Texas Tech Proves Many Hands Make for Lighter Work

An effective leader recognizes the unique strengths individuals bring to the table and works to expand upon their diverse experiences. Juan Sánchez Muñoz, PhD, at Texas Tech University (TTU) is one such leader.

As senior vice president and vice provost for institutional diversity, equity, and community engagement at TTU, Muñoz oversees a dozen units housed within the Division of Institutional Diversity, Equity & Community Engagement, which he helped create in 2004.

[Above: The Administration Building at Texas Tech University was built in 1924 and is original to the campus. (photo courtesy of Texas Tech)]

Rather than following the traditional model of one central office overseeing all diversity-related programming on campus, the division delegates responsibilities among unit heads with unique specializations, allowing it to more successfully lead campus-wide diversity efforts. These units include centers, programs, activities, and mentoring, providing a wide range of services and support for various groups across campus — first-generation and underrepresented minority students, women, and military veterans, among others. Some specific initiatives include collegiate chess programs and Upward Bound, a federally funded TRiO Program aimed at engaging first-generation, low-income high school students.

“Our programs allow us to maintain a robust — what most people call — ‘pipeline’ singular, but [it’s] what I like to think of as multiple tributaries, multiple streams,” Muñoz says.

The work of the entire division revolves around three segments as they relate to higher education: K-12, college students, and faculty and staff; it also strives to promote a culture of lifelong success and excellence in alignment with TTU’s mission to be a first-class institution.

“We begin to cultivate awareness of college in how we nurture students before they enroll, and then how we encourage and support them when they get here,” says Lawrence Schovanec, provost and senior vice president of the university.

(Clockwise from top left) Texas Tech professors Yuan Shu, PhD; Karlos Hill, PhD; Naïma Moustaïd-Moussa, PhD; Min-Joo Kim, PhD; Jaclyn Cañas-Carrell, PhD; and Aliza Wong, PhD (photo courtesy of Texas Tech)
(Clockwise from top left) Texas Tech professors Yuan Shu, PhD; Karlos Hill, PhD; Naïma Moustaïd-Moussa, PhD; Min-Joo Kim, PhD; Jaclyn Cañas-Carrell, PhD; and Aliza Wong, PhD (photo courtesy of Texas Tech)

“We want Texas Tech’s student population to reflect the population of our state. It’s important to [the university] and important to Texas, and it’s essential to the future of our state that we prepare the people who live here to contribute to its economy,” he says. “Nearly 50 percent of Texas high school graduates last year were Hispanic, but we will not see that reflected across Texas’ universities.

We don’t see this as a challenge but as an opportunity.”

One of TTU’s highest priorities is achieving Hispanic-Serving Institution status. Currently, Hispanic students make up about 23.5 percent of the student body, and Schovanec believes the reasons for the disparity are both socioeconomic and cultural.

“Many of these students are first generation, and it takes a certain amount of courage to be the first in your family to go to college when that is not the norm,” he says. “At Texas Tech, we’re trying to make higher education the expectation.”

One way TTU encourages the college-going culture in West Texas is by providing teaching resources for K-12 instructors, Upward Bound programs, and the University Interscholastic League (UIL) — which annually brings more than 30,000 Texas high school students to the Texas Tech campus for academic, athletic, and musical competitions.

Reaching More Students
Texas Tech is focused on expanding its student population, and its strong tradition of athletics has been a powerful piece of that puzzle.

“One of the positive aspects of athletics is that it does enable us to recruit diverse populations, and many of these students are first generation,” says Schovanec. “Because of the very public nature of athletics, it’s an effective way to advertise diversity on campus. You’ll find many success stories among our student-athletes as well as across campus, but it just happens that student-athletes are highly visible.”

A televised conference football game held in October celebrates Hispanic History Month, and similarly, a conference basketball game in February highlights African American History Month. Additionally, the collegiate chess program, which may not seem related to diversity, is an important recruiting tool for international students, a demographic TTU is set on increasing.

“Our division is diverse, and the chess program is part of that,” says Paul Frazier, associate vice president of the Division of Institutional Diversity, Equity & Community Engagement. “Chess added an interesting component. I never realized how competitive it is, but at Texas Tech, our team just qualified to compete in the Final Four of College Chess, [which takes place in April]. It gives us notoriety at the national and international levels.”

Frazier realizes that with growth comes financial challenges, but he is confident in TTU’s ability to provide for all students.

“The challenges we face are the [same] challenges with any institution as the landscape changes and the dynamics and culture on campus expand and stretch. We have to improve our pool of resources and make sure we create and generate funding sources in ways that are sustainable,” he says. “The administration has made a point to not only highlight diversity but to support it with financial aid.”

Celebrating Diversity, Initiating Dialogue
Jobi Martinez says she feels as if she was born at Texas Tech, having been both a student and employee there for a number of years. She is currently a doctoral candidate at TTU. In 2008, she served as the inaugural director of the Cross-Cultural and Academic Advancement Center (CCAAC) — a position for which Muñoz encouraged her to apply — and, two years later, as managing director of the division.

Muñoz says the CCAAC has not only been integral in attracting diverse students to TTU, as it provides minority student organizations a home on campus, but it has also helped change attitudes about diversity through its multicultural programming. Martinez says the center stages different cultural events each year, such as those celebrating the Lunar New Year and Holi.

“I’ve seen more acceptance of diversity programming [over time],” says Martinez. “Historically, events were confined to the student organizations that were putting them on, but now it’s campus-wide — and I’ve seen changes at the faculty level. Faculty are now looking to the division for ways to incorporate diversity into their classes and ways of blending curricular and co-curricular activities in their writing and research.”

The Open Teaching Concept (OTC) is a manifestation of that campus-wide interest in diversity. Established in 2012 by Martinez and Aliza Wong — who was, at the time, faculty liaison of the CCAAC — the OTC is an annual event that brings together faculty members across various fields for a month of open lectures on a common theme. Last year’s theme was “Liberty and Justice for All: Social Justice, Civil Rights, and Politics of Privilege,” and faculty from 30 departments participated.

“It connects the campus back together,” Wong says. “As faculty members, we come out of our silos and have a dialogue on access and opportunity.”

She says the OTC illustrates for students the interconnectedness of different disciplines, from architecture and engineering to medicine and education.

Wong is now associate dean of the Honors College, associate professor in the Department of History, and director of European Studies at TTU. She was also the first woman of color to be voted faculty senate president in 2013. During her tenure, the faculty senate updated its quality enhancement plan with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to emphasize global awareness as a desired student outcome.

“Even in West Texas, we are part of a larger global community. Our goal is to touch every student who comes to Texas Tech during their undergraduate education,” she says. “We want every single student to be aware of their place and role in a diverse climate.”

Wong hopes the future at TTU will include continued growth beyond enrollment numbers — more voices, more inclusion, more women in leadership roles, and more dialogue.

“Lubbock is a city that loves its traditions, but at the same time, we’re always looking forward,” she says. “We’re constantly looking for innovative ways to change.”●

Rebecca Prinster is a senior staff writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity. Texas Tech University is a 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 INSIGHT Into Diversity HEED Award recipient.