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BROWNSVILLE, RGV – The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley is seeking classification from the Carnegie Foundation for its community engagement work.

UTRGV Provost Havidan Rodriguez confirmed an application to Carnegie was being developed in an in-depth interview with the Rio Grande Guardian about the university’s new strategic plan.

“We are aiming to become this Carnegie-classified community engaged university. In order for that to happen there is a variety of criteria you need to achieve. There are certain criteria you have to meet and it is pretty stringent. We are truly committed to that process,” Rodriguez said.

Havidan Rodriguez
Havidan Rodriguez

According to the Carnegie Foundation, community engagement is an elective classification, meaning that it is based on voluntary participation by institutions. “The elective classification involves data collection and documentation of important aspects of institutional mission, identity and commitments, and requires substantial effort invested by participating institutions. It is an institutional classification; it is not for systems of multiple campuses or for part of an individual campus,” Carnegie states.

The classification is not an award. “It is an evidence-based documentation of institutional practice to be used in a process of self-assessment and quality improvement. The documentation is reviewed to determine whether the institution qualifies for recognition as a community engaged institution,” Carnegie states.

The Community Engagement Classification takes place on a five-year cycle. The next opportunity for institutions to apply for classification will be during the 2020 cycle (which will open in 2018), according to Carnegie’s website. In addition to the Elective Community Engagement Classification, the Carnegie Foundation also provides its all-inclusive classifications based on secondary analysis of existing national data. Information on the all-inclusive classifications can be found at http://carnegieclassifications.iu.edu/.

Community engagement is one of the five core principles established in UTRGV’s five-year strategic plan, which is currently being developed. The other four are student success, expanding education opportunities throughout the Valley, expanding health and medical education throughout the Valley, and developing research initiatives important to the Valley.

Former state Representative Veronica Gonzales is UTRGV’s vice president for government and community relations. Rodriguez said one of Gonzales’ roles is to engage with the community. “It is one of the things we have been emphasizing very strongly. When we evaluate faculty we ask, how have you engaged with the community. We have some wonderful programs we are developing through Veronica’s office.”

Full engagement with the various communities throughout the Valley includes paying attention to the needs of the region’s colonias. Asked what UTRGV is doing in the colonias, Rodriguez said:

“We are developing a variety of initiatives to deliver clinics and healthcare services in some of the colonias. We have to breach the gap between the colonias and the university. We want to provide better access. Our overriding message to colonia residents is, this is your university and we want your sons and daughters and those of your neighbors to come to the UTRGV. We want it to become an institution of choice. So, we have a variety of initiatives for colonias through the School of Medicine, through the College of Health Affairs, primarily, as well as others, and through the Office of Government & Community Relations.”

When UTRGV President Guy Bailey decided to develop a strategic plan, he asked Rodriguez to take the helm. Fifteen subcommittees were set up with 45 people involved, including faculty, staff and students. Rodriguez said the project has been expanded to include 75 people. The project started with a retreat on South Padre Island at the start of this year. A website has been created to record the work of the various subcommittees and a draft plan should be ready for public consumption and feedback sometime this Fall. The final document is expected to be approved early next year.

“We want the community to know we are here to serve the community, to benefit the community, to be an economic engine for the region. So, we are asking, what are the recommendations you have for us? What do you see that we are doing well? What do you see that we are not doing so well? We want to receive feedback,” Rodriguez said.

Asked why the strategic plan is important, Rodriguez said: “It is important because it defines the university for the Rio Grande Valley. It defines who we are and where we are headed as a university. We are here to serve the people of the Rio Grande Valley. The people we are addressing are either students, the parents of students, the grandparents of students, the neighbors of students, the parents of future students, we are all impacted by what happens at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley.”

Rodriguez pointed out that the Valley is one of the fastest growing regions in Texas. It follows, therefore, that UTRGV, will grow to meet demand.

“We want to plan for growth and development over the next five years. We have started out with 28,500 students. How big will we be in five years? Soon we will be over 30,000 students. We are fortunate enough to live in one of the fastest growing regions in the country. Student population and student demand is not going to be an issue for UTRGV for the foreseeable future.”

Rodriguez promised that the strategic plan, once produced, will not be placed on a bookshelf to gather dust.

“We will review this plan every six months to make sure we are making progress, to make changes in policy as needed. We do not want to develop a plan and then just file it some place. It has to be an active, live, document that is being monitored throughout the years at UTRGV.”

Asked for wrap up remarks about the five-year strategic plan, Rodriguez said:

“This document will allow us to set the foundations for the future of the university. If you have strong foundations, you have a great chance of developing a great university. Then we can reflect, five, ten, 15, 20 years from now what progress we have achieved. I think people will say, it has been amazing.”

UTRGV came about through the collapse of UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville. He said the new university has come a long way in a short time.

“I have had the opportunity to study, both across the country and internationally, other examples of universities being formed out of legacy institutions. What is happening at UTRGV is dramatic and transformational. It is not happening in other places. We literally started August, 31, 2015. That we have managed to do all these dramatic things, such as have the faculty in place, have our staff in place, start with over 28,500 students, work on MOUs with other institutions, it is quite amazing what has been achieved. This is only the beginning.”

Rodriguez thanked the community for its support. “There is tremendous support for our university, from our legislators, our mayors, commissioners, the business community and other individuals in the community. It is our responsibility to build on that support and to make sure we are responding to the needs of the community. That is what is going to make us successful as a university.”

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part series about UT-Rio Grande Valley, based upon an interview with Provost Havidan Rodriguez. Part Two, focusing on bilingual education, will be published later this week.

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