Please find alt text descriptions below of podcast episodes for the University Opportunity Series.
Season 1, Episode 1: UHV Student Life
Season 1, Episode 2: Residence Hall Association
Season 1, Episode 3: Jaguar Activities Board
Season 1, Episode 4: Student Services
Season 1, Episode 5: African Student Association
Student host Emi Ruiz with Hilary Kofron, Director of Student Life, and Freddie Cantu, Assistant Director of Diversity & Inclusion for Student Life.
Narrator: Welcome to the University Opportunity Series, a program of the University of Houston-Victoria. In this series, students take the lead to host conversations on available opportunities, ask questions about access and more. In the first season of the University Opportunity Series, senior Emi Ruiz interviews ten student-facing offices and student organizations on their reactions and changes during the pandemic in order to continue to provide services to the campus community. Episode one starts with two key employees who help lead campus activities for Student Life.
Introduction to the Session
Ruiz: So, can I get you all's, I don't know who wants to go first . . . your name, position and responsibilities in the department.
Kofron: Okay, I'll go ahead and start. My name is Hillary Kofron. My position is the Director of Student Life. And as far as responsibilities, obviously, probably my main responsibility is just . . . overseeing and supervising staff within our department, but then I also . . . oversee our leadership opportunities, as well as supporting our student organizations on campus. Oh, and our marketing-kind-of initiatives that come out of our department, as well. But Freddie helps me with that also . . . and, Freddie, you wanna’ go next?
Cantu: Yeah. So, my name is Freddie Cantu. I'm the Assistant Director of Diversity Inclusion for the Student Life Office. And my duties are just overseeing the Multicultural Advisory Council, or MAC, as their advisor, and also . . . promoting inclusivity, and making sure that we're hosting cultural, educational, and social programs for the students.
Ruiz: So, you all oversee like, different organizations, right?
JAB and MAC Organizations within Student Life
Kofron: Specifically, in our department . . . yes. We do have our Jaguar Activities Board, which is a student organization. And as Freddie mentioned, our more recently . . . the MAC organization. So, those are the only two that are directly . . . kind of- we have advisors for those organizations, like, that work in our department, and we have student directors that work in those organizations. But other than that, as far as student organizations, it's really just providing support to them . . . getting them information, you know, on how to create a student organization or how to kinda maintain the organization process, how to host events, how in meetings- how to recruit members, just things like that. But really, JAB and Mac are the only ones that are kind of directly ran from our office.
Ruiz: So, MAC is about diversity and inclusion, and I believe JAB is more about student involvement or just hosting events for students to participate in...?
Kofron: Yes! JAB is really focused on just student activities. Whether that's . . . on or off campus. And they do a variety of different things, whether it's . . . selecting and bringing maybe performers to campus, different musicians they've selected and brought to campus during our Crossroads Café, for Homecoming we always have different performers. We've also done musician- I'm sorry, magicians. Different things like that- variety acts. But then they've also planned . . . they’ll plan other things like, you know, an open mic night . . . just a variety of different things. And they've also done road trips in the past. We've kind of traditionally done a Schlitterbahn trip in the Spring and a Six Flags trip in the Fall during Fright Fest. So, yeah, they . . . but it is student- student led. So, that's why we really encourage students to get involved. You know, so they can help plan these events for campus. But those are some of the traditional events I discussed. But yeah, I mean it's really kind of what they're wanting to do.
Ruiz: Freddie, do you have any comments?
Cantu: No, I mean, Hilary fully hit it on the head. I mean, I definitely- I used to be the advisor for JAB, but that's definitely what they focus on. They focus on trying to get students more involved outside of the classroom and just making their college experience that much more- that much better.
Ruiz: Hilary, you mentioned a lot of events that are more in-person. How has the [audio cut out] had to change because of COVID?
Event Programming during Pandemic
Kofron: So, we've obviously had to change a lot. We have basically moved over to like, virtual events, so we . . . had to get creative with that. How, you know, we're gonna’ implement these things to students, so we're still . . . impacting them and getting them involved. So yeah, we- we've had to move virtually. We've done . . . a lot of kind of different things with Teams, Microsoft Teams, of course, 'cause, you know, all students have access to that. So, we've hosted some like, trivia nights and movie nights- like Netflix watch parties. We've done . . . moved some events, which we've done before, but kind of focus more on like, social media and like, challenges with social media. We've also done . . . for our student organizations, we hosted our first Virtual Involvement Fair, which was all done through JagSync. [Audio cuts out] . . . in an option that we could do through JagSync, and again, all students have access to that. I'm trying to think what else. I know . . . yeah, a lot, a lot of different things, but just . . . trying to get creative how we could do it virtually for students. I will say probably the only thing- we do have our food pantry on campus that our department oversees, JP’s Market. So, that was kind of one exception. We've always kept the market open for our students throughout, you know, the pandemic. We decided to create an online order system, so that was kind of a cool thing . . . a new idea to do. So, if students weren't comfortable coming into the market, they could still order . . . through JagSync- do an order through there and just come and pick it up. So, you know, again, we just kind of had to think about . . . different options, you know, so everyone's safe, of course. And towards the- I'd say not more recently, but . . . before kind of cases started going up again, we were doing a little . . . kind of doing a little bit of tablings here and there. Freddie actually hosted a couple, but, you know, kind of things where more passive programmings- where . . . maybe students could pick up a little goodie bag or some information on an event, or . . . a tradition, or whatever. And then sometimes we’d have JaX there to take pictures. But, of course, with anything we kind of did that with . . . of course rules to make sure that you know everyone was safe and staying 6 feet apart, and wearing their masks, and using . . . hand sanitizer, and all that stuff. But yeah, those are kind of some, some ways we've had to adapt. Freddie, do you wanna’ kind of share anything on that?
Cantu: Yeah, like Hilary said, we've had- most of our programs have been virtual. So, we try to create new things. Like, I know one of the events that I created for my area was the Brave Space Series. So, we . . . have a panel of faculty members and staff members discussing different multicultural topics at the end of each month. Which has been great, not only for the students to participate in, but also a lot of faculty/staff members have joined us as well. And, yeah, it's been a really a great way- I mean, of course, we wouldn't normally be doing any online events, but we’ve definitely reached out to a lot more students that we maybe normally wouldn't be able to . . . like, our online students, our students in Katy, things like that. So, I guess there has been some benefits for it.
Kofron: Yeah, and I will actually second that. 'Cause we- every year we host a Roar Leadership Conference, and this year was, of course, the first time we did a virtual conference, but we had probably some of our highest attendance that we've ever had for that event, going virtual. And I will say a lot of the participants were in . . . the Katy and Houston area. So, that's one thing I know moving forward as . . . we're planning this conference, I'm definitely gonna’ wanna’ do some type of virtual option for our students that are in Katy, or that are remotely, even. Hopefully once it's safe again . . . and we're able to do . . . in-person, we'll probably still have that option for students. So . . .
Ruiz: I do wanna’ say what I noticed was Student Life was really prepared for this online format. Like, a lot of organizations, smaller organizations, really struggled. Like, I'm part of RHA and we only get . . . one or two students at our meetings, and it's for like, 2 minutes. But Student Life did a really good job of keeping . . . the students entertained with their events.
Kofron: Well, that's good to hear!
Kofron: No, I mean, I will say I think . . . and to be honest Freddie can probably speak more on this- because when kind of all this happened . . . with COVID-19, I was actually- *laughs* when it all started, I was actually out on maternity leave. So, I was kind of out of the loop with all the kind of transitions that our department had to make. But . . . of course Freddie was around, and I think, you know, Freddie did a lot of research- kind of what other universities were doing, and . . . that's when we definitely started switching to doing some social media things. And I think . . . kind of being forced to do that- in the Spring, I think we kind of . . . our department learned some things and then, . . . so, we're, I think a little bit more prepared for the Fall moving forward. And like, kind of thinking like, “Okay, we tried this, this worked, this didn't work . . . what- what can we do better or what can we add in there?” But at the same time, I will say there is some events that we have hosted virtually, and . . . there's been a handful of people. And there's other we've hosted that . . . it's been 25. Or like I said, with the Leadership Conference, which I think has been one of our most successful, I mean, there was over 100 participants. So, but I think with that event specifically, was . . . making sure you're marketing it; you're emailing, you're putting it on social media . . . you're creating that Facebook event. You know, you're really getting that out there because there- with everything going on, I think . . . it's just, it's hard. You know, there's emotional things people are dealing with, and . . . all kinds of things going on. Right? So, I think . . . the more that you're getting it out there, the word out, it can kind of give them those reminders like “Oh, you know what? That could be something good to do.” But yeah, that's kind of my two cents. And like I said, Freddie kinda’ was there from the start, so he probably has more to share on that.
Preparing for Events during Pandemic
Cantu: Yeah, definitely. Once it kind of hit in the middle of last semester, so we really had to kind of start scrambling and thinking of ideas. But, of course, this wasn't just something that happened here. It was happening all over the world and all over our nation. So, . . . I was definitely able to get ideas from other colleagues and definitely part of other . . . Facebook groups, and newsletters of other people with- on other campuses who do the exact same thing that I do. So, I was able to . . . get ideas from other campuses from all over the country, and so that really, really helped out a lot. We were all making sure that we were there for each other and coming up with all these different ideas to help students still be active outside the classroom, but in a safe way.
Ruiz: And I think, I don't know if other organizations did it, but I know MAC had the- some tabling events and I thought that was really nice, because it wasn't something you had to stare at a computer for. Like, all day in school and then all the events for all organizations being online was kind of just a bit too stressful.
Cantu: Yeah, I know it can be difficult. But, . . . we- again, like Hilary said before, we made sure that we were doing . . . taking all the precautions necessary so that way we were being as safe as possible for our face-to-face events. But . . . yeah, like you were saying, . . . it was great to be able to see each other. Technically face-to-face, everyone has their masks on, of course, but just to kind of get out there and have a little bit of fun. But of course, we're always making sure that we're doing it in the safest way possible.
Kofron: Yeah, and I'll add in with that, too. Just to be clear that . . . anything that we were doing, like kind of tabling wise, of course, we got approval from the Executive Committee. 'Cause that was a big thing . . . when we- with as far as providing guidance to student organizations, as well as other departments, 'cause I'm actually the Chair of our University Programming Committee. And . . . we meet every semester, and . . . kind of talk about what- you know, our future events, what we're doing, try to avoid us kind of programming at the same time when we can, but a big part of that . . . when we had our meeting prior to the Fall, was talking about . . . what is events gonna’ look like. Right? And again, there was transitions that happen in the previous Spring. But it's still . . . it's like, okay, is there a hope that we will be able to do . . . face-to-face or you know. And I think that was always there, so, but that was . . . a big thing in my role- was getting that guidance of like how can . . . what do I tell student organizations? What do I tell other departments when they're wanting to do that- this stuff? And that was the big thing, was that . . . making sure we're submitting those events and getting that approval from the Executive Committee. But I just wanted to share that to be clear that . . . of course we made sure that we got approval from them prior to.
Student Organization Training during Pandemic
Ruiz: And, as an org. leader, I wanna’ ask is there like, plans to host . . . an organization training like, in COVID times? How like, you all would say . . . [audio cuts out] do this differently, because I know there's lots of organizations that are struggling, but Student Life really did succeed.
Kofron: I’ll say . . . we've been having our Student Org. Trainings, and we actually have one tonight. *Laughs.* Our last for this semester. But I think at all of those meetings . . . I've tried to share, kind of, updates with COVID and that sort of thing. And then . . . leave it open for student orgs., you know, to ask those questions . . . and we want to support them every way possible that we can. And I know it's difficult. 'Cause I know students . . . there’s a lot, again, a lot of other elements and things going on with individuals. And so, I really . . . with student orgs., you know, I'm here for them . . . and I'm 100% whatever you're needing. But I also . . . I wanna be respectful of if you have other priorities at this time . . . like, that's fine, too. You know . . . we don't have quite as many of our student orgs. that re-registered this year, but it's also understandable. You know, there's other- it's different times . . . did that answer your question? I kind of jumped around a little bit, but . . . *laughs.*
Ruiz: That was good, that was good.
Kofron: Okay, sorry. *Laughs.*
Student Life Department’s Future
Ruiz: So, in . . . I guess, what is the future of the department look like . . . I guess in these COVID times or hoping that COVID goes away soon? I think there's a vaccine coming out soon. So, what would you like to change?
Kofron: I mean, I will say for me . . . of course I'm hopeful to get . . . to a point where it's safe. You know, for us to do . . . like, we have Homecoming happening in April. And of course, I would love for us to be able to have, you know, our normal Homecoming week where . . . we have some of our biggest attendance. Right? Throughout that week with events going on throughout the year. So, but at the same time, safety is number 1 the most important. So, yeah, of course we're hopeful to get to that point, but I think . . . it will, we’ll get there . . . it'll happen eventually. We just gotta’ make sure . . . it's safe first. But I think, again, like I mentioned before with . . . the circumstances, you know, looking at some positive light is that . . . I think, and Freddie kind of mentioned this, too- we had to kind of . . . look at the way . . . take the current situation and look how can we still try and do this stuff. And I think from that, we were able to reach some of our other students- some of our Katy students more, some of . . .students that are online. So, and that's something we've always strived to do, but I'll be honest, it can be a struggle. So, I think from this . . . like I said before, with our annual Leadership Conference, I'm definitely gonna look at implementing something virtually, no matter what, 'cause I just saw the benefit of that. And like Freddie said, too, with his Brave Space Series . . . you're able- it's an option to kind of reach some of our other students. So, I think . . . that's gonna be something we're going to look at moving forward. 'Cause we want to support every single one of our students. That's why- we're here for every student. So . . . Freddie, do you wanna share more?
Cantu: Yeah, I’ll probably just really kind of speak to the same things. I mean . . . we definitely started reaching out, like we said, to a lot more students with our virtual events. So, even once COVID’s gone or there's a vaccine that's . . . available to everyone going into next year, even, we probably still want to continue to do some virtual events here and there. So, that way we're continuing to reach out to those groups of students and making sure that they're getting involved as well.
Ruiz: More than just attending events, is there any way for students to be more involved in this department?
Additional Student Involvement Opportunities
Kofron: Oh, absolutely. We have . . . as we previous mentioned, we have those student organizations that run out of our office. So, JAB and MAC, we . . . those are both options for students to join those organizations. Any student . . . can join that organization and help plan those events for campus, and that's what we want. We want our students to be planning these events . . . 'cause they’re students! And they know what students want, right? I mean, not everyone wants the same thing. But . . . that’s an important thing for us, and . . . one thing I know, we talk a lot, especially like, . . . when we have orientations or, you know, our Welcome Weekend . . . we’re telling, especially those new students, like, “Hey, if you're wanting to get involved . . . try JAB. Try it out, see if you like it . . . and then attend that Involvement Fair, so you can meet other organizations and get involved.” So . . . there's definitely those opportunities. And then we also . . . we have up to 10-15 student director positions throughout the academic year. So, that's obviously another good way for students to get involved and, actually work, work in our office and gain some marketable skills through that experience. So, those are definitely some ways to get involved more than just . . . attending events. Or we've also had students that just . . . like to come in and like, “Hey, can I help with this particular project?” And we're like, “Absolutely . . . for sure!” So, and we've had students do internships with us, also. Typically, those have been grad- graduate students. But yeah, those are a few ways. Freddie, do you want to share some more there?
Cantu: Yeah. Another one I can think of is our, of course, our Mascot Program. So, usually at the beginning of each year we have mascot tryouts. And, of course, those students are still paid, so they would be considered student workers, as well. But it's definitely a lot more fun, and . . . you have to make sure that you're keeping that anonymity and keeping the identity of those students as secret as possible, but it's also a really fun way our students can kind of get more involved . . . within our office.
MAC and JAB E-board and Membership
Ruiz: I think MAC has special requirements or some sort. Like, you have to be involved for a certain number of hours and you have to work with the department?
Kofron: I'm sorry, Emi, you were kind of cutting out at the beginning. Were you referring specifically to MAC?
Kofron: Well as far as- so, let me just clarify. . . we do, within MAC and JAB. We have paid positions within those organizations, right? So, they're like actual student directors that are working, and typically those officer roles. But . . . any student can join the organization, though, and like, be a member. Does that make sense? So, there's kind of like, two layers to it. But generally, I mean, and Freddie more than anyone could answer this question, but . . . if a student, you know, gets involved with JAB and is like, “Okay, I wanna join. I wanna be a member.” More than likely if that student’s getting involved and . . . showing up, and helping out, and attending meetings . . . those are the students we're looking at for those student director positions, right? 'Cause we're like, “Wow! They're really- they're wanting to get involved, . . . they have ideas, they're . . . helping out.” Like, those are the students that we're generally like, “Okay, so now we have an open . . . the President's open for JAB. Let's . . . see if they're interested in applying.” So, that's kind of the process of that generally. But . . . I mean, you don't have to be. We don't have particular criteria like, “Oh, you have to be, like, doing this,” . . . anyone can apply for those positions. But, of course, if you are involved, that's gonna help . . . with that job. So, and Freddie, yeah, do you want to share more on that? Or did that answer your question, Emi?Or was it . . .
Ruiz: It did, sort of. Just because I don't know much about JAB, but I have seen . . . I think it’s called . . . the form that's on the MAC page on JagSync. Because I had to look through it to see what . . . how I could be more involved with the organization for work. So, I did see their's, but I didn't see the one for JAB.
Kofron: Freddie, did you have . . Is there something? Yeah, I don't know if I missed something with the MAC, so. . . *Laughs.*
Cantu: Yeah . . . I'm not sure either. I know, like Hilary was saying, . . . if you want to actually be a board member of JAB, like a student director within our office, . . . there's criteria. We do have like, a GPA requirement and things like that for all of our student worker positions and that's how it is across the campus. But to just be a member, you don't have to be . . . what you might be referring to is our . . . Cultural Ambassadors, which are considered a part of our organization, but those are just other leaders of other multicultural organizations on campus. So, . . . for example, the Presidents of International Student Organization, or the Black Student Union, or Hispanic Student Association . . . those multicultural organizations. Their leaders are considered a part of MAC, and we try to meet at least once a month, here and there, just to kind of get their perspectives. Since we all kind of . . . we as MAC, we program for all those different areas. Whether it's Hispanic Heritage Month, Black History Month, all that kind of thing. So, we want to make sure that we're collaborating, we're not stepping on each other's toes, and we're . . . working together to do everything that we can to help the university. Is that what you're referring to?
Ruiz: I think so. It's just *laughs*. . . like, from other organizations, it's not a- like, a paid position? How . . . y'alls e-board is. So, it's really- it's different to see how it works. That you need to be a member, and then there's also the paid positions that you would need to work for.
Kofron: Yeah, . . . it definitely is different. And kind of the whole reasoning for that is- basically . . . we have our department budget, right? So, within that . . . we wanna, again, have that option for students to get involved and plan those events for campus. So, that was kind of the reasoning to come up with our Jaguar Activities Board. So, but yeah, it is kind of . . . it's a unique situation 'cause it is different than other student organizations. Because, again, it is ran out of our office. So, it’s . . . *laughs* I think a little confusing to some people, but there’s reasoning behind it.
Cantu: Yeah, for sure. And it's similar, honestly, it's similar to SGA. I mean not all SGA positions are paid for, but several of them are, and of course there's a whole other process for SGA where you have to be . . . where you have to run and students have to vote for you. So, . . . those bigger organizations that are run through departments are a little different than . . . regular student organizations that are ran specifically with students.
Ruiz: Yeah, that clarifies a lot more *laughs* to my question.
Ruiz: So, how has the department been able to support first-generation students, minorities, LGBTQ+ students, or other special student populations?
Serving Diverse Student Populations
Kofron: Freddie, I'll let you take that one since that's your area.
Cantu: Yeah, that’s def- That's definitely in my area. *Laughs.* I did kind of talk a little bit about the events that we do specific to minority students. So, again, when we're doing events . . . specifically for Hispanic and Latinx students, African American students, female students, and our LGBTQ students as well. We've also done events in collaboration with the International Programs Office and supporting our international students. So, we've hosted events for Oktoberfest, which . . . when the first year that we did that, we had a lot of students . . . our German international students attend. And we host Chinese New Year and things like that. We do a little bit of everything . . . try to support all of our different minority students as much as possible. In the past, we've had a couple of events that we've hosted specifically for the LGBTQ community, like National Coming Out Day and Pride Week, but especially now in my new role, I've been able to really expand upon that and focus on events specific to those individual areas as opposed to the entire group as a whole. So, celebrating Bisexuality Day, Transgender Remembrance Day, and little events like that. So . . . I can help those specific identities and those specific students, as opposed to just the entire community as a whole, which has been nice. And of course, we have . . . the Jaguar Ally Training, which we host each semester, as well in the summer. Which is not only for students, but also for faculty and staff members, to try and become Jaguar Allies and show their support for the LGBTQ+ community. That's another big initiative that we have. And I know, as far as for first-generation students, we were actually going to have our first big event for First-Gen this semester. But, of course, with COVID it kind of made things a little harder, so we decided to postpone that to the Spring. Just to make sure that we . . . are better prepared for it. But we're definitely really excited about being able to focus on events specifically for those students. And we're also going to be hosting events specifically for our disabled students, as well. So, . . . we do have a Manager for Disability Programs. . . or is that Cheryl's title? What is her specific title, Hilary?
Kofron: I believe, yeah, it's Manager for Disability Services. Yeah, I think you’re correct.
Cantu: Yeah, but they don't really program events. So, we're gonna be helping and program events for those students, as well. Our first one being this coming Spring. So, yeah, there's a little bit of everything. I mean, we're always coming up with new ideas each time. And, again, like I said before, this is my- this is a brand-new role. I started at the beginning of the year. And so, we're definitely coming up with new initiatives. Of course, MAC is a brand-new student organization and they really helped focused on taking the lead on those multicultural programs for the campus. Which is great because we want to make sure that we're always getting the student perspective . . . and creating events like the Brave Space Series. I'm starting up the Diversity Inclusion newsletter, and we have other ideas for upcoming events, too. So, we're always changing. We're always trying to get inputs from students on how to- how we can better serve them . . . so, that's some information on what we do to support those students.
Kofron: Yay, Freddie! *Claps hands.* Yes, I don't know if you mentioned before that this was a new position from the Fall!
Cantu: I know, I'm super excited.
Ruiz: Yeah, I just wanted to say you’ve been doing a really good job of . . .
Kofron: I know, I know!
Ruiz: He’s doing great.
Cantu: Thank you.
Kofron: I am really excited. We were just thrilled that we were able- this position- we were able to add it . . . so Freddie can . . . just focus all his efforts on diversity inclusion. So, that's been really great for our department. So, we're thrilled. And it's great for, of course, the campus and our students. So, we're just really thrilled about it.
Ruiz: What have been some of the highlights in . . . the department for you all?
Kofron: Well, obviously we just talked about a big one that just happened this Fall. Freddie moving into that new role and focusing on diversity inclusion efforts. I would say . . . it's some other things- we've . . . I mean, we have a wide variety of, you know, opportunities for students. Whether that's Intramural Sports, Outdoor Adventures, volunteer- connecting students with volunteer opportunities . . . a lot we’ve talked about already- our student activities led by our Jaguar Activities Board. And leadership . . . help supporting our student organization. Freddie mentioned our Mascots Program, which is one of my favorite things. Love JaX! So glad he's at our department! No- so, yeah, there's a lot . . . that we have to offer, I think. And it's so important . . . to have these different options for students, because not every student likes the same thing, right? So, another big one, and we mentioned this before with . . . our JP's market, which is something we're so proud of and has impacted so many of our students. So, those are some of the . . . our big highlights for our Department, I would say. Other things . . . again, I kind of mentioned this, but the Homecoming week . . . our department does a lot for that week. And I'm actually- I've had the privilege to be the Co-Chair of that committee for multiple years, and Freddie's been on that committee, and that's just one of the coolest things I think is 'cause it's not just our department. It’s. . . about- you're looking at up to . . . 10 different departments, and at least 10 student leaders on the committee . . . just helping to plan this week for all of campus. And that's one thing that I really enjoy. And this- working at UHV is just being able to collaborate . . . with other departments, with student organizations, with students, and seeing these things come together . . . there's so many people on campus that are so about the students, and they want to do these things for the students. I mean, that's what we're here for. But like, passionate about it, and so it's just so cool to be part of those initiatives where it's . . .coming together across campus . . . to impact our students as a whole. So, yeah, I kind of went off on another thing. But yeah . . . I would say that that's kind of, I feel like big highlights for our department, but also for me, personally, within . . . my position. So . . . but Freddie, what do you have?
Cantu: Yeah, well like I was saying, this is the- my first year in this position. So, I was excited for everything at the beginning, but I guess if I had to choose one big one, it would definitely have to be helping create MAC. I know, Emi, you talked a little bit earlier about how it can be a little challenging keeping student organizations going during pandemic times, which is completely understandable. But it was . . . it was definitely a struggle trying to create a brand-new organization during the year and the pandemic. But it's also been super rewarding . . . we keep continuing to do as much as we can and continue to have general meetings, and slowly but surely, we continue to grow our student audience during those meetings. So, I would definitely say for any student organizations who listen to this, definitely continue to do as much as you can . . . and never give up, and eventually you'll get more students involved throughout the year. I'm sure going into next semester we'll have even more students . . . get excited after having a nice rest over this holiday break. But yeah, and I know this past Friday, or last Friday, the MAC had our last board meeting with one another, and just so you know, at the end of it said, “Thank you guys so much for a great first semester, we did a lot. We had a lot of different events going on . . . and they did an amazing job, and they were done.” Once I said that they were like, “Oh my God, yeah it's the end of the first semester. We totally forgot this is a brand-new organization,” and they were just really thankful to be a part of the team. And, so, yeah, that was really really nice . . . and I'm really excited to continue working with MAC in the Spring semester.
Ruiz: Yeah. . . I'm like, in shock, because MAC was . . . I think I heard about MAC, maybe Sep- like near the end of September. But . . . as soon as I heard about it was like, “Oh, they're doing this. They’re doing that.” They were really . . . you all hit the ground running . . . there was no pause. You guys were really great about that.
Cantu: Thank you, thank you. We tried to make sure we were doing as much as possible . . . to help get students involved.
Path to UHV
Ruiz: So, a few more personal questions. Why did you all choose to work with UHV?
Kofron: Oooh. Should I go first, Freddie? *Laughs.*
Cantu: Go ahead.
Kofron: *Laughs.* Yeah, I don't know why I said it like that. No . . . I'll just kinda share my whole, I guess, Hilary story and how I ended up at UHV. So, I'm actually born and raised in Victoria. And I did go away . . . I moved away for over 12 years. I did attend college at Texas State University. I got my undergrad and I attended grad school there, as well. And I was also kind of in-between Austin and San Marcos and ended up . . . after I graduated with my Masters at Texas State, I worked for a nonprofit in Austin for about four years. And the mission was to prevent child abuse and neglect. And I learned in grad school . . . what I want to do is, you know, I just wanna support people. I want to be . . . I'm a pretty social person. I . . . I enjoy interacting with individuals. So, I was just like, I just wanna . . . support other . . . individuals, whether or- families, or whatever it was. I knew that was just kind of my goal in life. So, yeah. Like I mentioned, I worked for a nonprofit for four years in Austin and met this guy. No, I actually, knew him from middle school, and so, anyways, we started dating and then we decided to get married. And *laughs* so, we're both from Victoria. We ended up moving back home and . . . it had been a while since I, of course, had lived in Victoria, so I was really . . . Sorry, are y'all still there? My computer did something weird. Hello?
Ruiz: I’m here.
Kofron: Okay, sorry! Oh, right in the middle! No, so, yeah . . . I was unsure what I wanted to do. I hadn't been in Victoria in a while. I really didn't know all the employment opportunities out there. I started looking, actually worked for Head Start for a little while and I saw this position at UHV open for a Health Educator and . . . I read about it, and I was like, “Wow, that really sounds like something I want- I would want to do. I'm working with college students . . . doing programs, providing resources.” And, of course, that was focused on kinda’ the more mental health and . . . health area, but I was like, ‘I'll apply . . . we'll see what happens.’” And so . . . I did the interview, I got the position, and really just fell in love with UHV. I . . . was just- everyone I met I . . . as far as coworker-wise . . . I was really thrilled about, and just so loved, like, doing these programs for students . . .the energy like, “Come on guys, come check this out!” And I enjoyed that. So, and then there was a position open in Student Life . . . someone told me to apply for it, and I was like, “Oh, okay, yeah I'll do it.” And so, I did it, and now I've been in Student Life for like, 4 years and I love it. So, and I love the team that we have. I moved into Student Life the same- I think Freddie . . .what you'd been working there maybe a month? And so, yeah.
Kofron: Basically, my entire time in Student Life I've worked with Freddie, and I just enjoy Freddie. I'm so glad we . . . we're coworkers, we're still coworkers. I know some people in the Student Affairs world can kinda move into a role and then jump to another one. But yeah, I've so enjoyed it. I enjoy the students, having our student directors in our office- and of course it hasn't been like that with COVID-19, but . . . we still have our virtual and . . . check-ins with our student directors and everything. But yeah, I definitely miss our . . . face-to-face programs and doing that. But again, with the current times, we just- safety is number one and we'll get back there . . . that’s I think everything, but yeah, I enjoy it! *Laughs.*
Cantu: Alrighty, I guess I'll talk a little bit about my . . . story. I'm from West Texas, so I was born and raised in Abilene, and then I went to school in San Angelo. I went to Angelo State University. And there . . . as an incoming freshman, like a lot of incoming freshmen . . . I was nervous. I didn't know a lot of people, so I tried to make it a mission to try and get involved, tried to make more friends, and meet new people. So, I know I- over the summer, I went to an Organization Fair, and their Activities Board seemed really fun and interesting, the students were really nice, so I went to one of their first events, and then started going to their meetings, and absolutely fell in love with it. All throughout my undergrad career, and as a graduate student . . . was involved within the Center for Student Involvement at my campus. And after that first semester . . . as a freshman, a couple of the students were getting ready to graduate in the Fall, so I actually appliedfor a position in my second semester as a freshman and ended up getting a position with the Activities Board at my campus. So, been super involved since then. And, again, when I did graduate and moved on- my undergraduate degree was in Mass Media and Communications. So, I got a job at a news station as a videographer and graphic designer. I was doing that for . . . about six months, and I just realized, even though I really enjoyed it, I really missed being involved on campus and working with college students. So, that's what really drove me to go back to school and get my Masters in . . . Leadership in Higher Education and eventually start working in Higher Ed, as I am now. So, that was kind of my dream going into grad school. And once I finished that- started applying for jobs in Texas and UHV was the first opportunity that . . . really was accepting of me. So, moved here . . . about 5 ½ hours away. The other side of Texas. But ever since I've been here, again, like Hilary said, it's been a little over four years now, going on 4 ½ years, and the . . . campus has been super welcoming. All of the faculty and staff here were really nice and welcoming when I first got here, and the students, of course, were just as great. They've always been really supportive, really interactive. We've always had a really decent amount of students who are constantly going to all of our events, and coming to the office just to say hi, and even . . . different students who have come through our office and been student workers, and then graduated . . . occasionally they'll come by and visit, and then we'll get to see all the amazing things that they're out there doing. So, it's just super rewarding. That's what I really love about working in higher education, and more specifically Student Affairs, is just working with students, helping to see them grow and become better people, and then graduating, going on to do amazing things. So, yeah, that's the reason why I got into working in Student Affairs.
Ruiz: I think y'all from, I guess from . . . entering college y'all kind of already knew what you wanted to work with. Like, y’all are very outgoing and involved, and I think Student Life really fits y’all. 'Cause you're working with students every day, and you're creating activities, and then there's some . . . Freddie mentioned graphic design. There's - you work with Canva to get . . . the posters for all the events.
Cantu: Yes, for sure. A lot of our . . . we work with Canva to do a lot of the graphic design for most of our events. And we also have a couple of graphic design positions for students to work in our office and get that experience and do something that they love.
Ruiz: Well, that's actually all I have for today. Is there anything else y’all would like to say?
Kofron: Just thank you for . . . asking about Student Life and our department and for sharing about it. 'Cause yeah . . . we do enjoy what we do and working with students. It's wonderful. And you're one of those students that we enjoy working with, so, thank you! *Laughs.*
Ruiz: You’re welcome.
Cantu: Yes, thank you so much for inviting us to participate in . . . this interview. And of course, I know, Emi, you're one of our members with MAC. So, thank you for being a member and coming to our meetings.
Ruiz: Yeah, I- I like MAC. I forgot where I was going- I had a good . . . *laughs.* But, thank you. Oh, well, this series is for students, staff, and faculty, but I think, I learned a lot from it right now. So, I hope they can learn a lot, too.
Kofron: Yay! And, Emi, too, if you are needing some additional help with RHA or anything, let me know. 'Cause I know, like you said, it is . . . it’s different right now. But, just let me know. I'm here.
Ruiz: Thank you. *Laughs.*
Kofron: But yeah, I also know, too, like I said before . . . that it's different right now and there's a lot going on with students . . . but yeah, whatever I can do.
Cantu: Same here.
Kofron: I forgot you were still recording this. *Laughs.*My convo is like- *Laughs.*
Ruiz: Okay, well I'm gonna go ahead and stop recording. Thank y’all for joining me today. Really appreciate it.
Cantu: Thank you!
Student host Emi Ruiz with Kendall Aguero, Advisor of the Residence Hall Association (RHA).
Narrator: Welcome back to the University Opportunity Series. In episode two of the first season, student Emi Ruiz interviews the current Advisor for the Residence Hall Association.
UHV’s Residence Hall Association (RHA) and Leadership Highlights
Ruiz: Alright. So, let's start with your name, position, and responsibilities.
Aguero: Alrighty. Well, my name is Kendall Aguero. I'm the advisor for Residence Hall Association, shortly known as RHA. I also work as one of the supervisors here in Jaguar Village.
Ruiz: So, what is it that the organization is about?
Aguero: So, Residence Hall Association is really an organization dedicated to Jaguar Village residents. So, we believe as a resident, you have the right to be heard. So, RHA General Body Meetings are an opportunity for Jaguar Village residents to gather together to brainstorm and bring up concerns regarding the residence halls here at UHV. Together, residents make Jaguar Village a better place.
Ruiz: So, you are new to the organization, but so far what are- what have been some of the highlights?
Aguero: So, there has been a lot of highlights, but for me, meeting new Jaguars. It is so awesome to work with student leaders throughout Jaguar Village. They're just so dedicated in making UHV home away from home, so it's really motivating.
Adapting to the Pandemic
Ruiz: So, how have you . . . you've been to RHA meetings before you . . .
Aguero: Before I became advisor?
Aguero: Yeah! Yeah, I know what they entail. Like, trying to make sure that like, residents’ voices are being heard and there's always a platform for them to speak. And I don't know . . . is that what you're asking me? *Laughs*
Ruiz: Yeah. I just want to ask how have you seen like, the change with COVID happening this year?
Aguero: Oh, that is such a great question. And it has for sure been a long year changing platforms on how we present to our students. But however, . . . how RHA is handling it, residents could catch us online. So, RHA has General Body Meetings that are hosted on Microsoft Teams. We also have updated our JagSync page, so if any information is needed from the resident, they could just simply check us out on JagSync. And we did not stop there. We now have a Jaguar Village survey available for residents to submit. The survey is open so RHA can inform UHV Housing Department, meaning Brandon Lee and also Camilla Sutton, about any concerns and give them some feedback on what they want here at our residence halls.
Ruiz: That’s great.
Ruiz: What activities has this organization hosted?
Aguero: So, we have hosted a lot of activities. As of right now, due to COVID-19, RHA, like I said, has gone online for the safety of our team and others. However, in the past we have done a Campus Beautification where they went around Jaguar Village, put in some work orders, and spiced up Jaguar Village. We've also done some great skate nights, movie nights, pool parties, and just much more. There's always something to do.
