By Laura de Leon
Student Government Association hosted its first Pizza with the President forum Tuesday, allowing students to meet the university president and members of her executive team, forge new university traditions and ask a wide-ranging set of questions on university issues.
The hour-long open forum was moderated by SGA President Melissa Quintanilla; Vice President Javier Carvajal; Joshua Diaz, SGA senator at-large; Secretary Jennifer Faubion; and Senator Brenda Garcia.
“These forums with the president are something we will be doing,” President Maria Hernandez Ferrier said, noting that while she has an open door policy, the public forums will allow her to continue to be accessible to the student body.
SGA leadership has met privately with the president on several occasions but met publicly Tuesday, opening the floor to students to address concerns and complaints.
Rene Diaz, education junior, said students and the university benefit from open forums with administration present because when things are planned without student input their outcomes may not turn out well.
“I can tell here that they care about us,” Diaz said. “I feel very welcomed.”
Before opening the floor to questions, Ferrier shared her personal story of how her education was jump-started by a donation from a co-worker in a previous job when she was 30-years-old, divorced and a single mom. She said that she was the first in her family to graduate college and spoke of the path that led her to become the president of the fastest growing university in the state.
“It is amazing what education can do for you,” Ferrier said.
Ferrier congratulated the two dozen students in attendance for taking that first step to obtain an education and better their futures.
In her opening remarks, she recognized how Texas A&M-San Antonio not only graduates family members together but brings a community together as a whole. She said the university will also grow and benefit from startup funding, and student and staff support, to create a long lasting set of practices.
“It’s exciting because now we are starting those traditions,” Ferrier said. “And it takes a little time to get those traditions going.”
Present at the forum with Ferrier were members of her executive team who introduced themselves, explained their role within the university and answered students’ questions.
Members of the executive team forum included Charles Rodriguez, chief of staff and vice president for strategic initiatives and military affairs; Marilu Reyna, associate vice president for university communications; Provost Brent Snow; Jolene Des Roches, director of student life and wellness, and Stephanie Scott, assistant vice president for financial services and comptroller both of whom were standing in for Kenneth Mitts, vice president of finance and administration.
Financial assistance for student organizations
Quintanilla, master of business administration student, led with a concern that she said was mentioned last year – student clubs and organizations are only allowed to hold one fundraiser a month. Some students have complained this is restrictive.
By state law, clubs and organizations are allowed one tax free fundraiser a month. Ferrier said the university compared its model to other institutions and will continue to have one fundraiser a month, but may provide an initial deposit of funds to any recognized organization to provide a strong foundation.
Representing student life and finance, Des Roches and Scott said procedures are still in development but once approved, funds will be deposited to each student organization once they become recognized and to all currently recognized organizations.
“We want to make sure that your organizations are strong,” Ferrier said, adding that financial support for student organizations would be a line item in the annual budget.
“I think that will give you a really good start,” Ferrier said.
Ferrier encouraged all student organizations to develop a flier that outlines their goals and purpose.
Club Sports ‘on the radar’
Joshua Diaz, master of business administration student, asked about sports at the university.
Ferrier replied that sports are on the radar screen.
“There is interest in that,” Ferrier said. “I really think that is something that brings the university together and I would love to see that.”
Des Roches said they have toured the Mission Concepción Sports Park and that they are willing to work with the university to promote volleyball, soccer, rugby and baseball.
“We have the partnership in the community to get the sports going if I can get those interested students to form those teams,” said Des Roches.
Club sports are started like any club or organization on campus and are then registered to a league in the city. Des Roches said in San Antonio there are about 11 colleges and universities in club sports that A&M-San Antonio would have the opportunity to play against.
“It’s not a hard process but it will take some time,” Des Roches said.
The Mesquite reported April 2, that students voted against a recreational fee of $40 to fund intramural activities. Read more.
Students discuss Jaggie hand gesture
Recommendations from the audience on creating a university hand gesture were asked from Ferrier and Quintanilla. Examples of other university hand gestures were discussed and shown to start the conversation.
Joseph Camacho, communications senior, recommended the gesture be the J sign in American Sign Language. One concern with this sign was that it would not be easy to notice in photos.
Ferrier recommended SGA make the hand gesture a project that could open up to more suggestions and decide on one for A&M-San Antonio.
“That (creating a hand gesture) is important as we start our traditions,” Ferrier said.
University, private developers plan student housing
Carvajal, master of business administration student, asked if the university’s downward expansion and the admission of freshmen includes any plans for dorms.
“Yes, in time,” Ferrier said. “We certainly want to have housing close by.”
The plan for downward expansion at A&M-San Antonio is to bring in about 200 freshman in the first year, followed by another class when those freshman advance to their sophomore year.
Ferrier said the university is “in conversation” with a private builder that has a proposal with family housing units where students can live, located across the street from the campus with 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom options.
“What we saw was really beautiful and affordable,” Ferrier said. “That may be someplace where you would want to move and they are going to be beautiful.”
Some students are choosing their universities based on housing. Rene Diaz said in a phone interview after the forum, he has cousins that live in Corpus Christi that want to attend A&M-San Antonio but the lack of housing is holding them back.
“I feel every campus should have housing,” Rene Diaz said.
The Mesquite reported Oct. 25 about the housing plan. Read more.
Other forum topics included: space utilization, the availability of day classes for School of Business students and a long-term possibility of potential day care availability on campus.
Sunset Ring Ceremony, March 29
A ceremony will take place on sunset March 29 and rings will be put-on over the university seal. Reyna said, and the university hopes to establish it as a recognizable Jaggie tradition. For more information contact the office of university communications.
University encourages service, volunteerism
The university leadership encourages a strong sense of volunteerism. Reyna said the university will have a presence at the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, and Fiesta, and volunteers will be needed.
Faubion, education and criminology senior, ended the forum with an invitation for students to be a part of the SGA polls on concealed carry on campus and the interest in daytime courses. Access the polls and organization information through community, the student life and wellness site. Students login with their K Number and university internet access password.
Ferrier also addressed legislative funding requests, explaining to students that those requests were tied directly to new buildings and facilities, university expansion and student services. As part of her introductory remarks, Ferrier made it clear that students’ requests are more likely to be met if the university receives state funds.
This year the university is requesting $70 million for a science technology building, $11 million to downward expand in 2015 or 2016 when it plans to admit approximately 200 freshman, and $8 million for student support and success, which could include a writing center and other student support centers.
With the request, Ferrier said the university is trying to support students in meeting their educational needs.
“Hopefully you see that we are putting things in place,” Ferrier said. Similar legislative funding requests were made in 2011, she explained, but the requests were not met at this institution or at other universities in the state.
“We care a great deal about you (students) and that’s why we’re here,” Ferrier said.