The value of serving the community

More than 100 freshmen recently dedicated a day to assembling meals at the East Texas Food Bank.  The food bank serves not just Tyler, but provides meals and essential items to local food pantries around East Texas.

The students volunteered as part of our annual Freshman Day of Service. This was the largest number of participants in the history of the event. I have also heard that this was the largest single group of volunteers to ever assist the East Texas Food Bank.

During the day, our students helped prepare food for more than 8,200 meals. What an impact their dedication will have on this region!

The UT Tyler family has always strived to make a real difference in East Texas, and I am glad to see our newest students carrying on that tradition.

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Is a College Education Worth It?

A 20-second Google search for “Is a college education worth it?” demonstrates, sadly, that the value of higher education is hotly debated. The search generates more than 200,000 results.

U.S. News and World Report has a page dedicated to the debate. The New York Times issued a strong “yes” in May. The Economist chimed in last spring less enthusiastically, saying some degrees pay off much more than others.

As a university president, I clearly believe there is significant value in a college education. My opinion is based on hard data regarding better jobs and incomes as well as seeing and hearing the success stories of thousands of our graduates. I have talked to numerous alumni from this university who tell me the education they received contributed greatly to their success.

Critics of higher education claim the value of a degree is decreasing or that a degree isn’t necessary to be successful in today’s job market.

To help decide if either of those views is a valid concern, I decided to put myself in the place of a recent graduate and look for a job. I went to Monster.com and began my search.

I’m an economist by trade, but I didn’t want to narrow my job options because our students choose a variety of fields, so I built the following search parameters for my new job:

  • Requiring 0-2 years of experience
  • Full-time
  • In Texas
  • Salary greater than $50,000 a year— the U.S. Census Bureau reported the median household income in Texas in 2012 at $51,926.

To test job availability by educational level, I conducted two searches, one for jobs requiring only a high school diploma and one for those requiring a bachelor’s degree. This was the breakdown—remembering that Monster.com will display a maximum of 1,000 job openings for any search:

  • High school diploma: 484 jobs
  • 4-year degree: 1,000 jobs

The job openings displayed maxed out the system for jobs requiring a university degree! Fewer than half that constrained number of 1,000 were listed for jobs requiring only a high school diploma.

I then searched again using the same set of parameters except raising the income requirement to $80,000 per year. The result this time was a total of 980 jobs. However, the education gap was much wider. More than 83% of those positions available required a bachelor’s degree.

I understand I am simplifying the process a bit. Several additional factors—such as university, field of study, professional connections, and “soft skills” such as demeanor and conduct—make a significant difference for a recent graduate coming into the market and can assist those students in landing better jobs.

However, looking at these Monster.com searches, one thing becomes clear: Having a degree still gives you a major advantage when entering the job market.

The Pew Research Center published incomes for young workers ages 25-32. The median annual income for U.S. workers in that age group with a bachelor’s degree is $45,500. For those with a high school diploma it’s $28,000.

And that difference only grows over time. Indeed, over a lifetime of work it is still truth that a typical university graduate will earn $1 million more than a high school graduate.

There is no doubt that education is still worth it.

Pursuing Excellence as a University Man or Woman – a Note to Students – Part 3

In the world of business, many of the characteristics we have discussed in this series fall under the label “soft skills.” That term can be roughly defined as the personality traits that characterize a person’s ability to interact with others. I want to detail from a career perspective just how important is it to develop these skills.

  • The need for soft skills is vital enough that the lack of them in recent college graduates has garnered articles in publications such as Time, Businessweek and Forbes.
  • The U.S. Department of Labor has a web page dedicated to aiding workers in soft skill development. It’s aimed at young people transitioning into the workforce.
  • In fact, in a November article on Time’s business website, 60 percent of employers said they could not find applicants with the necessary communication and interpersonal skills.
  • A second survey, by staffing company Adecco, was quoted in the same Time article as stating “44 percent of (employers) cited soft skills such as communication, critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration as the area with the biggest gap.”

