Tech Investing In ‘Center For Graduate Studies’

SOCORRO, N.M. September 30, 2009 – New Mexico Tech will be modernizing the university’s graduate programs, thanks to a $2.86 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

The Promoting Postbaccalaureate Opportunities for Hispanic Americans program is a Title V program. The Socorro university qualifies for the grant because it recently became qualified as a Hispanic-Serving Institution.

The funds will be delivered in yearly amounts of about $584,000 over five years.

“This couldn’t have come at a better time,” Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Peter Gerity said. “We haven’t finalized plans for how to implement our plan because we’re still recovering from the shock that we got it. To get $2.8 million over five years is a dream.”

Gerity, the principal investigator for the project, said the grant implementation teams convened Monday, Sept. 28, to plan these initiatives:

Updating Technologies

Dr. Dave Westpfahl using a 'smart classroom' in the Distance Education studio in Cramer Hall for his Orbital Mechanics class. The class is part of the growing aerospace engineering discipline. Wednesday's class included several New Mexico State University students listening to the lecture. The new Title V grant will allow Tech to install six new 'smart classrooms' around campus. Photos by Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech.
  1. Banner upgrades that will include graduate programs
  2. Six new “Smart Classrooms” scattered across academic programs
  3. 14 Graduate student lounges/learning spaces


  1. Faculty training on using Smart Classrooms
  2. 10 Learning Communities linked with Technical Communications
  3. New courses in communication and presentation skills

Center for Graduate Studies

  1. Renovate Fitch Hall to expand and enhance graduate office
  2. Introduce English as a Second Language courses
  3. Thesis/dissertation workshops
  4. Critical reading workshops
  5. Create outreach program for Hispanic undergraduates

“This allows us to address a whole slew of issues we’ve never had the resources to do, especially now in times of economic crisis,” Gerity said. “We have a unique opportunity to address improvements and upgrades.”

The graduate programs have exploded at New Mexico Tech over the past decade. In 2001, Tech had 332 graduate students. This fall, 593 graduate students are enrolled at New Mexico Tech.

“The distance ed programs, the Master’s of Science Teaching and all the graduate programs are growing like crazy,” Gerity said. “And we don’t have the infrastructure to keep up with it – systems, facilities and personnel, which are all the things this grant funds.”

Gerity said the implementation teams will address the three areas covered in the grant proposal: technology, curricula and developing a Center for Graduate Studies.

The most visible changes will be six new “smart classrooms” scattered across campus among the graduate programs. These high-tech enhancements will be state-of-the-art multi-media presentation systems that include distance education capabilities.

“This is going to be huge, in terms of pushing our classroom technologies forward,” associate vice president Dr. Scott Zeman said. “This grant is very broad and ambitious.”

Physics professor Dr. Dave Westpfahl uses the 'smart classroom.' Using a stylus, Westpfahl can 'write' on the digital whiteboard at right. The screen at left displays the distance education students in attendance, Westpfahl's notes and allows them to submit questions. 

“This will bring our classroom technologies into the 21st century,” Vice President Dr. Ricardo Maestas said.

Another visible change will be the renovation of the second floor of Fitch Hall, the home of the Graduate Studies Office. The Center for Graduate Studies will include meeting space, a lounge and a computer lab dedicated to graduate students. The grant also will allow the university to convert the position of Graduate Dean from part-time to full-time.

Grant funds will also create a graduate student lounge in each academic department. Program director Dr. Dave Westpfahl said the new lounges will boost morale and collaboration for graduate students, as well as serve as a recruiting tool. Westpfahl is the chairman of the physics department, which created a graduate student lounge years ago.

“When prospective students visit and see students working together, they see that our department is collaborative,” he said. “That gets people’s attention.”

Currently, the graduate programs are not fully integrated into the Banner software system, which serves as the clearinghouse for all undergraduate student information. The new grant will allow Tech to expand and upgrade Banner software to better serve the needs of graduate students and faculty. Zeman and Maestas said this behind-the-scenes improvement will have significant impact in administering the graduate program.

“This will totally change how we do business within the graduate program,” Maestas said. “We will be able to electronically track students instead of using pencil and paper.”

Just two years ago, Tech wouldn’t have qualified for a Title V grant, a program that is solely for minority-serving institutions. Outgoing Vice President of Student and University Relations Dr. Ricardo Maestas spent much of his five years at Tech pushing the Admission Office to improve Tech’s Hispanic enrollment and recruiting.

Those efforts paid off in the fall of 2007 when Tech first hit the 25 percent threshold of Hispanic students. To qualify for Title V grants, Tech had to maintain that level for two years.

“A lot of people worked hard to put together this grant proposal and assure that we were successful in getting these funds,” Dr. Daniel H. Lopez said. “But without Dr. Maestas’ untiring work – along with his support staff – over the past five years, we would never have even qualified for this sort of federal assistance.”

Maestas finished his service to New Mexico Tech on September 25 to start his new position as president of Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas.

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech