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University develops new program to support advancement of mid-career faculty

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Dr. Amy Weimer, associate professor of psychology, and Dr. Frederick Ernst, professor of psychology, both faculty members at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, are participants in the university’s new Associate to Full Professor Program initiated this academic year to provide guidance and mentoring for mid-career faculty. Ernst is Weimer’s mentor in the yearlong program, which supports the transition for associate professors to full professor. (UTRGV Photo by Kristela Garza)
Dr. Amy Weimer, associate professor of psychology, and Dr. Frederick Ernst, professor of psychology, both faculty members at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, are participants in the university’s new Associate to Full Professor Program initiated this academic year to provide guidance and mentoring for mid-career faculty. Ernst is Weimer’s mentor in the yearlong program, which supports the transition for associate professors to full professor. (UTRGV Photo by Kristela Garza)

By Gail Fagan

Texas Border Business

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – JAN 4, 2016 – With the goal of becoming a full professor at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Dr. Amy Weimer is taking full advantage of a new faculty support and mentoring program that began this fall at the university.

Since September, Weimer, an associate professor of psychology, has been attending a yearlong series of workshops and presentations as a participant in the Associate to Full Professor (ATFP) Program overseen by the Office of Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs and Diversity.

“I was excited to participate in the program because it offers the opportunity to learn more about important topics related to promotion, like how to enhance my research productivity through collaborations,” said Weimer, who came to UT Pan American in 2006 as an assistant professor.

“It also helped me find a mentor who could work one-on-one with me toward meeting my career goals,” she said.

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Participants are required to attend eight presentations and interactive workshops that span the 2015-16 academic year. Topics range from reviving your research agenda and managing career life after tenure, to securing internal and external funding, publishing, and networking for advancement.

“A common thread throughout the sessions will consider potentially unique challenges that STEM women, Hispanics and other underrepresented faculty at the associate professor rank experience post-tenure,” said Dr. Marie Mora, associate vice provost for Faculty Diversity at UTRGV.

Upon successful completion of the program, the 22 faculty members from across all UTRGV colleges and both main campuses who were accepted to participate this academic year will receive $500 in supplemental travel to help support the presentation of research/creative work at a major academic/professional conference.

MENTORSHIP

Part of this faculty-support program is matching participants with a mentor to support their career development.

Weimer said her mentor, Dr. Frederick Ernst, UTRGV professor of psychology, has been an exemplary role model for her throughout her time at the university.

“He has been supportive, encouraging and genuinely motivated to help me advance in my career,” she said. “There are many challenges that mid-career faculty face – for instance increased, post-tenure service demand and decreased funding opportunities since we are no longer ‘early career status.’ But talking through how others have positively coped with these challenges can be encouraging and help us solve problems that we all face.”

Ernst said the program put an official status on the mentorship relationship he has had with Weimer since he was chair of the search committee that recruited her.

“Our meetings are where we discuss things that may be important to her in this continuing and formative stage of her career,” he said. “We’ve even had a garage sale together.”

And, he learned new things from Weimer – particularly her skill at putting students in better touch with the activities faculty do as researchers – so the program was mutually beneficial.

“My practices with students in the laboratory have become more effective because of my relationship with Amy. She taught me a lot about doing that because we get together and do joint projects with our students,” he said.  

SUPPORT, AWARENESS

The ATFP program was developed under UTRGV’s ADVANCE grant, which is intended to increase the representation and advancement of women faculty, particularly Hispanics, in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields. However, all tenured associate professors at UTRGV, regardless of gender, race/ethnicity, college, or academic discipline who expect to apply for promotion to professor in the next three to five years were encouraged to participate.

Mora said few programs nationwide focus on supporting associate professors’ transition to full professor. As faculty become tenured, she said, they often are surprised to encounter increased expectations for service that take away time to be actively engaged in publishing and research.

“Research is critical for faculty to achieve promotion to full professor, as they should be nationally recognized in their fields as experts in a particular area or topic,” Mora said. “That is difficult to achieve when research time is limited. Family pressures and responsibilities can also take away this research time.”

Mora said the program aims to raise awareness about time usage and ways faculty can use their service commitments and activities to enhance or complement other faculty responsibilities, such as writing and teaching.

“We also hope to help faculty refocus or reenergize their research and how to use mentoring and networking to increase their success,” she said.

For more information, contact the office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs and Diversity at (956) 665-8997.

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