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What It Means to Be a Student-Centered University

The 2022 Annual State of the University Address


By Marie Jacinto

With just a hint of fall in the air, Wednesday, Sept. 28 was simply a beautiful day, as Dr. Krista Gehring, Associate Professor, Criminal Justice, commented as she presented the Faculty Senate report during the second Annual State of the University address.

The day was beautiful, indeed—both outdoors and inside the University of Houston-Downtown, especially within the Wilhelmina Cullen Robertson Auditorium, where Dr. Renu Khator, Chancellor of the University of Houston System, and other UHD stakeholders joined President Loren J. Blanchard for his State of the University address.

The entire event got off to a joyous start when an effervescent Mayra Moreno, Anchor for ABC 13, welcomed the audience, followed by a rockin’, bluesy rendition of “What’s Your Thing” by UHD alum and award-winning vocalist Annika Chambers.

During the State of the University address, Blanchard shared UHD’s many accomplishments over the last year, including our partnership with Amazon to offer qualifying employees access to a UHD degree—for free. UHD was also among the nation’s top 50 institutions in providing a pathway to economic mobility for low- and moderate-income graduates by the public policy organization Third Way.

Blanchard praised the staff and faculty for how far we have come, but he also looked to the future. “Our Institutional Compass serves as our directional guide,” stated Blanchard. “It encompasses our hopes and ambitions to strengthen justice, empower student success and equity, and advance UHD’s institutional excellence and infrastructure. These are the priorities that have informed our Strategic Plan, A New Paradigm.

“Today we are defining what it means to be a student-centered University as well as an anchor institution that is serving its community, generating real-world learning, and helping students and families move up the socioeconomic ladder by earning degrees in reasonable time and with as little debt as possible,” continued Blanchard.

Enhancing Student Success is the University’s number one priority, and based on his findings within his first 12 months at UHD, the President has set into motion essential structural changes such as reimagining student affairs as the new Student Success and Student Life Division. This division now incorporates student activities and student health services along with career services and the Academic Support Center.

Another key organizational change at UHD is a case management approach to academic advising. Every advisor will be charged with supporting a group of students for the full duration of their programs. Advisement will also be embedded in the student’s particular area of study with career-enhancing opportunities such as internships and service-learning front and center.

“We have presented to the State Legislature key areas for investments that increase student success and reduce equity gaps, such as expanding mental health services for our students, strengthening our academic advising, and investing in programs such as financial literacy, faculty mentorships, and peer-to-peer services that are hyper-focused on supporting the most underserved of our student population,” said Blanchard.

“These are bold and ambitious goals, but so were the goals of those who gathered on One Main Street nearly 50 years ago and saw a vision for a different kind of university. Writing the future of this University will require every ounce of our talents and abilities—but if I have learned anything over the last year and half it is this: Gators have Texas-sized talents and abilities," he emphasized.

With that, Moreno proclaimed that she wanted to be a Gator, too, before inviting Shared Governance representatives Tremaine Kwasikpui, Staff Council; Gehring, Faculty Senate; Emanual Beltran, Student Representative; and J.B. Bobbitt, Alumni Council. to the podium. The official mariachi of UHD, Mariachi Los Caimanes, rounded out the event with a heart-felt rendition of “Tu Solo Tu,” garnering a standing ovation.

The audience was treated to Ms. Chambers’ blues vocalizations at a reception on the South Deck, followed by the Opening Reception of Kathy Vargas’ exhibition “Este Recuerdo/About Memory” in the O’Kane Gallery, an official Participating Space of the FotoFest Biennial 2022.

A beautiful day turned into a beautiful evening as Vargas shared her life experiences that influenced her profoundly spiritual photography. Opportunities for transformative experiences, such as Vargas’ Artist’s Talk abound at UHD. With the advent of A New Paradigm, UHD will ensure that even more students can take advantage of these opportunities and graduate in a timely manner without the burden of debt so many American students suffer. 

By enhancing student success through student-centered programs such as financial literacy, expanded mental health services, case management-style advising, and ESL, UHD is ensuring a bright future filled with employment opportunities and career growth for even more of its graduates. As the President concluded in his State of the University address, “We have a most important journey ahead of us.”