BY Cheryl Taylor
The Student Employment Initiative (SEI) Program at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley continues to prove its effectiveness, offering on-campus employment opportunities related to a student’s program of study.
Daniel Warner, a 21 year-old senior marketing major from Harlingen, exemplifies the success of the program, which was started in 2005.
“I’m an SEI in the Office of Engaged Scholarship and Learning, working as the department marketing coordinator,” Warner said. “It’s a great program. I feel like I’ve grown a lot since taking this job last August. I’ve gained skills that are relevant to my major, and learned how to communicate in a professional tone with people in a variety of capacities.”
As marketing coordinator, Warner collaborates with other university departments to promote the events and projects of the Office of Engaged Scholarship and Learning. Currently, he is working with University Marketing and Communications in preparation for the Engaged Scholar Symposium (ES²), a platform for undergraduate students to share their multidisciplinary research, service learning projects and creative works.
“I’m working with Public Relations to put together a week-long series for the Humans of UTRGV Facebook page, each day featuring someone in the Office of Engaged Scholarship and Learning,” he said.
Needing a steady source of income, and without a car, Warner was searching for campus employment, so expansion of the SEI program to the Edinburg Campus came at just the right time for him.
“With the introduction of the SEI program to the Edinburg Campus, we have had a dramatic increase in hiring requests, as Edinburg faculty and staff have become familiar with the program,” said Juan Andres Rodriguez-Nieto, director of the UTRGV Career Center.
Rodriguez-Nieto explained the SEI model as being “rigorous and incentive-based,” requiring accountability for students’ academic, as well as work, performance.
To qualify for the SEI program, a student must, among other qualifications:
Be enrolled in 15 credit hours or more each fall and spring semester.
Have and maintain a minimum cumulative and semester GPA of 3.0 or higher.
Meet SAP (Satisfactory Academic Progress) requirements.
Be a U.S. citizen, resident, or international student with F-1 Visa.
The SEI program has received state and national recognition with two major awards – the Star Award, given by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in 2008, and the coveted Sample of Excelencia award, given by Excelencia in Education in 2013.
PRAISE FROM FORMER SEIs
Brownsville native Alexandra Huerta (B.B.A. Marketing, December 2013; B.A. Communication, May 2014; M.B.A. December 2016) was an SEI in the Office of Career Services for three semesters.
A month after her December 2016 graduation, 25-year-old Huerta began her new job as community engagement and communications coordinator with Workforce Solutions Cameron.
“I learned so much as an SEI – time management, prioritizing, coordination, organizing and networking,” she said. “I met so many people, working at the job fairs, meeting employers. My time in the Office of Career Services gave me real experience in my field of study.”
Another Brownsville native, 27-year-old Emilia Saqui (B.B.A. Management, May 2012; B.B.A. International Business, May 2013; and current M.B.A. student) was an SEI in the office of UTRGV Athletics for two semesters.
“I walked into then-UTB’s Career Center Services Office for guidance regarding university employment and I talked with Ana Perez, the assistant director of student employment,” Saqui said. “I am so grateful Ms. Perez steered me in the direction of the SEI program.”
Perez oversees the SEI program as assistant director of Student Employment. An avid advocate of the program for the advantages it offers students, Perez said supervisors have an important role when they hire an SEI: They take on the responsibility of being a mentor to their SEI.
“It is a big commitment,” Perez said. “Supervisors are required to meet with their students regularly and guide them in their academic and work performance, and they must complete a student evaluation at the end of each semester.”
Saqui’s current job as the administrative manager for Student Educational Outreach, where she has been since September 2015, allows her to put all of her managerial skills to use.
“Many of the things I first learned as an SEI student in Athletics, such as basic accounting reconciliations and budgeting processes, I still utilize to this day,” Saqui said. “And being an SEI was a great way to learn time management strategies.”
TIME MANAGEMENT IS KEY
Warner previously had a job working 40 hours a week on nights and weekends.
“That killed me and my grades,” he said. “Now, my work schedule of 19 hours is built around my class schedule during the day. The balance has been amazing. I utilize my evening hours more efficiently, keeping up with my studies, and I still manage daily workouts at the rec center.”
Warner has secured his SEI spot as marketing coordinator with the Office of Engaged Scholarship and Learning for the fall semester. For the summer, he heads out to Hillsboro, Oregon, where he landed a position as a global marketing communication intern with Intel Corporation.
“Everyone should know the importance of internships – I did one last summer at a rental company on South Padre Island, and it was time well spent,” Warner said. “My advice to students is to start researching internships early – a year or two in advance. Applications for summer internships are generally months prior to the start date. It would be a shame to miss out simply by slipping past the application deadline.”
12 YEARS AND COUNTING
In spring 2005, Dr. Hilda Silva, then vice president for Student Affairs, and Dr. Juliet V. García, then president of the UTRGV legacy institution in Brownsville, envisioned the SEI program as part of a retention and timely graduation strategy that recognized the compelling need of students to work while attending college.
Rodriguez-Nieto and Dr. Mari Fuentes-Martin, then dean of students, developed the program over the summer of 2005, launching the pilot program that fall. The first SEI cohort, in academic year 2005-2006, consisted of 23 graduating students, with a years-to-graduate average of 5.71 years.
Subsequent years have seen an increase in the number of SEI participants, while the length of time to graduate has decreased. The banner year was 2011-2012, with 101 graduates averaging just 4.16 years to complete their degrees.
“Currently, we have 30 SEI students on the Brownsville Campus and 26 on the Edinburg Campus,” Rodriguez-Nieto said. “I predict we will easily top our 2011-2012 numbers within the next academic year.”
For more information, contact Student Employment Initiative program coordinator Aragelia Salazar at email@example.com.