But what we really want to do when it comes to RHA is make RHA a steppingstone for getting involved on campus. So, RHA is a great steppingstone for students to get involved, and be aware of policies, and more regarding our Residence Halls to become Resident Assistants. So, and other than that, we just want to make RHA a safe place where all residents can come and chat, and meet up with their friends, and then become friends with their neighbors, basically!
Ruiz: Okay. Other than just attending events that the organization hosts . . . are there any special requirements to attend those?
Aguero: So, there's no requirement that you have to be a part of RHA or go through to be a part of RHA. You are welcome, and we're going to get really excited when we see you attend one of our events. It's open for everyone. It is open for those student leaders that want to make a difference in Jaguar Village. It's just . . . an opportunity where students could grow as a leader, and also to be aware of our community and . . . build and uplift people in the Jaguar Village community.
Ruiz: Would you suggest a student be a member of RHA as a general body member before becoming an E-board member?
Aguero: Totally suggest that. Just to see where you are when it comes to being a part of RHA, where your motives are when it comes to serving Jaguar Village residents, and people a part of UHV. It just tells us, too, it tells me, where you stand, what you need maybe a little help on. Because we want to provide, through RHA, quality service. So, we want you to know the policies, we want you to know how to submit a work order, we want you to know where those forms are because RHA is not only a platform where residents are able to speak, RHA is a resource. Meaning we could show a resident how to submit those- submit those work orders or who's the direct person to contact when it comes to Housing regarding paw passes or regarding charges. So, RHA is much more than just a platform where you could come and talk. It's just, it’s a resource for our residents, and it's just a great opportunity for our students here at UHV.
Ruiz: So how has the organization been able to support the many students that it has living on campus?
Aguero: So, like I said, RHA welcomes all residents. It's a spot where residents get to know their neighbors in the community, and like I said, we want to support and help any residents with any needs that they may have. So, also, we want to provide our Housing Department with some great feedback about what our residents want to see in our Residence Halls. So, we're just open to everyone. We want everyone to know we are listening, and we're here, and we are going to help their voices be heard.
Ruiz: I think those are all of the questions, questions.
Personal Experience as a UHV Student
Ruiz: But do you wanna talk about your experience as a student?
Aguero: Yeah, sure! So, I love UHV! First, I love UHV, and I love Victoria. It has been so great here as a student here at UHV. I have had a blast. I was so blessed during my undergrad while studying Business to be a Resident Assistant and be a part of the Department of Residence Life. This just gave me an opportunity to grow, and the opportunity came up to continue to serve such an amazing Department. And now, I am in a supervisor position, and I study Adult and Higher Education. I just love our Jaguars! And I want to help anyone and everyone the best that I can. And it's just been such a blessing to be a part of a growing community.
Ruiz: I did see, last year, there was . . . people started coming to our meetings, and then COVID happened, and they stopped. But I do want to mention, I think, the Christmas Bash is probably the most . . . I guess, successful event that we participate in every year. Like, the snowman thing . . .
Ruiz: I still have mine. I just forgot it at home.
Aguero: *Laughs* Aww.
Navigating RHA’s Online Presence
Aguero: Yeah, for sure there has been a little hinder in our performance when it comes to attendance with RHA. Hopefully in Spring we could really tackle it. But how, as an advisor of RHA, I plan to tackle it is talking to other professionals on how they are kind of navigating their way when it comes to virtual programs. It looks, too, like we could definitely lean on social media. I mean everyone's on social media now. Maybe, spicing up our social media, making us look cute, and following some of our residents.
Ruiz: I think you also mentioned, Monday, that you were planning on talking to Cesar from JAB. I think that's a really good idea for small organizations to get in contact with organizations that do have a lot of student participation.
Aguero: Yes, definitely! Unfortunately, this Fall semester got a little hectic and a little busy when it came to RHA and planning things. However, I really do want to talk to . . .example, Cesar Gonzales. Also, keeping a line of communication with Brandon Lee, our Director of Housing, and also Camilla Sutton, our Assistant Director, of things that we can do just to spice up our programming, and also get engaged students to participate. Because it's just a great opportunity to just to get involved. It is kind of weird this year with COVID-19, everything's online, but for sure, RHA’s not giving up. We're going to find how we could get residents motivated and also have them engaged in their community. Because even though everything is online, we could still build such a beautiful community. We have something special here at UHV. So, it's just something we're going to have to navigate through, and talk to other professionals, and even talk to other organizations. Like, how are you navigating your way through COVID-19, ensuring that you're following policies and making sure everyone is safe, and still presenting quality service.
Ruiz: I agree. Like, the bigger organizations didn't have a lot of like, a lot of issues, to get participants, but the smaller ones are really struggling. I think especially us since we're missing like four-fifths of our E-Board.
Ruiz: It’s got low attendance. And our attendance, kind of like, depends on the students who are living here already.
Aguero: For sure. It’s been a hard pill to swallow, definitely, but it's also meeting the students where they’re at, kind of understanding, a majority of their classes are online. Here at the Housing Department, as serving Housing Department Resident Assistants, have biweekly meetings just to keep a line of communication with their residents, and they also have events online, too. So, there's always something online, and sometimes residents really don't want to click online and go to another virtual meeting. But it's up to us on motivating them to . . . spicing it up. I keep on saying “spicing it up” for some reason. *Laughs* But just like, making it exciting and just telling them like, “Hey. . . don’t lose that motivation. Don't lose that spark. Even though things look different, we're all here together. We're going through this altogether. And we're still a community, and your neighbor is still here, and you have professional staff here, as well.”
Ruiz: I love that, their “neighbor is still here.” I haven't met my neighbor. And my sister has asked me a few times, “Who's your neighbor?” And like, I don't know.
Aguero: Yeah! And ask, because this is my first time advising RHA, I just want to make it like, our main goal, basically, is just continue building a beautiful community, a welcoming community, here in Jaguar Village. Because it's really fun here. It's just, you see friendly faces. You might even not even know their name, but you always bump into them. That's kind of something cool with living on a smaller campus. Just making sure we're continuing that; we're having an environment where it's healthy and safe for all residents.
Ruiz: Yeah, I agree.
Ruiz: Well, thank you, Kendall, for joining me today. I really enjoyed our interview.
Aguero: I enjoyed it. I know you don't see me right now, but I am smiling so much!
Ruiz: I can hear it.
Aguero: I've been so excited to talk to you!
Ruiz: Well, this was fun. Let me go ahead and end it really quick.
Aguero: Alrighty. Thanks, Emi.
Student host Emi Ruiz with Cesar Gonzalez, JAB Advisor; Makayla Hare, JAB President; and Claudialicia Walker, JAB Vice President.
Narrator: Thank you for joining the conversation at the University Opportunity Series. For episode three, student Emi Ruiz interviews student leaders and the current advisor for the Jaguar Activities Board.
Ruiz: Okay, Cesar, can we start with . . . well, I guess your full name, position and responsibility?
Gonzalez: Yeah, for sure. . . My name is Cesar Gonzalez. My position is the advisor for the Jaguar Activities Board and my responsibilities are to oversee and manage JAB, Jaguar Activities Board, as well as anything that has to do with the mascots.
Ruiz: To Makayla. Can you answer the same question, please?
Hare: So, my name is Makayla Hare. I'm the President of the Jaguar Activities Board, so my duties are to basically help plan events and help oversee events.
Ruiz: Okay. And Claudia, the same question, please.
Walker: Yeah, my name is Claudialicia Walker. I am the JAB V.P. and some of my responsibilities are to event plan, and assist the President in whatever they need help in.
Ruiz: Cesar, can you tell us what the organization is about?
Gonzalez: For sure. JAB is pretty much a student-run organization here on campus, that more or less just tries to bring students to be involved. We host a lot of events . . . online, in-person, as well. And we do- we are a branch of Student Life, as well. So, yeah . . . which kind of changes the way our organization is in comparison to other student-run organizations.
Ruiz: Claudia, can you . . . list or describe some of the activities that the organization hosts?
Walker: Yeah. So, a lot of the stuff that we do, currently, are gonna’ be like, games, and just things to keep students active in campus or . . . with campus. Other things we do is we do like, Poetry Slams. And we do like, Crossroad Cafes, where we get some artists out and just jam out in the cafeteria while people eat.
Ruiz: I've been to some of those. They’re kind of fun.
Makayla Hare’s Presidential Highlights
Ruiz: Makayla, can you name some of your highlights from your leadership?
Hare: I think highlights for me would be just the opportunities that have . . . come up due to me being in Jaguar Activities Board. I've been able to . . . do a lot of different things as far as go to different meetings, go to different events, even travel. So, that is some of the . . . you know, perks of being on this board.
Ruiz: You mentioned traveling, but I haven't heard of that with the department.
Hare: Oh, yes! So, with JAB we go to this thing called . . . Ah, I forgot the name. Cesar, what’s the name of it?
Hare: Yes, we go to NACA. So, at NACA we- it's like a mini concert for . . . different schools and their boards that come up—help plan events and stuff like that. So, we get to go and see different artists and we get to . . . try to get them to come to our school to do things, like our JAXCHELLA that we started a couple of years ago, and then our Crossroad Cafe events. Or even have them perform at our Homecoming sometimes.
Ruiz: Did that take place this year, too?
Hare: No. It didn't take place this year or last year due to COVID, no.
Adapting to the Pandemic
Ruiz: Claudia, can you describe some ways you've had to- the organization- has had to adapt with COVID this year?
Walker: Yeah. So, the main way that we have had to adapt to COVID is pretty much almost every event is virtual . . . which basically means it's going to be held on Microsoft Teams. But usually we have like, a separate server. Like, we did a bingo game, that was really fun. But that was pretty much the biggest thing, is having to do it online.
Ruiz: . . . Okay, so, one thing I'm taking away from COVID is . . . everybody's doing their things online. And it's actually a lot easier to . . . attend events. So, I really like that part, but everything else is pretty bad. So, have . . . ya’ll gotten any ideas to address the barriers or disconnect with students who are living on-campus and those who are living off-campus?
Walker: Yeah. One of the, like the most- the greatest, I guess, impacts that I noticed was students off-campus, they don't really like feel compelled to participate . . . because like, to them, they can't really win anything that's worth it. But what we have started to do is we've actually done gift cards to where they can use online at the bookstore. So, that way we get those people drawn in to have a good time and they still have a chance of winning something that is useful.
Ruiz: Okay. So, when you talk about these students who are off campus, are you mentioning those that . . . I think when we get charged for like, tuition and stuff like that . . . it's a 50-mile radius. So, students outside of that region will also be eligible to win these gift cards?
Walker: Yeah, anybody who plays the game is eligible. But . . . a lot of kids- they think that because they're not close to campus that they wouldn't be able to receive the prizes because we have had like, little prize buckets, which also could be shipped out. But it would be a lot easier for a gift card. So, that's what we've been doing.
Ruiz: Yeah, I've heard some of those issues, too.
Student Inclusion and Involvement
Ruiz: So, moving on . . . Makayla, what kind of students does the organization cater to?
Hare: We cater to all students. We cater to freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors. We cater to graduate students. So, we really try to get everyone involved. We even cater to the outside of the school, so, the community as well . . . we don't have just a set range of people.
Ruiz: Okay. So, besides . . . other than COVID making lots of the events online, are there events that students can participate in without being here? Like, before COVID.
Gonzalez: Yeah, I can answer that one. Yeah, in the past we would actually have events that were in- also in Katy. I think last year specifically, Claudia went to two of them, I believe. Where it was more or less the exact same event that we would have here in Victoria, but we would drive all the way to Katy and just host it there. This year travel’s been a little different, especially with the availability of going to the Katy campus. So, that has changed, but other than that we've also hosted . . . in the past, trying to get more of those like, online students and also the ones in Katy, we would do road trips and we would invite them over. The same thing with gift cards and stuff like that, as they said previously, we would send those and ship those out, and also as well as . . . our social media challenges and winnings. Those would also get shipped . . . prizes and stuff like that. So, we try to be as inclusive as possible when it comes to all the students in UHV.
Ruiz: And I guess this question kind of overlaps with Cesar and Makayla’s. Besides attending events, how can students be more involved . . . in the organization?
Gonzalez: I think for students to really get involved . . . I think it's just kind of . . . in a way, up to them to really look out for events. In the Student Life Department, we do a lot of marketing, online, social media, emails, things like that, and with everything going on, I can kind of understand that sometimes some of these things go past priority. But . . . I feel like for those who really want an option to get involved, we're here for that. So, we're here for everyone, but of course, I feel like it's up to a student to really reach out and look for our events. So, that they . . . take advantage and become a part of the event.
Ruiz: And can ya’ll list some of the requirements to actually join the E-Board for your organization?
Hare: Some of the requirements, if I'm not mistaken, you at least have to have a- I think that's like, the only requirement really, you have to have a 2.5 GPA and be approved to work . . . get work-study. Am I wrong, Cesar? Or is there something else?
Gonzalez: I don't know about the work-study part. I know for sure . . . I would have to look in the contract, but you do have to be a member before you can be in the E-Board.
Hare: Oh, yeah.
Gonzalez: You have to have the 2.5 GPA, as she said. . . really, there's something else that I'm missing. It's been a while since I've seen it.
Ruiz: That's okay. So, Cesar, how has your organization been able to support first-generation students, minorities, LGBTQ+ students, or other special student populations?
Gonzalez: For sure . . . since JAB is just one piece of the puzzle to Student Life in general, we really do try to be as inclusive as we can. For instance, one of the things that we do at our JAB meetings, we not only promote the events that we have that we're personally working on making, but we also promote the events of Student Life, and sometimes even Student Affairs. That way, people who are members not only get . . . stay in the loop with what JAB’s up to, but with . . . basically what the university’s up to. Which is kind of . . . important for those who, for those students who really are involved and just want to keep being involved. We always let them know of opportunities/different things. And, of course, as a member they also are able to let us know things that . . . maybe they haven't seen and they want to see, things of those sorts. That way we really stay well-rounded and kind of up to date with not only with what we can manage to accomplish, but also with what students want to see happen.
Ruiz: And I do see JAB is involved with a lot of other organization. Like, on JagSync, when it says, “two organizations are hosting this event,” JAB is part of lots of them.
Gonzalez: Yeah. So, that's one of the requirements for JagSync. Every Department, or every organization within Student Life, has to also accredit Student Life. It also helps on our marketing and the way the algorithm works for JagSync. But other than that, we have had plenty of collaborations with not only . . . Student Life and organizations in Student Life, but also student-led organizations. Last semester we had two, with both SGA, just because they have also been kind of the most active on campus with everything going on currently. And then in the past before that, we've had them with the Hispanic Student Association, right, HAS. Do you guys remember any? *Laughs.* Makayla and Claudia?
Hare: We also partnered with the . . . Black Student Association. Sorry. Where they put on different events. We partnered with them last semester with Black History Month. I'm not . . . yes, not last semester, sorry. Last year, sorry.
Personal Experiences at UHV
Ruiz: So, I'm gonna move on to some more personal questions. Cesar, we're gonna start with you. Can you describe some of your experiences at UHV?
Gonzalez: Yeah, for sure. I've had a lot of experiences here. This is my fifth year. Is there anything in particular that you'd like for me to kind of open up on or…?
Ruiz: I would say, your experience . . . a little bit about your experience in organizations and as a student, since you are a graduate student, I believe.
Gonzalez: Yeah, for sure. All right, let's see where I can begin. Well, I started off with JAB. I was kind of a member. I knew about JAB. And then Freddie, kind of, which was our previous advisor before myself, kind of let me into the position to start with Students, Spirits and Traditions. So, I did that for a semester. After that I applied to be a Resident Assistant and that was great. I was already Resident Assistant for two years while doing JAB, moved my way up in JAB, and then my senior year they gave me the position to be a . . . I forgot the title that they gave me. But yeah, they kind of promoted me out of JAB, and then once I graduated and got my degree, they gave me the position of . . . Graduate Assistant. Which made me become an advisor for JAB. And Freddie went on to become the advisor for the . . . Multicultural . . . Advisor? Oh man, I forgot the title.
Ruiz: Multicultural Advisory Council?
Gonzalez: Yeah, yeah.
Gonzalez: But, yeah. I kinda like, lost my train of thought, honestly.
Ruiz: It’s okay. I do want to ask . . . did you, before getting the position as a Graduate Assistant, did you plan on going to graduate school?
Gonzalez: Yeah. One of the things, well, kind of like a background to it, too, is . . . I got two bachelor’s degrees in my undergrad. It was Management and Marketing. And towards the end of it, I kind of realized . . . if I don't get my master’s now, I'm really not gonna come back. Just because . . . the time commitment and I'm gonna have other things that I'm gonna be working on. So, for me, it was more or less . . . a time commitment, more than anything, and towards the end I just kind of realized, well . . . with the Coronavirus and everything starting up, and the job market not being where it should be, taking an extra year or two to really just build more education really wouldn't hurt. So, it was kind of like perfect timing, for me at least, so really, just stay and do more at school.
Ruiz: That sounds amazing. I'm also gonna end up going to graduate school, but it was . . . kind of the same thing. My mom told me that right now she can help me, 'cause she's still young, so she can work and like, pay for school.
Gonzalez: Uh huh.
Ruiz: But later on, she said, “I'm going to be old, and I can’t help you.” So, that kind of pushed me. But, I mean, I think that's really cool you have two bachelor’s degrees. I wanted to do that, but I didn't know how. And now I think it's a little bit too late, but it's okay.
Gonzalez: For sure.
Ruiz: So, Claudia . . . I think we actually came in at the same time to UHV, but can you talk about some of your experience here?
Walker: Yeah. I've always been extremely involved. So, kind of any chance that I got I was- I was there. So, I joined JAB the first round out of the belt from the Involvement Fair, and then I was pretty active. I always help with activities and stuff. That's kind of the brunt of it. I was always . . . in class and stuff, but yeah. So, when I worked my way up, I was really excited that I had gotten the job from- 'cause they had done- they were going to do like, an internship type thing where we were going to shadow the people that were currently working on the E-Board so that we could then step up to their positions when we left. But there was one position open, so instead of doing the internship thing, they went ahead and put me in that. So, that's how I'm here.
Ruiz: Well . . . that's great. Yeah, I came to UHV and I honestly- I think I told everyone, I was like, “I'm not gonna get involved. I'm always super involved.” But then I don't know what happened. I guess I just started going to . . . what is it, the Involvement Fair? And stuff like that. And then I just got into like everything that I could. But I like that you kept that going that you still like to be involved and you're not like, tired of it. So, Makayla, can you talk about your experience here?
Hare: My experience has been crazy. Coming in, I've always been like, a shy person, never really . . . getting out my comfort zone or doing things. I've always been . . . to myself. And my first semester here, I had a friend that she was tired of me being in my room, so she was like, “We’re gonna go to this meeting,” and she took me to the meeting, and from there I just . . . started helping out. And it was JAB, of course. Started helping out, started going to events, and I applied for the position of Student- what is this position called? Oh gosh . . . Spirits and Traditions Chair. And then that's when my second semester, Spring, . . . I got the job. So, from there . . . I just blossomed from there. I moved into the Diversity's Chair last- two fall semesters ago. And then from there I got moved up to V.P. and then like that, I was the President, and then here we are. So, it was crazy jumping from Chair to Chair, but it's honestly been a great experience . . . getting to be involved in so many different things.
Ruiz: Yeah. And jumping from Chair to Chair now you have more experience in each . . . Chair, as we say, in the organization.
Ruiz: So, you said you were shy student. Would you say that being in JAB kind of pushed you out of your shell?
Hare: Honestly, it really has. I remember my first event. It was one of the bigger events, a part of Homecoming, is the Talent Show. And I've always been . . . afraid to talk in front of people, and I don't know what happened, but that event it . . . turned the switch and like, after that, I still get my moments where I'm . . . scared or afraid to talk in front of people, but it's not as hard as it was before that. So, I can say it really has helped me out a lot. And like, now even . . . talking in front of people as President, hosting events, hosting the JAB meetings, even doing interview series like this . . . I never would have been able to . . . accomplish these things without being a part of JAB.
Ruiz: That sounds amazing. I do like hearing . . . since I am shy myself, too, and I actually told my bosses like, I want to work on my . . . communication skills, and then they gave me this project. And it is helping a lot. It is a little bit weird because it's virtual, like on a computer, not through the phone or in person . . .
Ruiz: But I think it is . . . It's getting a lot easier to talk to people, for everybody, you know?
Hare: Baby steps. *Laughs.*
Ruiz: Yes, exactly! *Laughs.*
Favorite Moments at UHV
Ruiz: So, let's say about one to three moments. Can you describe your favorite moments while being here, like in the organization or as a student?
Hare: Oh, that's really hard. Agh. Oooh, I would have to say . . . I have the three in my head, but I can't, I can't tell you the order. I guess number three would be my first semester in JAB we had- what is that called? It's Pride Week, yes. And we had an event, it was like, a drag show and honestly, that was . . . one of the best experiences of my life. Because I've never . . . been a part of something like that and seeing people . . . There's always been like this, you have . . . you grow up a certain way, you have to be a certain way. And seeing those people . . . stepping out of that was really inspiring for me. And then my second one, I think it would have to be . . . the friendships that I've made, honestly, . . . getting to know different people and meet new people. So, that will be number two. And I think number one for me would be the first- Cesar, what’s the name, I can't remember the name of it, but it's like the end of the year award ceremony that we have for, like the student organizations.
Gonzalez: The Leadership Banquet.
Hare: Yes, the Leadership Banquet. Thank you. And I got an award . . . and that was my first semester. So, that honestly . . . helped me to keep pushing for it, knowing that I could do it. So, I think that would have to be my top three.
Ruiz: Well, those are some really good memories. Oh, Cesar, can you talk about some of your favorite moments or memories?
Gonzalez: Had a lot of great moments here on campus . . . made a lot of friends/met a lot of people. I would say like my top two would just be . . . for the first one- all the road trips that we had. NACA, going to . . . what was the old- like Six Flags . . .
Gonzalez: Schlitterbahn, yeah. Other things that . . . they just kind of made me go out of town and drive for. Yeah, so that would be the first one for sure . . . and then the second one would just be . . . just like, the accomplishments/the banquets. Like, the Presidents’ Annual Reports. Yeah, all of those were really nice.
Ruiz: When y’all talk about the awards part, are they the little like, bronze plaques that are on some like, wooden pieces . . . on the walls?
Gonzalez: Yeah . . . that’s part of it. That was . . . those are from the Student Leadership Banquet. I believe it's like, Spirit of the Jaguar, Member of the Year. I would have to see- it's kind of close to my office, but there's a couple. And then the other ones are kinda like plaques and little trophies I believe.
Ruiz: Yeah, I've seen some of them I think in Jag Hall, and when I was up in the Student Life Office, I saw some of them.
Ruiz: Claudia, I think- have I already asked you about your favorite moments?
Ruiz: I'm sorry. *Laughs.*
Walker: Oh, you’re fine.
Ruiz: I was going around. So, can you name some?
Walker: Yeah. So, I think my first would probably have to be . . . the paintballing event that we had two semesters ago- three semesters- I don't know, two semesters ago, I think. Yeah, we just went paintballing and it was a ton of fun. And then my second one would be the Poetry Slam; that was actually . . . my first big event. So, we had this amazing poet come out. It was just a lot of fun. It was kind of . . . what I was going to be doing for the rest of that semester. And then the third favorite moment would probably be the Jag Day where we have a bunch of high schoolers come out. We kind of just inform them of our organization and I've always been one to . . . really enjoy spreading knowledge. And you’re trying to bring people in ‘cause it is a really fun organization. There is some work, but it's . . . the pay is so much better. So, yeah, those are my top three.
Ruiz: Okay. So, you all talk about JAB and work-study- I think Makayla you mentioned work-study with JAB. Is it- it's more of . . . a job or? 'Cause I think, Cesar, you said it was different from other organizations, and other organizations it's not a work-study job, but JAB is.
Hare: Yes. So, with JAB it’s a part of the Student Life Department. So, we work for the Student Life Department, but we are with the JAB organization, if that makes sense.
Ruiz: I think so. ‘Cause if I'm not mistaken, I think MAC is the same way.