Your ability to communicate with others and to perform tasks in a group environment – skills you often practice in the classroom – will have a real-world impact on your professional life.

Becoming a university graduate is truly a goal few accomplish. Only 18 percent of Texas adults have a university degree, 16 percent in the Tyler area. You have the potential to make a real difference in the world. As we discussed in my last two posts, your success will come just as much from developing depth of character as it does from excelling in the classroom.

True university men and women understand the importance of excelling beyond your GPA. If you dedicate yourself to acquiring the skills I have discussed in this series, you will find yourself pursuing an excellence of character that will be vital to your success.

Never quit on a project, learn all you can, and always grow in wisdom, knowledge and skills.  Do those things and you’ll not only have a successful career, but you’ll make a difference in the world.

You will be a true university man or woman.

Pursuing Excellence as a University Man or Woman – A Note to Students – Part 2

Dr. Rodney H. Mabry

Dr. Rodney H. Mabry

In my last post I gave a list of characteristics that a University Man or Woman should display. I will admit it was a long list. Developing the qualities necessary to be a successful individual is not easy. It takes perseverance, dedication and time.

What I want to tell you today is that the effort is worth it. Many of you are already well along on the road to becoming university men and women—and that means something.

Believe it or not, here at UT Tyler we work to equip you with both the knowledge you need for your job field and the skills you need to be able to succeed in the workplace and in society.  All you need to do is remember that some of the tasks you may not enjoy often teach you the most important skills.

1. Write, write, write, write.  The ability to communicate on paper is essential in every job.

  • Yes, I did say every job.  If you are an engineer, you will still need to write reports.  If you are a nurse, you will need to be able to write updates on a patient’s condition.  If you are in education, you will write regular emails to parents, principals, district administrators and other audiences.
  • No matter what your job description is, writing will be a part of it.  So learn to write concisely, descriptively, and with as few errors as possible.
  • Don’t just rely on autocorrect or spell check.  We’ve all seen what funny errors can result from letting a computer do your writing for you.  There are whole websites dedicated to those errors.  Don’t end up on one of them.

2. Learn to shake a hand and discuss your ideas.  If you are that person in class who is always in the middle of a discussion with the professor, congratulations.  You will probably be supervising many of your quieter classmates someday.

  • Learning when to talk and when to listen will hone your communication skills and make you a vital employee.
  • In fact, in a November article in Forbes, author Dan Schawbel said when his company interviewed employers about traits they look for when hiring students, 98 percent said “communication skills.”
  • So learn to speak to others, build strong presentations, and share your thoughts orally and in the written word.
  • Warren Buffet once said to a group of business students that communication skills increase an employee’s value by 50 percent.

Your word is your bond quote

3. Develop a strong work ethic.  Your word is your bond.  If an employer can trust youto be there every day at 8 a.m. and work diligently until 5, you’ve got a much better chance of having a future with that company.  And even if you don’t want to stay in that job, still keep that ethic.  You never know when you will need the bridge you didn’t burn.

4. Develop the four cardinal virtues.  The idea of four main virtues is not new.  The Greek philosophers—Socrates to Plato to Aristotle—as well as many philosophers since have spoken about the importance of developing the following traits:

  • Temperance – which means self-control, moderation, the ability to abstain from things that distract you from your main goal
  • Courage – Endurance, the ability to confront fear, uncertainly and intimidation.  We are all afraid at times.  Just don’t let it get the best of you and you will do fine.
  • Practical wisdom, also called prudence – The ability to assess the consequences of your actions and act appropriately.
  • Justice – the idea that we all get exactly what we earn, and that we should all fight to make sure we all earn our keep.

Dedicate yourself to these goals, and you will be well on your way toward being a true university man or woman.

 

Pursuing Excellence as a University Man or Woman – a Note to Students – Part 1

I have recently been telling audiences that UT Tyler shines because it turns out well-educated graduates who are “university women and men.”  By that term, I mean that our graduates have important soft skills, productive attributes and positive values to go along with first-rate knowledge of their academic disciplines.

