Objective 4: Maximize The Educational And Personal Benefits Of A Residential Liberal Arts University

As a residential liberal arts college, our charge is not only to prepare students academically, but also to enable them to lead healthy, productive, and successful lives. It is incumbent upon us to foster a strong sense of wellness in every aspect of their lives – personal, professional, physical, financial, social, and spiritual.

4A: Improve undergraduate academic advising and student support

The Vice President for Academic Affairs (VPAA) will lead an initiative to revamp the advising process to include conversations about students’ current and future goals – academic, professional, and personal. While these conversations certainly occur in some advising interactions, they are not as universal as they should be. Effective advising enhances student learning, promotes professional development and a healthy work-life balance, and strengthens student retention.

The a partnership, the VPAA and Vice President for Student Life (VPSL) will coordinate our varied student support services – which are currently distributed across upper and lower campus – beneath a new initiative called the Student Success Center. The Center will organize forms of academic support, such as peer tutoring and writing assistance, with resources for social support, such as workshops on time management, handling stress, and sustaining healthy interpersonal relationships.

  • The Student Success Center (SSC) encompasses multiple offices across campus. The SSC's holistic approach helps students identify roadblocks to academic and personal success, while ensuring all students have access to comprehensive services. Affiliated offices include: Counseling Services, Health Services, Student Accessibility Services, Wellness Services, and the Writing Center.
  • Established SSC mission statement, policies, procedures, and campus partnerships
  • Supported the implementation of Pathways by supporting the First-Year Experience
  • “Starting Strong: Intentional Strategies for Improving First Year Student Success” selected as the campus’ next Quality Enhancement Plan
  • Completed SSC evaluation and assessment in 2018, resulting in the following action plan.

A student sits with a professor with open books and notebooks

Starting Strong

Quality Enhancement Plan supports academic advising

This past year, the University launched its Quality Enhancement Plan, called Starting Strong, as part of the reaffirmation of accreditation process with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). The QEP aims to enhance the first-year student experience.

The QEP focuses on three parts of first-year academic success: advising, teaching, and academic support resources. The program refines and expands the training offered to new and experienced first-year advisers, and a new advising coordinator will spearhead adviser training and implement best practices throughout the first-year advising process. Introductory-level teaching incorporates early-alert strategies to identify first-year students who will benefit from timely intervention. Trinity will also bolster academic support services, particularly in STEM fields (where difficulties are often encountered by first-year students). A second, new professional staff position, the quantitative reasoning and skills director, will oversee STEM academic support systems, including supplementary instruction and in-person tutoring.

In the spring, the QEP was found by the SACSCOC reviewers to be in compliance with all relevant standards, with final action to be taken in the commission’s winter meeting.

Smiling Faces of Student Success

Trinity expands support team, emphasizes Starting Strong

Meet the faces of student support and accessibility services, all part of Trinity’s Starting Strong Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), which aims to improve first-year student success over the next five years.

Betty Curry

As director for Academic Support, Betty Curry coordinates the support services housed in the Tiger Learning Commons (Academic Coaching, Student Accessibility Services, the Writing Center, and the Quantitative Reasoning and Skills Center) and is a co-director of the Student Success Center. In 2017, Curry earned a Master of Education in higher education/student affairs at The University of Texas at San Antonio. Before joining the Academic Support/TLC team, she served as the program assistant to Trinity’s Mellon Initiative for Undergraduate Research in the Arts and Humanities.

Jennifer Rowe

As director for the Writing Center, Jennifer Rowe is committed to supporting undergraduate writers in all disciplines and to preparing her writing consultants for careers in editing, publishing, and beyond. Not only does she teach several First-Year Experience courses, Rowe participates in Trinity’s Summer Bridge and Upward Bound programs and is an active member of the Student Success Center. She has been teaching college-level composition for more than 16 years at schools including Trinity University, the University of Maryland – College Park, the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth, and Boston College, where she also earned her master’s in English language and literature.

Myeshia Smith

As assistant director for Student Accessibility Services, Myeshia Smith consults and facilitates the interactive process for exploring reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities. Additionally, she assists with the University's efforts to ensure an accessible, hospitable learning environment for persons with disabilities. Her professional experiences include previously serving as a school psychologist and director of pupil appraisal at a New Orleans charter school network.

Luke Tunstall

As director for Trinity’s new Quantitative Reasoning and Skills Center, Luke Tunstall works with students and faculty to promote student success in quantitatively-demanding coursework. Tunstall comes to Trinity from Michigan State University, where was is a University Distinguished Fellow and received his Ph.D. in mathematics education. Tunstall is heavily involved in the quantitative literacy movement in higher education and is committed to fostering students’ quantitative reasoning practices across disciplines.

Lapetra Bowman

As advising coordinator, Lapetra Bowman functions as a conduit between faculty and students and supporting the efforts of Starting Strong. She develops advising tools, degree plans, checklists, workshops, and adviser training for faculty. Bowman has a doctorate in English and has worked as an academic adviser for 17 years while teaching undergraduate courses in English, humanities, and women’s studies. She has also worked as a retention specialist, program coordinator, assessment coordinator, internship coordinator, and thesis program coordinator.

4B: Sustain intercollegiate athletics as a nationally recognized NCAA Division III program committed to academic and competitive excellence

Our excellent coaches and competitive athletic teams are a vital and important element of our campus culture. Fifty-eight percent of students participate in recreational sports or intercollegiate athletics, and 29 percent of all recruited students are student-athletes. Not only do athletic programs benefit student recruitment, retention, and alumni engagement, data show that Division III student-athletes on average have significantly better time-management skills and more “leadership potential” than non-athletes. We will ensure that recruiting student-athletes remains a priority and that while at Trinity, student athletes receive ongoing support to balance their academic, athletic, and social commitments. We will investigate the sufficiency of the Bell Center and other facilities to ensure that we possess adequate campus resources to support student needs.

Chelsea Cole kicks a soccer ball during a game

Putting the Student in Student-Athlete

Trinity University’s Women's Soccer star Chelsea Cole won’t stop at All American

All-American captain of Trinity’s championship winning women’s soccer team Chelsea Cole finished her career with 54 goals placing her third in the category in Trinity's record books. But outside of soccer, Cole was known as a stellar student, an undergraduate researcher involved in two labs, and a humanitarian. Over the past four years she has studied overseas and held a public health internship with the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta.

When asked how she managed the workload, she said, “I owe a lot of it to my team. When I came to visit Trinity, it was a different environment than other schools. The team emphasized that you have to be a good person and a good student first, and soccer is important but not your primary job.”

While it might not have been her primary job, Cole still stood out from the crowd: At the end of the 2018 season Cole was chosen as SCAC Women’s Soccer Offensive Player of the Year for the second straight time and was selected as Most Valuable Offensive Player for the SCAC Championship tournament.

When asked about her smattering of awards, Cole explains that she doesn't like to internalize them too much. “I try to take them as a way to set an example for younger girls. I hope that they see the hard work I have put in and the mindset I have and are inspired by it, rather than the awards just being for me.” But she does smile and adds, “All-American was really cool.”

Since graduating in May 2019, Chelsea has joined the Peace Corps and leaves for a two-year stent in Peru in September.

Putting the "Student" in "Student-Athlete"

Academic initatives crucial to team success

Over the past year, the Trinity University athletics average GPA has risen steadily, sitting at 3.186 in spring 2018. In fact, during the spring, 16 of Trinity’s 18 NCAA varsity athletics teams had team GPAs above 3.0, the most in three years, and the athletics women’s teams’ GPA was higher than Trinity’s average student GPA (3.361 and 3.249, respectively).

Academic initiatives within each sport, as well as overall department support, have been crucial for this success. For example, Jerheme Urban ’03, head football coach, has implemented initiatives that have steadily increased the team GPA over his four years at Trinity, from 2.917 in spring 2014 to 3.012 in spring 2018. Several of his initiatives include: a writing-intensive summer bridge program for first-year students; an academic success program, spearheaded by coach Paul Michalak, that requires with weekly meetings to review class progress; a transition to morning practices, which “sends them to class primed for learning,” according to Urban; and a requirement that they sit in the first two rows of class to enhance focus and engagement with the professor.

Urban rounds these all out with one goal: success after college. “Ultimately we are training these students for life after football,” he explains. “With no football scholarships, they are all investing in their future, and I feel like these initiatives help keep that in perspective for them.”

For Dylan Harrison ’02, head women’s soccer coach, that academics-first perspective begins at the recruitment level. “We try to attract the most qualified students possible by ensuring their academic experience will always take priority over athletics,” Harrison says. “From there, it is our job to make sure we stay true to this promise... but it starts with each player placing a priority on their own academics.”

Harrison’s team has the highest GPA of any Tiger athletics team, men’s or women’s: 3.561. He says his student-athletes stay on track with preseason meetings about class scheduling, study time during away game trips, and, like Urban, early-morning practices. “By 8 a.m. our team has completed their commitments to soccer, and the rest of the day is dedicated to academics,” Harrison explains.

Harrison sums up the academics-first viewpoint that he and Urban share: “We are fortunate that our student-athletes chose Trinity for its academics—being successful on the soccer side just enhances their whole collegiate experience.”