Activities Outside of JAB
Ruiz: So, I don’t know . . . Have you all been in other organizations that you want to talk about really quickly?
Walker: I'm in SGA. I am the Director of Public Relations. So, we do- we have done a couple collabs with them in the past and it’s a lot of fun. We do get a lot of people come out with our both- both of our audiences. So, yeah.
Ruiz: So, anyone else want to talk about other organizations?
Gonzalez: I don't mind . . . going along. For me, JAB was always kind of . . . the first and kind of the primary one. Then I was with Residence Life, which was, again, just kind of a job, but more an organization as well. And then student-run organizations, I believe I was part of this one- Business Student Association. And, yeah, that was pretty nice for business students. Didn't really last long. I believe they're trying to kick it back up, which is good. And then the other one was the Hispanic Student Association, which was also great.
Hare: Some other things that I'm involved in- I'm currently a Resident Assistant here at Jaguar Village. I've also been a part of the Black Student Association. And then I was also a part of the UHV Yearbook. I don't know how they're working the yearbook right now, but hopefully it'll be back up soon.
Ruiz: The only . . . organization I haven't heard of is the Yearbook, so I'm going to look into that.
Ruiz: But thank you all for meeting with me today. I know it’s a little bit hard with all the other events that y'all are hosting but thank you for making the time and . . . taking it out of your schedule today. I think all those are all the questions I have, unless y’all have any more comments that you want to make.
Hare: I think we're all good.
Ruiz: Okay. Well, that's it on my part. Thank you and I hope y’all have a great day.
Hare: Thanks, Emi.
Gonzalez: For sure, thank you.
Ruiz: Thank you.
Walker: Thank you.
Ruiz: Thank you.
Hare: Bye, everyone.
Student host Emi Ruiz with Dr. Michael Wilkinson, Sr. Director of Student Services & Judicial Affairs.
Narrator: Thanks for listening to the University Opportunity Series. In episode four of the first season, student Emi Ruiz interviews Dr. Michael Wilkinson.
Ruiz: All right. So, can we start with your name, position, and responsibility?
Wilkinson: Michael Wilkinson, Senior Director of Student Services and Judicial Affairs . . . responsibilities are, I oversee my number of different departments and functional areas on campus. Those include the Counseling Center, Student Conduct, Disability Services, Testing Services, Shuttle Services, Military and Veteran Services, and then I also serve as the Advisor of the Student Government Association.
Departments and Areas of Impact for Student Services
Ruiz: Do you want to give a little bit of a summary of what the departments are about?
Wilkinson: Yeah, sure. So, you know, every . . . department or office or functional area within Student Services, our responsibilities are to serve the students to the best of our abilities; no matter what specific focus area it is. So, you know, from the Counseling Center perspective . . . we're focused on things such as mental health, and things along those lines. From a Disability Services standpoint, you know, that office is focused on getting students access and accommodations for them to be able to do well academically- in and on this campus. Testing Services, they oversee the testing needs of the campus. So, you know, maybe it’s students that take tests . . . a student who might have a disability and requires accommodated testing. They handle those types of tests, then they also do things like comprehensive finals, things like that, really any testing need that a faculty member might have for their class on this campus. They handle that. Then they also offer tests and exams, such as the TSI, . . . to just general community members. So, they'll offer exams and tests to people outside of UHV, as well, which I think is a cool community relations thing. Student Conduct . . . when students violate, or potentially violate, our Student Code of Conduct . . . the responsibility there is to put them through a process . . . and find out, you know, whether they were responsible or not responsible for violating the Code of Conduct. And if they were, to provide adequate sanctions to them. We believe here . . . within Student Conduct, that if a student gets in trouble, they should be educated along the way. Something that is big for us is “Restorative Justice.” So, our students being educated . . . yeah, they might have made a mistake, but are they learning from that mistake? So, it's, that’s a big one in Student Conduct. Ultimately, our responsibilities there are just to keep the campus a safe and productive learning environment for all students, and so we don't want disruptions from a conduct perspective. Let's see, Military-Veteran Services is where we're serving students that . . . have either actively served in the U.S. Armed Forces or family members of those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. This a newer functional area within Student Services. It only really came about, about a year and a half ago . . . so it's still growing. But essentially, we do a number of different initiatives for veterans. One example that is, is our patriot cords that we give graduating veterans for commencement. It's red, white, and blue cord that they get to wear. They stand up and get recognized at the commencement ceremony. We do a number of other things within that office, too, but ultimately with the purpose of serving our veteran students. And then Shuttle Services, lastly, . . . that functional area and, you know, that office, they’re responsible for transporting students to and from the academic buildings, primarily. You know, between the residence halls and the academic buildings, but also, they run special trips throughout the week. You know, things like Walmart, or H-E-B, taking students to the YMCA, the mall, etc. Those are the types of things that they do on a regular basis throughout the week, too. So, primary purpose is transporting between the academic buildings and the residence halls, but also giving students the opportunity to get out there and get involved with the community. So, I would say of all the . . . departments, offices, functional areas that I oversee, that would be a brief overview of them.
Ruiz: Thank you.
Adapting to the Pandemic
Ruiz: So, a lot of things have had to change with COVID this year. How have you seen the departments adapt to this?
Wilkinson: Essentially, we've just . . . we’ve had to find a new way to serve students. Some departments were better prepared for that than others. You know, departments that have utilized technology, software, things like that, before COVID hit . . . have been able to adapt more seamlessly than others. But essentially, we've all adapted by embracing technology, by embracing things that are gonna’ make us more effective from a distance . . . a lot of our departments, we can serve students remotely. For example . . . our counselors in the Counseling Center they were seeing students face-to-face primarily before the pandemic. And now we're wholeheartedly seeing students remotely via telehealth . . . that’s online video conference sessions where they're doing their therapy work. So, that was a complete change for them. You know, Shuttle Services, like that department, they're still operating face-to-face. We've had to make a lot of changes there, you know, safety protocols . . . we know that we're having to follow things like limited setting capacities, sanitation processes, you know, and other just requirements that are meant to ensure the safety of the students that ride those shuttles, but also the staff . . . that drive those vehicles for the students. So, across the board, though, we've just had to adapt and embrace technology. And one big thing that I've preached along the way, and I think it's helped us be successful, is adaptability overall. When a situation like this comes about, you know, this is *laughs* hopefully, knock on wood, a once in a lifetime thing, this pandemic. And there's no . . . there’s no predicting what tomorrow is going to bring. No day is the same during this pandemic, and so one thing that we've done in Student Services, as a whole, is just be adaptable. Be adaptable with ourselves, with our team, our staff, but most importantly with our students that we serve in all of these different departments. The students are why we come to work, and why we do what we do, and being flexible and adaptable with them to be able to provide them the best service possible has really been an important thing for us to do throughout this pandemic. So, yeah, adaptability has been key. I know that was the question, how have you had to adapt, but just holistically, we've had to be adaptable, and we've had to be flexible in everything that we do this year. And I think that’s just going to continue . . . for a little while and we're gonna have to keep being flexible as we move forward.
Ruiz: Are there some ideas that you're gonna be taking from the way things are run now to . . . when we go to Phase 5 where students are here on campus instead of at home or in their room?
Wilkinson: Yeah, no doubt. I think that . . . as a whole, we have- our team has become more technologically savvy. We’ve learned to do things that we didn’t know how to do before. We’ve learned how to connect with students in ways that we’ve never connected before. So, I think that going through this, when we return to normal, when we’re back at Phase 5, when our students are back on campus rockin’ and rollin’, I think that there are gonna be a lot of positives that come out of this pandemic. For example . . . we never did telehealth or remote distanced counseling or therapy with students before. Beyond this pandemic we'll be able to do distanced counseling with students. And that's gonna allow us to better serve students in the Katy area and even students outside of Texas. You know, if they're a UHV student, they can get help from the Counseling Center remotely and so that's something I'm excited about. I think just from a general outreach standpoint, too, students will learn to utilize technology and software, that's out there available to us, better throughout this whole process . . . and through this pandemic. So, I think that we'll be able to take the things that we've learned . . . technologically speaking and be able to do some things when things return to normal, to better reach our students, and market to our students, and connect with our students. So, for me that's exciting as well. You know, being able to connect with our students in different ways. That's something that makes me happy. It's a positive that’ll come out of all the craziness that we're living through right now.
Serving Student Populations
Ruiz: I think you talked about . . . I think Military and Veterans’ Services and Disability Services.
Ruiz: So, how has the . . . your departments- been able to support other special student populations?
Wilkinson: Yeah. So, I think that, holistically in Student Services, it’s the message that I send as the leader of this team of staff members. And the message is: “We're here to serve all students.” It doesn't matter what specific population they come from- whether it's an LGBTQ+ student, whether it’s a minority student, first-generation student- they're all important to us, and they all matter to us. And so, . . . I think that one thing that we do well is we make it known to students, all students, that they're welcome. When they walk through our doors . . . no matter what department you're walking into, the staff there are going to meet you, and greet you, and welcome you with open arms, so to speak, because that's the mentality that we have in Student Services. We want to serve all students, serve them well, and we want them to feel welcome at home when they walk through our doors. You know, I think that . . . to create a special culture on campus, to create something that students are drawn to and have an affinity towards, it takes a lot of . . . the little things that some people would describe it. You know, you should go out of your way to take time to talk to students, to go the extra mile to have a conversation with a student in need. You know, and I think that we have that across the board in Student Services, where we welcome all students with open arms. We hold no judgment. It doesn't matter what a student brings to our table, we're there to serve them when they get there. And so, I think we serve all students well and we take a lot of pride in that. I know I personally take a lot of pride in that, and I know our team does as well. So, that would be my answer to that one.
Ruiz: Thank you.
Counseling Center Outreach Initiatives
Ruiz: So, I'm not sure about the other departments, but I know the Counseling Department does host . . . I want to say, panels and also on-campus events. Can you talk a little bit about those?
Wilkinson: Yeah, so I would say of all the areas in Student Services, the Counseling Center does the most from a programmatic standpoint. We do programs that are focused on three primary areas and that’s: physical, mental, and sexual health. And so, the programs that we do in the Counseling Center—we also call them “outreach initiatives”—are very intentional. We're very specific with the outreach efforts that . . . we do out of the Counseling Center. The efforts that we do with these programs, we do them because we've identified them as needs for students on this campus. You know, and we get that information from all sorts of different areas. But our Health Educator in the Counseling Center does a wonderful job connecting with students and figuring out what they want and what they need. And I'm very proud of the programming calendar that we put out there every semester out of the Counseling Center. So, like I said, it's focused on physical, mental, and sexual health. So, one month you might have an outreach program on . . . basic sexual health information . . . and then a week later you have a program on “how to cook healthy.” And then the next week you might have a program on “how to avoid burnout during COVID-19.” So, we run the gamut. We vary our programs according to the needs of the students, but also, we do have very specific things that we want to get across to the students and information that we want to provide students. That's what we want to do. You know, we can't tell students what to do, or how to live their life, or how to navigate their college career, but we can provide them resources, and knowledge, and information that will help them make wise independent choices that will hopefully help them in their college career and beyond. And so, very intentional programs out of the Counseling Center and very proud of the job that we do in that area.
Ruiz: Yeah, I want to say I went to I think two of the events. I think one was, I wanna’ say, it was a World Kindness and the other one was a Relationship Panel, and I really liked them. I wish I could've gone to more this semester, but . . . maybe next semester. So, do students . . . are students able to participate in these events even if they're not living on campus?
Wilkinson: Yeah, absolutely. And especially right now during the pandemic and going back to even answering an earlier question about how- how are things are going to change . . . moving forward when things do return back to normal. You know, before the pandemic, we would focus the majority of our events to be in-person events. So, that kind of limits your target audience of students to students that are living on-campus or in the general Victoria vicinity. And we would do programs in Katy and do things up there as well. But . . . in-person events also limits your target. You know, not everyone can get to an event at the same time, and things like that, so I think that one thing that we'll do moving forward beyond the pandemic and when we get back to normal, is do more . . . of a combination of things. And not focus so heavily on just in-person events . . . we want to have a lot of in-person events, but I think we also want to be able to offer events remotely for students to be able to participate in because that opens up your audience to all 4500+ UHV students. Whereas in-person events, you're limited to wherever that event is and the people in that area. So, to answer the question, yes, our events are open to all students, even if they don't live on campus. But we know . . . that’s a challenge for a lot of those students that attend those events. So, during the pandemic, specifically, all of our programs have been online and that’s something that we’ve . . . actually enjoyed because we’ve been able to reach more students and serve a wider array of students. So, now it's moving forward and finding the right combination of both online events/in-person events. I think you have to do, and do both of them well. So, we’ll see where the road leads moving forward. But yes . . . all of our events are open to all students.
Student Involvement Opportunities
E: Ruiz: If a student wants to be more involved . . . more than just attending the events that are hosted, how would they do that?
Wilkinson: So, specifically within the Counseling Center, we welcome interns. We welcome people that want to learn more and get more involved. We employ student directors in the Counseling Center that assist our Health Educator with outreach programs. You know, these are students that, to be quite honest, come up with the ideas for these programs . . . they’re where a lot of the . . . initiatives come from, is student ideas. And those students that are employed in our department, they go and talk to other students and find out what those students want. So, we have student director positions . . . where the Counseling Center’s a smaller department, so we don't employ a ton of student directors. Usually, it’s two to three at any point during the academic school year. So, those opportunities are available. But also, we do internships- students that just want to volunteer or wanna’ learn more . . . maybe mental health is very important to them, and we've had students like that . . . that are just like, "Hey Mike, this is an important topic to me. I just want to help out. I don't want a job; I just want to be able to help you guys out.” So, those are the cool students, because they care about the campus, they care about the topic . . . whatever they're passionate about. I really enjoy working with students in that capacity, but really, I love working with all students. Within the Counseling Center we welcome all the help that we can get, all the ideas that we can get . . . that's what I believe a college campus should be. I think all departments, offices, etc., should welcome students with open arms. You know, whether that’s through employment opportunities, or just getting involved, whether it be as an intern, or just being able to sit down and have a conversation with a random student who might have an idea for you. It's amazing some of the ideas that I've gotten from random students that I didn't know before I talked to them. If you're willing to open your mind and be willing to open that door to allow students to come in and give you ideas, it's amazing how you can improve your overall product. So, we take pride in that in the Counseling Center for sure, specifically. So, there’s definitely a number of different ways for students to get involved in that capacity from an outreach perspective. And then one more point on that, also within the Counseling Center, *laughs* . . . outside of programs, we also do internships with graduate students who are working on their license to become a counselor or a therapist. We offer those type of internship opportunities to those students who are in . . . the final semester, or semesters, of their graduate schoolwork. So, we do offer those opportunities and those individuals are supervised by our full-time counselors and therapists within the Counseling Center. And so, I think that's a cool dynamic, too. You know, a cool partnership, with the academic side of the house of UHV. You know, we have a good relationship with Academic Affairs . . . and that's afforded us the opportunity to be able to offer those type of graduate-level internships to get these students real hands-on training.
Ruiz: Yeah. I wanna say I really like that you mentioned, or you stress, communication with students because I think sometimes there's that . . . disconnect where students will be like, “Oh, I wish they did this.” But nobody speaks up about it.
Wilkinson: Yeah, and I think that, that no doubt you’re absolutely spot on. And I think that goes back to . . . Does a student feel like they can trust you, as a staff member? Does a student feel like you, as a staff member, or an administrator, or faculty member—do they feel and know that you care about them? And I think that if they know that you care about them, that you’re a trustworthy person, I think that opens the door to more of those interactive conversations between students where they can let their guard down and be more truthful. I think that’s how progress happens . . . if students tell us all that we do a great job, and we do everything right, and we're perfect; well heck, we'd never improve. Because in reality, you’re just sitting there spinning their wheels thinking you’re doing a great job but there’s . . . it’s my belief that there’s always something that we can do better and that we can get better at for our students. And so, I think that improvement comes out of open honest dialogue. And I think that dialogue . . . is a direct correlation, or offset, of students knowing the staff member cares about them.
Path to UHV
Ruiz: Alright. Okay, so, some personal questions. Why did you choose to work for UHV?
Wilkinson: You know, when I started at UHV in 2014, and I never had really heard of the University of Houston-Victoria, and I grew up an hour down the road in Bay City, Texas. That's my hometown. I'm born and raised there . . . when I started working here, I came here to be closer to my family. My mom was terminally ill at the time and so, we were dealing with a lot as a family. And having a job in higher education or having a career in higher education, Student Affairs specifically, you’re limited on . . . places that you can work. You’re working at a university, or a community college, or whatever it may be. And so, UHV was the closest 4-year university to my parents’ house. And so, I was able to find a job that matched my career trajectory, and where I was going, and where I wanted to go, but also able to find a job . . . a physical location that was close to my family. So, that was important to me. I also, I knew individuals at UHV. I had previous working relationships with certain individuals who I had worked with at other college campuses. And so, I knew that there was a lot of good things happening at UHV, and that there was a lot of potential at UHV, through those colleagues that I knew from previous institutions. So, while I didn’t know a lot about UHV or Victoria in general . . . I did have positive things to go off of from those colleagues. And so, the combination of . . . being able to come and work at a campus where I could truly make an impact, and also do that while being close to home, that said wonders to me. And so, I jumped at that opportunity and those were the main reasons that I wanted to come to UHV- was the opportunities that there were here for improvement and growth. I wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself. And then, family is really important to me. So, I wanted to be closer to my family as well. So, to be able to check both of those boxes was a win-win for me.
Ruiz: I’m glad you had this opportunity, and although you say you didn't know much about UHV, I think a lot of people know you now. You're involved in a lot of things.
Wilkinson: Yeah, no doubt. When I first got here, I was actually . . . my first job at UHV was as Associate Director of Student Life, I worked that job for a year. And then the Director of Student Life and Services took another job and left . . . and I went through the interview process to become Director. And I was very fortunate that our Vice President at the time opened the position up and did a search nationally and didn't just give me the position because I was Associate Director. You know, you'll see that a lot of schools . . . just instantly give a job to a person because . . . they were number two in charge, or whatever it may be, and they’re next in line. He opened up the search nationally, and I had to go compete, and I had to tell this campus, this campus community, the students why I was the right person to be the Director of Student Life. And fortunately, I guess I did a good enough job to be able to tell that story and I was able to jump up into the Director position . . . and man, I had so much fun being Director of Student Life before I jumped in the role that I'm in now overseeing Student Services. I say all that because it's been kind of . . . as the university has grown, I’ve grown professionally along with it. I've just kinda’ elevated, navigated from position to position . . . it's cool now where we're at today . . . to see how far we’ve come. You know, the building I'm doing this interview in is the University Commons building . . . Student Center, Library—brand new facility, multimillion-dollar state-of-the-art building—that I'm in. Well, my first year here as Associate Director of Student Life, I assisted SGA and . . . getting the referendum done and approved to . . . be able to build a new Student Center. And 6 years ago, you know, some people would have said UHV having a Student Center on campus wouldn’t be a reality. And so, it's been fun to be able to watch the growth of the campus, and to be able a part of that growth, and to know all of the work that’s gone in behind it behind the scenes. It’s been really cool to be a part of that. And yes . . . now, like you said to your point, I didn’t know anything about UHV and all that when I first started working here, but now . . . if you were to ask my friends or my family members . . . what’s one of the first things they think about when they think about me, well, they instantly associate UHV. And I think that's cool. I think that tells people, or people see, that I care about this institution, and I love this institution, and I want to see nothing but great things for UHV. And I truly believe that we’re headed in the right direction as a university. And I tell people all the time . . . we are a “Destination University,” we are a place for students to come to school to, and to be able to grow throughout their time at UHV. We offer a lot of great things here on our campus, and it’s just been fun to be able to be . . . along for the ride, to be able to watch and grow alongside the campus. It’s been really cool.
Ruiz: What would you say has been your favorite part since being here?
Wilkinson: Definitely the students, 100 percent. Students are my favorite part of my job. I hope I can have that answer throughout my entire career. The reason I do what I do is because I care about students, and I love students tremendously. Like . . . I love being able to help a student get from point A to point B in life. Every student comes to our doorstep with a different point A . . . but they’re all trying to get to a very similar point B, and that point B is to walk across that graduation stage to get that college diploma, and to go out there in the workforce and be successful. And to be able to help students navigate that journey is awesome. Many students are lost, don’t know how to navigate that journey, don’t know how to . . . successfully go through college. You know, I was a first-generation college student myself, and I went at it alone. Like, I had to figure things out on my own. I didn't have a mentor to look up to, you know, within the university. I didn't have a staff member that I knew that would pour into me and . . . would help me along my journey. And so, when I went through school . . . you know, it was trial by error. I just had to figure things out. And luckily, I did. I was able to successfully get through school and then decide to go back to school, again, and then again one more time. But as a first-generation college student, I think it's important that we have those support systems, we have mentors, we have people on college campuses that can help us navigate our journey successfully. And so, for me, I never thought I'd be doing what I am doing today in Student Affairs. I came from the sports world and I’ve worked in professional sports and intercollegiate athletics, and primarily in doing like, marketing promotions, things like that. I got into Student Affairs by happenstance. I always say that, but I think reality, maybe it wasn’t happenstance, maybe it was meant to be because I love students, and I care about students, and to be able to interact with them, help them grow, to push them to be the best human beings they can possibly be . . . man, that’s the coolest job you could ever ask for, in my opinion. And I get to do that day in and day out. So, definitely my favorite part of the job.
Ruiz: Yeah. I was gonna say I don’t think it's just . . . “happenstance.” Like you said, exactly what you said, actually, because you say you love students and you get to work with students every day, and you get to help them out, which is really great.
Wilkinson: Yeah. I’d never . . . it's interesting, this interview is the first time I'd ever- that light bulb’s ever gone off for me like that. I always . . . tell people, it just happened out of nowhere, but reality is, I think that it was meant to be.
Ruiz: I'm really glad I got to talk to you today. I don't think I have any more questions, unless there's something you want to add.
Wilkinson: No, I'm good. I talked about quite a bit. I really appreciate the questions and the opportunity to talk.
Ruiz: Well, thank you.
Wilkinson: Alright, Emi, keep up the good work. Proud of you.
Ruiz: Thank you.
Wilkinson: Alright, have a good one.
Featuring Leocardia Nduwayo, President of the African Student Association (ASA).
Narrator: Thank you for returning to the University Opportunity Series. In episode five of the season one, student Emi Ruiz interviews the 2020 President of the African Student Association.
Ruiz: So, can you state your name, your organization’s name, and what you do?
Nduwayo: Yes. So, my name is- my full name is Leocardia Nduwayo, but everybody just calls me Leo. I am currently the President of ASA, African Student Association. And as President, I basically overlook, I go to meetings for the SGA meetings, I create the agendas for E-board meetings, and I also, basically, overlook anything that someone in the E-board is not able to meet. So, let's say, like, we have a problem with . . . the Secretary not being able to do something, I have to take it. I have to take that up and do the job, basically.
Inclusion with African Student Association (ASA)
Ruiz: All right. What is your organization about?
Nduwayo: ASA is basically about spreading . . . the word about Africa, the culture, the traditions. It's basically for anyone that's interested in Africa as a whole and wants to just know more about it. Or is just like, you know, curious as to what we do. Everyone’s welcome. We cater to everyone.
Ruiz: . . . you allow anybody in the organization regardless of race and ethnicity, right?
Nduwayo: Yes, it's for everyone. It's not just for African students. 'Cause I know majority of the people on campus usually think . . . they hear the word, “African Student Association,” and assume it's just for African students, but it's for everyone.
Ruiz: I actually had that same thought when I first got to UHV. Because . . . I think I was looking at the pictures and I didn't want someone to say, “Well she's not African, so why is she participating?” But I have. . .
Nduwayo: *Laughs* Oh, yeah, I try to put that out there that it's for everyone, not only African students. 'Cause everyone's welcome. And majority of our students—actually, not students, the majority of our members are not even like, fully African. Some of them are just curious as to what it's about and stuff like that. So, they don't . . . you don't have to be African to be in it.
Ruiz: That sounds great.
Leadership Highlights within ASA
Ruiz: Do you wanna’ talk about any highlights from your leadership in the organization?