At UT Tyler, we pride ourselves in giving you the best knowledge base possible and in holding you to higher-than-average standards.  By doing so, we help enable you to have successful careers and to be productive for yourself, your families and society.

However, a work credential—a certain degree that says you can be an engineer, accountant, nurse, teacher—is NOT the only thing employers want, maybe not even the most important thing.

Numerous employer surveys show the primary reason some recent graduates cannot find employment or advance in their careers is not because they failed to learn the subject matter, but because they did not learn the skills that have nothing to do with a degree plan.  Those other things are every bit as important as what is in the classroom.

I want to tell you what those other skills and characteristics are, in hopes that you will use your university years to develop them.

2University man for blogThe obvious first attribute is that you are a knowledgeable person.  You have professional knowledge that will enable you to build successful careers.  You are here to learn to be accountants, educators, artists, musicians, engineers and nurses and to do great work.  Notice, I didn’t say to get a “job.”  A university man or woman doesn’t want a job. They want to work.  In addition, you have what is known as liberal knowledge—or broader cultural knowledge—that allows you to work with others and connect ideas in order to adapt and solve problems.

In addition to that most important characteristic, I think the following skills are essential to both academic and career success:

1. A university man or woman can think analytically.  They think things though logically,critically and robustly, bringing all their knowledge to bear in a focused and thoughtful way with an eye to getting to the essence of a matter and find solutions.

2. A university man or woman can communicate effectively.  High levels of both written and oral communication are the most critically needed skills—and the most lacking in applicants—for most positions.  Learn to write.  Doing so helps train your brain and gives you orderly thinking skills.

3. A university man or woman exercises sound judgment.  Judgment is the ability to weigh facts and arguments and to evaluate alternative outcomes and their consequences as part of a good decision-making process.  Haven’t you known people or certain friends who could take information and ideas—even regarding where a group should go to eat—and make better-than-average judgment calls?

4. A university man or woman pursues excellence.  He or she subscribes to the adage:  “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing well!”  A university man or woman gives anything his best effort.

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5. A university man or woman loves to persevere.  They are willing to give anything theydecide to do “the old college try.”  Even more to the point, they do not quit.

  • “No,” “never” and “that can’t be done” are not in their vocabulary.
  • When challenges come, a university man or woman will find a way to say, “Yes, that can be done, if you do it this way.”

6. A university man or woman is honorable, which includes so many attributes.  University men and women:

  • Care about others.
  • Are civil and cordial with each other in all matters of discussion, debate and interaction.
  • Honor all bargains, even those sealed with a handshake.
  • Tell the truth and never cheat—and help others do the same.

7. A university man or woman has courage and will:

  • Take prudent, well-calculated risks in order to achieve the unachievable.
  • Stand up for what they believe is right and fair.
  • Stand up for those who have a smaller voice, or no voice at all.
  • Tell others (with appropriate tact) when they believe those others are incorrect.

8. A university man or women is a leader.

    • They are informed—they read and listen.
    • They are willing and able to make decisions that consider available information and the views of others.
    • They can prioritize—know the difference between what is important and what can be left for another time.
    • They are engines of action that can persuade others to follow and get a task done.
    • When necessary, they are agents of change.

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9. They have soft skills—the needed communication and interpersonal skills to perform in a professional environment.  A university man or woman can carry on a conversation (in the workplace and with clients) and have dinner easily with co-workers and the supervisor.woman knows how to:

  • Be on time; be prepared; work hard; and do the very best he or she can.
  • Write cogently and succinctly.
  • Really listen.
  • Be a team player (can get along in, and make productive use of, small groups).
  • Shake hands and look someone in the eye—at the same time.

That is a big list, I know. In future blog entries, I will talk about how students can work to develop these skills.

PATSS and the Importance of Engaged Learning

Change is difficult.  It’s complex, contentious, and time-consuming — but often very rewarding.

In general, higher education has been responsible for many of the world’s new ideas. However, in the vital area of transferring knowledge to new generations, we as an industry have avoided change.

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Since the time of Socrates in a Greek amphitheater, with adoring students crowded around, the idea of lecture-based teaching has stood the test of time.  But the world is changing.  Widely available new technology now makes it possible to change how we teach while increasing learning and lowering costs.

We live in a society where we talk to friends and family across the world in real time using a cell phone and a wireless data connection.  We shop online, play games with our grandchildren in other states, read books that are stored in the cloud, and keep in touch through social media.

This year’s traditional-age freshmen have never lived without cell phones and barely recall a time before Google.  Today’s students expect and demand information at the touch of a finger.  However, in a world where an almost infinite number of sources (reliable and not) are available on any subject, students still need guidance and encouragement from professors who are able to teach on a flexible schedule using the latest technology. Consequently, our teaching methodology must change, too.  It must change not only to take advantage of the added effectiveness and reduced costs of using new technology, but also because technologically savvy students demand it.

They want to have their professors’ lectures available on YouTube and Vimeo.   They want those lectures to come in natural lengths to fit different topics or concepts, not only in 50-minute blocks.  They want to be able to view material day or night, start and stop a lecture, rewind it, and even view parts of it again.

They want to be directed to the explanations available online from other world-renowned experts.  They want to be able to discuss the material with their classmates online, seek help on unclear items and offer help when they believe they understand.

This quick, and surprisingly deep, interaction with other learners (always monitored by professors and graduate students for accuracy) is particularly important to today’s students.  It is a powerful way to learn.

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Finally, students still want class meetings, but not only to hear professors lecture.  Instead, they want to interact with the professors and their classmates in a variety of ways that enable them to answer questions, apply the material and solve problems.  They want to be fully engaged in the learning process.

I am proud to say that at UT Tyler we are moving rapidly beyond the stale classroom lecture to fully engaged learning by implementing an exciting new project.  One of our newest projects, PATSS (Patriots Applying Technology for Success and Savings), allows us to join our students in the technology-based environment they inhabit and use every day.

This fall, our first PATSS classes are being taught across campus. Like many of the initiatives in education these days, PATSS is designed to help us maximize our resources.  That’s the “savings” part.  But it is the “success” part that is truly exciting.

To gain both major benefits – student success and resource savings, not to mention greater student satisfaction – we are “flipping” our classes and fully engaging our students in their own learning process.  In what we are calling Hyflex classes, students learn the material online and take quizzes online.  During class, they discuss.  They participate in activities where the material is used.  They engage with each other in groups.  In short, they apply the material.

UT Tyler offers a web resource specifically geared toward students looking for online options.

UT Tyler offers a web resource specifically geared toward students looking for online options.

Studies of real classroom data show that this learning process is better.  Students learn more per unit of time and retain it longer.  Using technology this way to engage students extends the range of professors and lowers costs.  And students are more satisfied with their learning given the greater interaction with others and given the much greater flexibility and control each student has over the timing of their learning efforts.

Nobel Laureate Dr. Carl Wieman confirms these results in his work on how students learn more physics in “flipped” classes that also use project-based learning to engage students.  He found that more students will succeed in gatekeeper courses such as calculus, chemistry and physics, lowering the withdrawal and failure rates in these tough courses.  Prof. Wieman came to UT Tyler at the beginning of the semester to talk to us as part of our long-running Distinguished Lecture Series.  His studies on learning were certainly an important inspiration for the PATSS project.

We expect that this engaged learning process will be good for our faculty as well.  With this model, after the initial extra work to change teaching styles, faculty will actually save time and be able to do more of what they love – teach – while enjoying it more.

In the fall of 2013, more than 750 students were enrolled in the PATSS project.  So far, the response from those students has been very positive.

Here at UT Tyler, we know the world is changing.  And we are working to embrace and lead that change with it.  We believe in innovation, and PATSS is just one example of how thinking beyond the usual will help us better meet the needs of our students.