How WT Builds A Community
By: Jordan Conde
Do you plan to finish college? This is a question that lingers over university students’ heads all across the nation, and West Texas A&M University students are no exception. However, for many of these students, their answer to such a simple question is a bit complicated.
Most students have been taught at a young age that the key to success post high school graduation is found in attending a college/university. The belief is that these institutions are an oasis of knowledge and the resources they provide allow for a grand exchange of ideas and cultures. Universities have been put atop a pedestal to represent this idea and be the physical embodiment of new opportunities for those with future aspirations. Likewise, colleges are also presented as a place to discover “one’s true self”, that aids students who are unsure of what they want to do for their future in finding their potential career path.
Despite this idealized version of higher education, Bareham and Wing (2023) shows that only “62.3% of students across the United States complete their degree programs within six years of enrolling.” This reality is a stark contrast to the idea that students will find success through attending college. The unfortunate truth is that these same teachers who encourage students to pursue advanced academics do so knowing the low success rate for students.
Mokher et al. (2018) states, “Only 20% of [high school] teachers believe most of their students will be able to attain a bachelor's degree. In contrast, twice as many teachers (40%) think most of their students will be able to finish an associate's degree.”
Although this data may be a harsh reality for the perception of future students pursuing higher education, many students across a variety of majors at West Texas A&M University hold true to the idea that college is the place for them and that the institution has provided both encouragement and ample opportunities for these students.
Emanuel Garcia, a freshman music education major, states, “I believe that the staff here at the School of Music are doing a fantastic job preparing me for the future.”
Emanuel Garcia (pictured center) poses with his saxophone section after a performance.
Image courtesy of: Emanuel Garcia
Garcia is keen on having a critical view on his major and how there are issues outside of the classroom that could be improved, emphasizing an importance of hands-on opportunities for underclassmen.
“I believe the teaching side of my career could be explored more,” Garcia said. “There's just some things you can't learn without experience from the real thing, so maybe reaching out for more opportunities/internships for sophomores.”
Garcia holds a strong stance on the importance of building a structural social framework which he found through communal activities that the university provides.
“I've probably met some of my greatest friends here on campus,” Garcia said. “All of that being through orgs, marching bands, dorms, etc. I do think one of WT's greatest attributes is its social community.”
Zyna Abujuma, a junior political science major, shares the sentiment on the importance of organizations and how they have helped shape her college experience.
Zyna Abujuma sits on a park bench at West Texas A&M University.
Image courtesy of: Zyna Abujuma
Abujuma states, “Two student organizations that have aided in my professional development are the Student Government Association and the Model United Nations Club. They have allowed me to improve my leadership, public speaking, and critical thinking skills. Without my involvement in these two organizations, I definitely would not be where I am today and continue learning and developing these necessary skills and become a well-rounded and successful student.”
Abujuma stresses the importance of utilizing campus resources and faculty members, and how both play an integral role towards student success.
“WTAMU's Career Services is my one stop to ask any questions about what careers would be applicable with my personality, resume help, and internship/job search. Also, my professors are always easy to reach out to and ask questions on what to consider and the specific steps to get one step closer to my dream career.”
Juan Aguinaga, a sophomore psychology major, holds the same opinion about the importance of utilizing campus resources.
Juan Aguinaga (pictured right) at a table event for the Hispanic Student Association.
Image courtesy of: Juan Aguinaga
“I’ve been to the counseling office a few times. I think it is a good habit to put in your routine even for small stuff. I think it is a great resource for students.”
Aguinaga focused on mental health as a big issue for many students and their success.
“I, myself, have not found the right headspace. I have a lot on my plate, or at least that is what I make it out to be. There is a lot of personal accountability with school, and I think it is up to me to get back on track.”
Aguinaga stressed that it can be difficult for many students to reach out and take advantage of these resources due to stigmas surrounding some of the services and how students tend to downplay their struggles.
“I have a tough time asking for help. I see all of these responsibilities as solely mine, so I feel that I have to take care of it alone. I think I have always had a problem with not reaching out.”
A 2013 study shows Aguinaga is not alone in this way of thinking by stating, “The stigma associated with mental illness is the ‘most formidable obstacle’ to the progress and advancement of mental health.”
Aguinaga also believes there is a correlation with cultural upbringings that limit students' willingness to reach out and utilize campus services.
“I would say any, but especially Hispanic, students have a tough time with this too. Most (Hispanic students) come from a machismo background, we all want to get by using our own steam…but we all eventually will run into walls.” The 2013 study reaffirms Aguinaga by stating, “higher levels of psychological distress and perceived racial/ethnic discrimination, respectively, predicted higher levels of perceived stigmatization by others for seeking psychological help, which, in turn, predicted greater self-stigma for seeking psychological help”.
This is important to note on a national scale due to the fact that public universities have shifted their focus towards recruiting more diverse students, particularly those of color and lower economic status.
Smith and Hisrchl (2022) states, “Economic disparities in 4-year college attendance have
motivated many high-cost interventions: About 80% of pre college outreach programs in the United States target minority and economically disadvantaged students…this intensive approach is typically effective at boosting disadvantaged students’ college attendance rates”
Providing adequate resources for students has been, and should continue to be, a high priority for West Texas A&M University. Finding ways to have these services be more accessible and to overcome set stigmas should be the next step towards serving students on campus. This is especially important since WTAMU identifies as a Hispanic Serving Institution where the Hispanic student population is about 29.81% as of Fall 2022.
Many student leaders on campus put in the groundwork necessary for tackling such difficult tasks to put students first and to hold the campus community accountable for creating a positive learning environment.
Allan Baltazar, a Senior Criminal Justice and Psychology major, states, “I believe WT has provided a good foundation, or building blocks, towards developing skills that will be useful in my future career. I believe getting involved on campus definitely increased my awareness of resources on campus and how each may benefit me in various areas. From building leadership to simply learning how to create a resume.”
Allan Baltazar sits underneath the ‘Festival of Lights’ at WTAMU Buffalo Fountain.
Image courtesy of: Allan Baltazar
Baltazar reiterates the importance of student initiative to be involved on campus and be proactive in the school’s community.
“Being involved on campus, I believe, is key to allowing a University to aid a student in preparing them/us for our future careers,” Baltazar said. “I believe all of my connections at WT have aided me in my current and future success. The various organizations and programs I have been part of as a member and leader provide a platform for me to develop exceptional skills such as leadership, communication, and team working, for example. The faculty and staff I have connected with on campus have done a great job with informing about helpful resources available as well as sending me to the ‘correct’ individual or department for what I needed help with.”
Baltazar is a leading voice within the student body where his activism has led to substantial changes for WTAMU students such as a translation feature on the university’s website. He believes that there are more innovative ways that the university could help further students towards pursuing their future careers.
Baltazar states, “I think WT could have each of their colleges potentially have a way of sharing potential employers that may recruit right after graduation, if the student desires, for instance. I think hosting different Networking Events for Jobs aimed at specific colleges/majors/fields rather than General ones may allow students to identify certain employers that are of higher interest to them.”
Whether it is building communities in student organizations or student services the programs WTAMU provides help establish community. Even with these resources, there is still work to be done, and a large factor in determining the future of WT will be found in its ability to provide a safe space for the demographics of the region to mitigate the large percentage of students that dropout of secondary education.