Nduwayo: Well, as President . . . I was on the E-board even before being President. 'Cause I started off . . . freshman year I was part of the dance team, and from there I decided, I decided that I wanted to run their social media. So, they created the new position, Social Media Coordinator, which I took, and I was that for a couple of years. And I was basically overlooking everything that needed to be posted. I was taking pictures at events that ASA was at, making sure that the, our social media is . . . looking good, so that when people are curious as to what we do, they could just go on our social media and see. So, that they have something to see, like, about ASA and stuff like that. So, that was fun as Social Media Coordinator. And as President, I told you what I do, and the highlight . . . Well, we have COVID right now and I became president during this time. So, things had to change, but I've been managing. We've been able to adjust.
Addressing the Pandemic Situation
Ruiz: Speaking of COVID, what do you think are the biggest changes you've had to make under your leadership because of this year's COVID pandemic?
Nduwayo: Well, I had to make a lot of changes. So, meetings could not be in person anymore, so, I had to let everyone know that we'd be meeting on Teams. And I chose Teams because most of the teachers were already using Teams as a way to meet up with their students. So, it was easier for the members to just come on there 'cause they already had the application on their laptops and phones. And we also did not have our annual food sale, which was very disappointing and sad for a majority of us, 'cause it is something that we do every year, but we were not able to do it due to COVID. So that's very sad. I had to find a way to keep everyone engaged during meetings. So, I had to come up with games to do, like Ice Breakers every meeting before we start, come up with virtual events that we could do. We had the Kahoot trivia- it was like a Trivia Night, but Africa Edition. That was fun. And we also had a House Party event where we played Uno. And we had winners for both games. So, we had to come up with events that were virtual, and it was kind of hard to do, but I think we managed pretty well.
Ruiz: I think I wanted to participate in those events, but I had other meetings at the same time.
Events Prior to the Pandemic
Ruiz: Could you talk about the, I guess, the events that happened before COVID, before we had to social distance from everybody?
Nduwayo: Oh, yes. Okay, so the ones we had a lot of fun with. So, basically, the highlights that we did have- well, my favorites before COVID- ASA always participated with other organizations. So, like the dance team, we usually performed for the Black History Month. That was always fun. And we also would perform at the International Festival, that was like one of the biggest things that ISO always had. And it was like, really fun. They had a bunch of different foods from different countries, they had a fashion show, they had the dragon. It was like a, I don't know what to call it, but I believe it's from somewhere in Asia. I'm not sure if it's China, but they have like, a dragon show, and it's really nice and so fun to look at. And they also have different performers from different countries. There is one that I really enjoyed. They were . . . I think it was a Japanese dance, and it was like, these really adorable old women and they were like, just doing this really enchanting dance, and I just loved it. I was like, “Oh my goodness, this is the highlight of the year!” It was the best. And other things that we did- we had Africa Night, which was also an annual thing that we would have had this year, but COVID happened, so we couldn't do it. And basically, at Africa Night we would always have . . . we had different countries. We basically had tables for different countries, and they had different information, foods, and clothings. And we also had the dance team perform during that event, and then we had raffles, and it was always fun. And we had like, fun music and everyone, it was open to everyone. So, that's also one of the things that I always enjoyed. So, we had a lot of highlights.
Ruiz: So, you mentioned a lot of events that I hope I can, one day, attend. But are there special requirements for others to join the events?
Nduwayo: No, the events are always free and open to like, all students. Not just students, actually, I think they're open to the public, majority of them. Like, African Night, I believe is open to the public, to staff, to students, anyone is available to come and just enjoy themselves. The same thing with the festival, the ISO festival. I know ASA participates, but it's not ours, but that one's also open to the public. And it is one of my favorite ones and I always tell people like, “Go to that one.” . . . When I was a leader for Jag Journey, I told all my, all the kids that I had, I told them, I was like, “You guys need to—like, I am so excited for you guys to experience like, the International Festival!” But then, you know, they weren't able to experience it and I was so sad for them. I was like, “You guys would have loved it.”
Ruiz: So, beyond just attending events, how would someone get an E-board position with your organization?
Nduwayo: Well, to get an E-board position, usually when we have open positions- like now, we do have open positions, actually. We have a bunch of open positions. We have Welfare, Provost, PRO, we have Treasurer open. So, when we have those positions open, we usually mention that during our meetings. So, the members when they come to our meetings, we let them know that we have open positions and if they are interested, they just reach out to the President, and then I talk to them about what they can do to become an E-board member. And it's usually just telling me like why do you think you [qualify] for this position and I just read it, read over it, and then talk to the Vice President about it, and then we make the decision together.
Ruiz: Let's say, I’ve attended events, but I don't want to be on the E-board. Is there a possibility I could just become a member? How would that work?
Nduwayo: Yes! So, if you don't want to be a part of the E-board, you could just come and be a general member. So, that's basically all the members that are not on the E-board. That's what we call them. So, basically, if you sign up to be a part of the club, you're not signing up to be an E-board member, you're signing up to be a general member. And then once you make the decision that you want to go up, then that's when you talk to the President, and then, you know, get to the E-board. So, yeah. You can just be a regular member 'cause we have a lot of those that don't want like, an executive position, so they're just regular members.
Ruiz: Would you suggest speaking to a general member before becoming, or trying out to be, an E-board member?
Nduwayo: Yes, I would definitely suggest that. Because you want to know- you want to see how the club is before you commit to it, you know? So, if . . . let's say, you find a club and you're like, “I'm gonna’ go for the E-board,” but you don't really know what the club is about and you're on E-board and you don't even like the club yourself, like, that's not gonna’ work out. Because as an E-board, you have to be committed to the club. You have to, kind of, put it as a priority most of the time. So, it's like if you don't like the club, you're not gonna’ do it justice. So, first be a general member, see- get a feel of it . . . see what it's all about. Ask one of the E-boards if you can shadow them for whichever position, you're thinking about going for. Like, shadow them first and see what they do before you decide to take the next step.
Ruiz: That is great advice. Honestly, I think I jumped into an E-board and I wasn't too sure, but they said, “Oh, you're the perfect fit,” and now I'm a little bit lost. I definitely should have done
Nduwayo: Yeah, it's like that. *Laughs*
Ruiz: And I think the same thing happened to one of my friends, but she, she just gave up. She's like, “I don't know how to do this.”
The Future of ASA
Ruiz: I think . . . you are graduating this semester, right?
Nduwayo: Yes, I'm graduating.
Ruiz: Okay. Do you know, or do you have an idea, of where you want the organization to go after you leave?
Nduwayo: Well, I would like them to continue doing what we were doing. [Talks about Phase 3 of reopening plan]. So, the best thing the organization could do right now is continue to have events remotely, try to reach out to as many students as they can . . . we tried, but a lot of the students did not come back on campus, so it's kind of hard to have students know about the organizations. Especially the freshmans. I've talked to many of them that don't even know what organizations like, exist . . . cause when we had the fair, I don't think they knew how to work JagSync. I don't think they knew how to . . . they didn't know their way around it, so the majority did not attend the fair. So, when I talk to them, they're like, “Well, we don't know what events are there. We don't know what organizations are there. Like how do we figure this out? Can you tell me more about it?” So, then I just like . . . I tell them about all the different organizations that are there, and just send them the names, and then tell them, “If you want to join . . . request it on JagSync.” And just stuff like that. So, I would say our organization could continue to try to reach out to more students and try to find different things to do, like tabling events. Just try to find other things to do because it's really hard trying to come up with events during this time.
Ruiz: I think a lot of organizations are dealing with the same thing that your organization is dealing with. I think RHA, since I was the President, I think at most we had two students show up to a meeting at the same time, but that was it.
Nduwayo: Oh, yes. Like, the turnout has not been great this year. And I really, I can't even blame the students, or the members, it's just the times that we're in. A lot of organizations have been experiencing this, where they don't really have a great turn out. Because like, the students are not on campus, so majority don't even have the motivation to be a part of things to engage in stuff. Like, it's just- it's just a really different time for everyone. So, we're just hoping, like, things get more . . . things will get better along the way, hopefully.
Additional Student Leader Experiences at UHV
Ruiz: Can we talk a little bit about you being in other organizations? I know you mentioned you've been here since your freshman year.
Nduwayo: Yes. The other organizations I've been a part of would be, other than ASA, there's ISO. I was also part of that, and I am currently their publicity—I can't even speak English right now . . . basically their Social Media Coordinator, too. They just have a different name in that organization, but that's basically what I do with theirs as well. 'Cause I just enjoy making organization's social medias look representable, and I think I do a pretty okay job with that, so I just kept doing it for them. And I was also a part of JAB, Jaguar Activities Board, they do a lot of events on campus. And that was like, a really great place for me to be 'cause I wanted to be more involved, and they had a bunch of events. That is the one club that I always encourage students to join 'cause they do so much on campus, and you get that college experience when you join. I was also part of RHA for, I believe, a year, and then I was also a part of the Hispanic Student Association. Yes, I was also part of that one, and also- there's a lot of clubs, it's hard to think on the spot. But there is a lot of them. I might be missing some. I'm also currently a part of MAC. I am on E-board as well right now on MAC, I'm the Vice President of Directors Initiatives . . . oh, Diversity Initiatives! Sorry. And I believe those are the main organizations I was a part of. There was also one that was kind of like a sorority, but it was very fresh. I believe it was, it was, I'm not great with Greek names, but it was something like “Pi” something. It was . . . it had great potential, but then that was in the Spring before they- we had to come back . . . well, go on spring break and then we were told . . . ”You can come back on campus if you ‘d like or you could just go home.” So, like, during the whole COVID thing. So, that one was very fresh and had a lot of potential. And I wish like, they’d continue back up 'cause it's a really great one. But yeah, that's the clubs that I was a part of that I could think of right now.
Ruiz: So, you were part of lots of clubs. Were you in any of them at the same time? How did you juggle all the time commitment?
Time Management for Extracurriculars
Nduwayo: Yeah, that's the thing. So, I was a part of the majority of them all at the same time, and the best way for me to be a part of them . . . Oh, I was also a part of Fashion! It was like a fashion club one. It just came to mind. Well, the best way for me to be a part of them, 'cause some of the meetings did used to clash, like JAB and Fashion used to have meetings during the same time. So, I would either go to one for 30 minutes and then go to another. So, sometimes I would go to—so let's say I would go to Fashion. So, I would tell the President like, “Hey, I'm here for a little bit, but I'm gonna have to leave early because I have to go to JAB.” So, since Fashion would start a little bit earlier, but it would continue to run even when JAB had started. So, I would have to be in Fashion early and then leave for JAB. And then I would always keep like, timers on my phone, like alarms, to remind me to go to the meetings. So, sometimes I would have to meet- to miss one club’s meeting just to go to another. So, it was still fun to be a part of most of them, but it's just like, having to be at all the meetings at the same time, was kind of hard to juggle. But most of them had a really- they had a good way to like, make sure the meetings did not run at the same time. So, that was great.
Ruiz: Is there a specific number, or I guess an estimate, of how many clubs . . . I guess tell someone like, “Oh, you should join maybe, at most, like 3 to 4 clubs when you first get here. Until you know what you're doing.”
Nduwayo: Yes. I would definitely suggest that you join to like, 3 plus more. Just to get your foot in there and see what you like. Like, if you're a fresh- if you're a freshman, I would say just go around during the Student Organization Fair. 'Cause we used to have them in person, and they had tabling, and you would be able to walk up to whichever club and hear about it. So, basically, you could do that. You just walk around, hear about the club, if you're interested, sign up for it. If you're not, just keep on going. So, that's what you would do. Sign up for all the clubs you . . . that seem interesting to you and then later on you could just, you know, cut them down if some of them are not as they turn out to be. If some of them are more draining than the other, or if you just like, are more focused on others, then you could just cut them down as you go.
Ruiz: That is great advice.
Ruiz: Thank you for agreeing to meet me today, it was lots of fun. . . . I think that's it, actually. If you have any questions, you can email me, if you want.
Nduwayo: Okay, that's great. Thank you for interviewing me. This was really great, and I enjoyed it.
Ruiz: I did, too. Thank you, bye!
Nduwayo: You have a great day.