4C: Improve the coordination of curricular and co-curricular activities

Despite our small size, Trinity has become a complex and busy place. The richness of the cultural opportunities – lectures, musical and artistic performances, extra-curricular activities, and athletic events – is a benefit and also a challenge. We simply cannot take full advantage of these opportunities because there are so many. As a result, attendance at events is often lower than hoped. At the same time, our academic expectations have proliferated, putting increased demands on faculty and student time. Too often, we end up competing for time, space, and resources instead of investing wisely in the best opportunities. We will urge senior administrators to coordinate the campus events calendar and to develop mechanisms to assess the quality and impact of these events. By providing centralized leadership, we aim to strategically allocate resources that increase event attendance and achieve greater impact. We have asked staff from Academic Affairs and Student Life to consider developing an activity time block in the class schedule and a plan for integrating visiting lecturers and performances into students’ course work.

Who are You? In Six Words

Trinity University community invited to share their own stories on “The Race Card Project” 

Each year, Trinity University hosts dozens of speakers, researchers, artists, politicians, and other public figures. Numerous notable lecture series enable the campus and members of the broader community to engage in deep, meaningful conversations with some of the greatest minds of our time. In addition to giving a public talk, these visitors also interact directly with students in a number of ways. Through class visits and small group gatherings, students ask probing questions and learn from the life experiences of our visitors. Students test out the real world applicability of the theories they learn in their courses and ask practical questions to inform their impending career decisions. These interactions reveal how Trinity provides a holistic educational experience for students, bridging their traditional classroom experiences with extended learning opportunities that go beyond the walls of our campus.

In February 2017, former National Public Radio journalist Michele Norris brought her “Race Card Project” to Trinity University and left the campus deep in thought about personal identities.

Speaking at Laurie Auditorium, Norris invited the audience to fill out their own “race card.” The idea is to condense “your story” into a six-word sentence that captures something about you as a person and the race(s) with which you identify.

After her visit, Trinity was named a “Race Card Project Spotlight School” and a unique web page was created to exemplify the partnership. Entries may be added to the page through the end of the academic school year in May.

President Danny Anderson, who has encouraged the campus to “embrace, appreciate, and celebrate the diversity” of everyone in the Trinity community, has invited all not just to read everyone else’s “race cards” but to add their own.

President of black student union Tahlar Rowe

Tahlar Rowe, a junior from Houston majoring in political science, is president of the Black Student Union, which invited Norris to meet the group while she was on campus. Rowe also encouraged Trinity students to take part in the Race Card Project.

"I believe it is important for students to participate in this activity because we all experience the ills of socially constructed ‘race’ differently, regardless of where we come from,” Rowe said. "’Race’ is a social construction because society has a way of crafting the word into something it is not, and allowing it to influence them to believe something about someone else that may not be true.”

In contrast, Rowe said the Trinity wall would “allow us all to see how each of us experience ‘race’ and our internal reactions to this socially constructed phenomenon."

Norris was a co-host of National Public Radio's newsmagazine All Things Considered, public radio's longest-running national program, from 2002 until 2012. During a sabbatical during the 2012 presidential campaign, she developed two successful initiatives, including The Race Card Project, which captures people’s views on race in six-word sentences, and NPR's Backseat Book Club for “junior brainiacs.” She also released a book in September 2010, The Grace of Silence: A Memoir, which focuses on how America talks about race and explores her own family's racial legacy. It has been credited with spurring discussions across the country about the history of race relations in the United States.

Norris said she knew people would be uncomfortable when talking about race. Her solution was to offer people a “light touch” by suggesting they condense their story into six words. “By doing that, I have a secret window into their heart,” she said.

The project has taken off, with more than 50,000 “race cards” having been submitted online and by mail. She said she has received “race cards” from all 50 states and from 60 countries – an onslaught that represents a strong level of trust in her and what she will do with such personal stories.    

Her Trinity appearance was sponsored by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in partnership with Texas Public Radio's “Dare to Listen” campaign.

4D: Expand existing and pilot new programs to improve student success, career exploration, and holistic wellness

In partnership, the VPAA and VPSL will oversee a variety of wellness activities and personal growth opportunities for all students at various milestones in their academic career. Topics might include opportunities to learn about the self, personal finance, or strategies to promote mental and physical health. First-year students will be encouraged to think broadly about their goals through “reflection seminars,” modeled on similar programs offered at Stanford and Harvard. Upper-class students in a greater number of academic programs will consider their post-graduate options through alumni panel discussions and guest speakers highlighting the broad applicability of majors in different professional sectors. As needed, we will develop other programs or workshops to address expressed student interests. In the service of holistic student development, whenever possible, wellness programs should be devised and carried out by faculty and staff partnerships.

