UTEP Ranks High for Producing Hispanic Journalists

By Jenn O’Hanlon

UTEP News Service

The University of Texas at El Paso has been ranked No. 6 in undergraduate degrees awarded to Hispanics by Diverse: Issues in Higher Education magazine’s Top 50 Communication, Journalism and Related Degrees survey.

Diverse listed the top producers of degrees awarded to minorities in the fields of communication, journalism and related disciplines in the recent special edition publication.UTEP multimedia journalism students work at borderzine.com to develop their skills. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News ServiceUTEP multimedia journalism students work at borderzine.com to develop their skills. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News Service

“I am very pleased that UTEP is among the top 10 universities awarding baccalaureate degrees in communication to Hispanic students,” said Pat Witherspoon, Ph.D., dean of the College of Liberal Arts at UTEP. “Of course, we desire to be No. 1 and will continue to strive toward that goal.”

“The Department of Communication at UTEP is committed to student excellence,” said Frank G. Pérez, chair of the Department of Communication at UTEP. “The faculty and staff work very hard to provide students with both theoretical and applied training.”

Each year, Diverse: Issues in Higher Education publishes lists of the top 100 producers of associate, bachelor’s and graduate degrees awarded to minority students based on research conducted by Victor M. H. Border, Ph.D., professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Indiana University Bloomington.

Data for this analysis are included within the Completions Survey of the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data Set. The analysis is based on degrees conferred during the 2010-11 academic year.

“This recognition proves that the Department of Communication at UTEP is succeeding in helping the University become the first national research university with a 21st century student demographic,” Pérez said.

UTEP is ranked 6 out of 50 in the recent survey, with 112 Hispanic undergraduate students awarded undergraduate degrees in communication, journalism and related fields in 2010-11. They accounted for 79 percent of all UTEP students graduating in those fields.

The university offers five communication majors: Communication Studies, Digital Media Production, Media Advertising, Multimedia Journalism, and Organizational and Corporate Communication.

According to Pérez, the recently launched Digital Media Production and Multimedia Journalism majors have helped students gain employment at organizations such as ESPN, Telemundo as well as local media and various corporate settings.

Pérez said that professors work closely with students on campus. Many faculty members offer short-term study abroad classes that allow students to experience international contexts as part of their education. The department also offers students a number of opportunities to attend and present original research at national and international conferences.

“This type of student development is a key strength,” Pérez said. “Very few departments across the U.S. work with undergraduate students in the preparation of such advanced work.”

Pérez credits UTEP’s undergraduate advisers, Kerri Harrison and Eli Garcia, with helping to make the programs successful. The advisers provide one-on-one sessions at least once a semester to review the student’s progress through their academic program. Although the mentoring of each student takes time, the payoff has been reflected in helping students complete their degrees faster.

“In addition to suggesting classes, our advisers explain to students how their course of study relates to employment after graduation,” Pérez said.

Students majoring in Multimedia Journalism are enrolled in borderzine.com as a capstone course in their academic career.

“We run Borderzine as a multimedia newsroom,” said Zita Arocha, director of borderzine.com and senior lecturer of communication at UTEP. “Students find the class experience invaluable. It gives them an understanding that journalism is a demanding field. Multimedia experience is absolutely necessary for their success.”

The other key element, Pérez said, is the focus on student internships. Caroline Garland and Zita Arocha have worked to build a network of support for this program.

“I always encourage students to complete one internship in El Paso and one in another, external market before they graduate from UTEP to earn more experience in multiple environments,” Arocha said.

In total percentage, UTEP is second only to The University of Texas-Pan American. UTPA, ranked No. 7, graduated 109 Hispanic students, which accounts for 94 percent of total baccalaureate UTPA degrees in communication, journalism and related fields during the 2010-11 school year.

“The preeminent goal of the College of Liberal Arts is to be the best college of liberal arts as part of a national research university with a 21st century demographic,” Witherspoon said. “The Department of Communication’s achievement certainly moves us toward that goal as we aim for both access and excellence and provide a high-quality education to increasing numbers of Hispanic students who choose UTEP as their university.”