Arlington Citizen-Journal

UT Arlington gets $2.62 million federal grant for student services

Maria Martinez-Cosio, UTA assistant vice provost for faculty affairs, spearheads the new grant-funded initiative for Hispanic and nontraditional students.
Maria Martinez-Cosio, UTA assistant vice provost for faculty affairs, spearheads the new grant-funded initiative for Hispanic and nontraditional students. University of Texas at Arlington

The aroma of coffee may fill the second floor of UT Arlington’s Central Library, but a new $2.62 million federal grant assures that a lot more than lattes will soon be served there.

The University of Texas at Arlington will use some of the funds to renovate the library space to consolidate many tutoring, mentoring and counseling services — now scattered around campus — for lower-income and nontraditional students.

“We want to provide services for our students without them having to hopscotch around campus,” said Maria Martinez-Cosio, assistant vice provost for faculty affairs and spearhead of the grant-funded initiative.

UTA’s award is part of a $51 million grant for 2015 shared among 96 Hispanic-serving institutions in the U.S.

UTA, the only four-year institution in North Texas to be awarded a share, was first recognized as a Hispanic-serving institution in the spring of 2014 because of its large undergraduate Hispanic enrollment, now at 28 percent.

But a wider range of students will benefit from the grant, Martinez-Cosio said.

“We will definitely track our success rates” with Hispanic and lower-income students, she said. “But no one will be turned away who comes in to use the services.”

The grant, funded by the Education Department, will build on initiatives of the past two years to help prepare and guide high school students to success in college and to encourage community college students to take courses that will transfer seamlessly into the UTA bachelor’s degree programs, the university said.

The funds will also beef up the university’s use of technology to assist both online and campus-based students.

“As a Hispanic-Serving Institution, we have a special obligation to make the dream of a college education achievable to all students,” President Vistasp M. Karbhari said in a statement. “This significant Department of Education grant sends a strong signal that we are on the right path to making sure that every student, no matter his or her background, has the opportunity to earn a degree from an institution of excellence to equip them for the rest of their lives.”

Martinez-Cosio made her first attempt at the grant last year.

“We weren’t successful,” she said. “But we learned a lot.”

For the 2015 grant, Martinez-Cosio and a small team of officials started from scratch and came up with the concept of a central hub of services for targeted students, including nontraditional students such as military veterans, students working full time or holding two jobs, and first-generation college students.

“What we figured out is that everybody was doing a lot, but we just weren’t sharing it with each other,” Martinez-Cosio said. “We needed to coordinate better. We do a lot of stuff well, but how do we dovetail our work and impact our students more deeply?”

They found some overlap in services, she said. “But mostly we thought there was a lot of synergy we could develop if we cooperated more closely.”

Building the second application around the services hub concept proved successful. Called the IDEAS Center — Innovation, Diversity, Excellence, Access and Success — it will receive about $275,000 over the first two years of the five-year grant for construction of the center, including glass-enclosed student rooms.

Most of the funding will be used to hire a staff — a program coordinator and mostly undergraduate and graduate students — and to provide computers, tablets, headsets and other technology for the new workstations. Many UTA faculty members who counsel or tutor students during their office hours would move those periods to the IDEAS Center.

When the funding ends, program officials will evaluate whether UTA should retain the program at its own expense.

The hub project also solved another problem — the differing hours and days that the various campus offices are open for assistance. “Some departments would have advising until 6 o’clock but would only be open one or two nights a week,” Martinez-Cosio said.

The Central Library is at 702 Planetarium Place.

The grant program officially began Oct. 1, but the library had already started on some renovation work, including reorganizing stacks of books and other materials on the second floor to create extra workspace. It also has installed a POD, or provisions on demand, which Martinez-Cosio described as a small market designed to keep students fueled with chips, sandwiches, yogurt and, of course, coffee.

Robert Cadwallader: 817-390-7186, @Kaddmann_ST