Liberal Arts Students Have CLASS

By Lisa Y. Garibay

UTEP News Service

Albert Einstein said, “The value of an education in a liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts, but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks.” With this spirit, the College of Liberal Arts Student Success Center is open for business to encourage its students to make the most of their education within the college.

The center – also known by the acronym CLASS – celebrated its grand opening Wednesday, Nov. 20 in rooms 301 and 302 of the Liberal Arts building, offering the University community an opportunity to stop by for cookies, punch and more information on how its resources are contributing to a better educational experience.Students, staff and faculty visited the College of Liberal Arts Student Success Center (CLASS) during its grand opening event Nov. 20. Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre / UTEP News ServiceStudents, staff and faculty visited the College of Liberal Arts Student Success Center (CLASS) during its grand opening event Nov. 20. Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre / UTEP News Service

Brenda Peguis, a senior majoring in social studies and minoring in secondary education, visited the center for the first time during the opening.

“I’ve been given more information about all that they offer, which I didn’t know about until I stopped by,” she said. “I’m not so sure about my major and need more information about how to apply it to what I want to do.” Peguis aims to be a teacher, but is well aware of the job market these days, so she’s looking to the advisers at CLASS to identify more career options for her after she graduates.

Multidisciplinary Studies program advisor Becky Duran-Levy was enthusiastic about the new center for different reasons. Earlier this year, she and the advising staff for the Bachelor of Multidisciplinary Studies (BMS) program relocated to the Liberal Arts Building from Kelly Hall.

“We’re more centralized now and easier to find than when we were on the outside of campus,” she said. “We’re right in the center of everything and students are finding us.”

CLASS is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Advisers are on hand to counsel students on everything from degree completion, recommended courses, graduation clearance, university resources like the writing center and tutoring, and career planning. Appointments are encouraged but not necessary. In addition, workshops on time management and study habits are being held for freshmen and sophomores so they can learn early on how to avoid frustrations that could derail their academics or result in probation.

The center also has four computers available for student use on a first-come, first-served basis. Those are available from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. throughout the week.

Liberal Arts academic adviser Laura Bolanos – a UTEP alumna who has been in her position for a decade – explained that the size and breadth of the college makes advising different from that in other colleges.

“We are set up differently because we are so large,” she said, explaining that before this point there hadn’t been a specific advising center for College of Liberal Arts students. “Students work closely with their departments and at some point they come to see us, more so at the beginning of their college time because we’re trying to incorporate that career advising aspect into it early on so that they know what they’re supposed to be taking and not be all over the place. We are backup to the actual departments and if there is an issue with someone’s degree plan, this is where they would get that fixed.”

The BMS program skews toward older, nontraditional students who have been out in the world and workforce for a while, so they may know more about particular career and job requirements. The Liberal Arts academic undergraduate advisers tend to see younger students, either those fresh out of high school, those who have transferred from El Paso Community College (EPCC), or even those who are still in high school in the case of students enrolled in UTEP’s Early College High School program.

All of these resources are available at no extra cost to UTEP students. Economics are a priority when it comes to advising students, explains career advisor Daniel Cereceres, who works to ensure that students take the classes they need without expending extra time or incurring financial burden.

“In the end, it saves them time and money,” Cereceres said. “Most of these students are paying out of pocket so we do whatever we can to help them get a more cost-efficient education. “

Cereceres’ position is brand new within the college. He lends expertise from starting his own career in UTEP’s admissions office before moving on to a position as a career specialist at EPCC.

“I saw a lot of EPCC students who transferred to UTEP, so I was always in communication with degree partners at UTEP in order to make sure students got the right information so their transition would be as easy as possible,” he said. That kind of background is valuable to the nontraditional student population that UTEP serves.

And Cereceres knows firsthand how liberal arts can be applied to a variety of jobs. He graduated from UTEP with a degree in political science, intending to move into politics. But after that first post-graduation job in admissions, he found he enjoyed working in education more, and has never looked back. He regularly guides students to a variety of jobs that can lend themselves to a broader career, helping them to see how many options they have that they may never have been aware of before.

 “The most important things I got out of my degree were communications skills and writing skills, which I can take anywhere,” he said.

Liberal Arts peer advisers who work through the university’s Career Center will also be regular visitors to CLASS. Those students will be meeting one-on-one with their peers to talk them through questions they have about their studies or career plan.

“They feel better when they talk to another student who might have been where they are now,” Cereceres said.

Bolanos, who doubled majored in history and Chicano studies and then earned a master’s in education from UTEP, hopes that students who come through the center will appreciate how much a liberal arts background can be of use later in life.

“Some of us who work here have degrees in other areas, but we all agree that this is the place to be,” Bolanos said. “You end up a more well-rounded student, your critical thinking skills are enhanced, and it’s a great foundation for you to go forth and do something else. We’re very proud of our college.”