on academic probation. To help support our students, we are offering a Summer Scholars Program
  • Another way we’re supporting our incoming first-year students as they transition from high school to college is by expanding our Early Start program to include all majors. 

Increase enrollment at the Denton and Frisco campuses

  • In line with our mission as an R1 university, we have a goal to increase enrollment, particularly our proportion of graduate enrollment. This spring, 20.5% of our students are graduate students, almost reaching our goal of 21% graduate enrollment. For fall, graduate admissions are up approximately 35%, indicating we are likely to have a strong class of  graduate students, many of whom have been attracted to UNT’s new graduate programs.
  • Faculty are working hard to develop new degree programs to support our students’ interests. This academic year, the board approved a number of new programs, including:
    • B.S. in Addiction Studies
    • B.S. in Applied Project Design and Analysis
    • Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering
    • B.S. in Event Design and Experience Management
    • B.S. in Industrial Distribution
    • M.S. in Information Systems
  • This month, the board will be reviewing a proposal for a doctorate in Business Administration and a BA in Critical Studies in Music and Society. The addition of new doctoral programs will contribute directly to our standing as an R1 university.  

Decrease time to graduation and increase and improve services and resources to aid at-risk, underrepresented, transfer, non-traditional, veteran, online and working students

  • We continue to improve our four- and six-year graduation rates. This week we will be celebrating the graduation of approximately 6,700 students during the spring commencement ceremonies. Our four-year graduation rate has improved by 6.2% and our six-year graduation rate is up 3.4% over the last four years. And to top it off, we’ve grown the portion of students graduating in three years to 8.8% — up from 5.2% four years ago. 

Support, mentor and highlight our student scholars

  • As we continue our return to campus, undergraduate research opportunities are critical. Assistant Professors Hui Zhao and Mark Albert, Computer Science and Engineering are hosting an NSF funded undergraduate research experience in artificial intelligence. Other examples of planned summer undergraduate research programs include:
    • Computer Science Research
    • Data Analytics and Information Retrieval
    • Research Experience and Mentoring Program 
    • TAMS Summer Research Program
    • Vehicular Edge Computing and Security

One of my favorite ways to engage in dialogue about the issues and opportunities here at UNT is through informal gatherings, which continue this summer. Join me for an informal conversation about our future at UNT. Please contact Joanna.Hussey@unt.edu to sign up for one of the dates listed below. Slots will fill on a first-come, first-served basis to faculty and staff, with seven slots available for each gathering.

  • Tuesday, June 8, noon – 1 p.m.
  • Wednesday, June 9, noon – 1 p.m.
  • Thursday, July 15, noon – 1 p.m.

Each of your contributions helps make UNT stronger, and for that, you have my sincere appreciation. As we wrap up the year, I encourage you to take some time to drop a line of appreciation to someone who has helped you make this academic year a success.