Teaching in the financial literacy collective

Financial Literacy Collective

When A Bond Does Not Mean The Connection Between Two Atoms

Last fall, Janett Muñoz ’18 approached finance professor Eugenio Dante Suarez and vice president for Student Life Sheryl Tynes about developing a class to help students struggling with personal money management.

“College is all fun and games until you become a senior and realize that you have no idea how to do your taxes, how to invest for retirement, or how to manage your money effectively,” said Muñoz, a biochemistry and molecular biology major. “Something unsettled me about how I could explain the role of carbonic anhydrase in the body, and yet I could not tell you the first thing about taxes.”

Suarez and Tynes are both part of the newly established Financial Literacy Collective, a collection of faculty and staff across University offices and departments who aim to promote wise money management practices and informed financial decision-making. Through the joint efforts of this group, the personal finance class filled to capacity after just a few days of open registration, and the waitlist exceeded 20 people. Michael Taylor, a business columnist for the San Antonio Express-News and Harvard graduate, taught the course.

Students in the course learned about compounding and discounting interest, saving for retirement, and investing and managing their own money.

“The goal of learning about personal finance should not be to ‘get rich,’ but rather to develop a healthy lifelong relationship with money, savings, investments, debts, taxes, insurance, and even estate planning,” Suarez says. “Our goal is to teach students good practices and to force us all to think about our spending and saving patterns, as well as about our paths after graduation.”

The Trinity campus with the Tobacco Free logo

Healthy Legs, Healthy Lungs

Trinity launches two wellness initiatives

To achieve holistic wellness at Trinity University, two initiatives have been introduced—one to keep students active through bicycling, another to create a tobacco-free campus.

A bike-sharing program called B-Cycle was introduced in Spring 2017 in response to numerous requests by the Student Government Association (SGA). As many as 10 bikes, branded with the Trinity logo, were installed near the residence halls for students to use as an alternative to driving to nearby spots such as the Pearl, downtown, or other restaurants and facilities.

Nick Santulli ’18, the current SGA president, credits the work of previous SGA presidents Evan Lewis ’15, Sean McCutchen ’16, and Brenna Hill ’17 and says, “B-Cycle will provide the Trinity community with a convenient and fun transportation option, enhancing quality of life for all students.”

David M. Tuttle, associate vice president and Dean of Students, adds, “This initiative represents the best of our student government. They explored this option, surveyed students, worked collaboratively with B-Cycle staff, and dedicated money to the project because they thought it would benefit students over time.”

On Aug. 1, Trinity became a tobacco-free campus with a policy prohibiting the use of any tobacco product on campus. Not allowed are cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, snuff, chewing tobacco, and any other products usually identified with tobacco use. Also included are Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems, e-cigarettes, and vaping.

Four years in the making, the policy is viewed by President Danny J. Anderson as supporting the Surgeon General’s findings that tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States. "As an institution of higher education, Trinity strives to provide a safe and healthy environment for our students, faculty, staff, and visitors in which to learn and work," Anderson says.

The policy has been endorsed by the President's office, the Faculty Senate, University staff, and the SGA.

4E: Sustain opportunities for students to explore their spiritual beliefs and practices

In its commitment to excellence, Trinity University is not only concerned with intellectual development, but also with moral and spiritual growth. The integration of body, mind, and spirit to achieve a wholeness in human life is fundamental to the well-being of the individual and to the very nature of the University itself. Recognizing these truths, the University strives to create an atmosphere in which basic civility and decency are expected, mutual respect and open communication are fostered, and spiritual growth is encouraged.

An Exploration of Faith

Chaplain dedicated to creating a space of belonging and welcome for all

Trinity alumnus Alexander Serna-Wallender ’08, ’09 has returned to campus as the University’s new chaplain. “Trinity plays a special part in my sacred geography and was a place of deep transformation for me and my faith,” Serna-Wallender says. “Having the opportunity to do the work I love, at a place I love, in a community I love, is a gift beyond measure.”

Serna-Wallender will serve Trinity University students by exploring the intersectional ways spiritual life can be integrated into programs, the classroom, and personal practice. As University chaplain, his work will be focused on providing a welcoming spiritual environment for students of every religion and denomination. “One of the powerful things about a liberal arts education is that it equips you to be a lifelong learner, and it lays the foundation for the unexpected turns in one’s life plan,” Serna-Wallender says.

Serna-Wallender received his bachelor’s degree from Trinity in urban studies with a minor in economics in 2008, as well as a master’s degree in teaching in 2009. He also holds a master’s degree of divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary and is an ordained minister of word and sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (USA), and holds a spiritual direction certification.