College of Science

Cordero focusing on academic affairs in associate dean role

For Minerva Cordero, it seemed like a natural fit when College of Science Dean Pamela Jansma asked her to take a leadership role over the college's academic affairs.

Cordero, an associate professor in the Department of Mathematics, has extensive experience as a leader in academic and student affairs over the course of her career, and the chance to help direct the College of Science's academic strategy appealed to her. She began her new role as associate dean for academic affairs this semester.

"I was intrigued by the idea of serving in a role to facilitate matters pertaining to undergraduate science and mathematics education across the college and offer leadership in bringing together efforts focused on enhancing the teaching and learning of science and mathematics in the college in a manner that capitalizes on the great work that is already taking place," she said. "I love working with students and wanted to do my part to help increase their chances of success and their experiences in the College of Science."

In her new role, Cordero will be responsible for the development and evaluation of undergraduate programs. Her goal, she said, is to ensure that the fundamental commitment to learning outcomes relies on best practices throughout all departments and units of the College of Science.

"I will look into strategic initiatives to enhance teaching and collaborate with colleagues on establishing metrics for evaluating undergraduate programs and student success," she said. "I will provide assistance with faculty mentoring in the area of teaching."

Jansma said Cordero's leadership will enable the college to put an increased emphasis on improving its academic structure and improve students' opportunities to succeed.

"Dr. Cordero is an excellent teacher and has substantial administrative experience," Jansma said. "She has served as associate dean of the Honors College here at UT Arlington and has worked in a variety of other roles with students, and these experiences make her an ideal fit for this new role. We feel we are making great progress with our academic programs and I believe they will continue to flourish under Dr. Cordero's guidance."

Assisting Cordero in getting acclimated to her new role is Ed Morton, assistant dean for student affairs. Morton is retiring in May after 30 years with UT Arlington, and his job duties will largely be assumed by a new, yet-to-be-selected coordinator of student affairs. Cordero's role will be somewhat different than Morton's in that she will oversee matters pertaining to academic affairs more generally and not strictly matters relating to student affairs.

"I am working side by side with Ed to ensure a smooth transition," Cordero said. "We meet regularly and I very much appreciate all his help. He has tremendous knowledge and expertise, not just about student affairs in the college but also at the university level, and I am learning a lot from Ed."

Cordero and Morton are working on delineating the requirements and expertise necessary to fulfill the coordinator of student affairs position, and will begin a search soon. The coordinator will take on many of Morton's responsibilities and duties related to student affairs, and will serve as a liaison with University College and the Honors College in matters of advising and academic policies. They will also coordinate with the Office of Student Affairs on admissions, assist with scholarship activities for students, and implement College probation and suspension rules and student status among other duties.

Cordero has long been involved in helping students. She came to UT Arlington in 2001 from Texas Tech University and immediately began working to create an organization for undergraduate mathematics students, because she recognized the importance of such organizations in helping students feel connected to the faculty, department, and each other. That organization, the UTA Student Chapter of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA), is now a central force in the undergraduate community in the Department of Mathematics.

While she was serving as faculty advisor for the organization, it received the Overall Winner Award as Outstanding UTA Student Organization. The following year, Cordero received the 2004-05 Outstanding Student Organization Advisor award. She recently collaborated with a group of students to found a student chapter of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS).

For several years, Cordero has co-directed a research experience for undergraduates program, which brings in students historically underrepresented in the mathematical sciences to conduct mathematics research. As associate dean of the Honors College from 2005-08, she was involved in developing strategies to enhance students' honors experience. She also served as the college's representative on the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) committee which developed a plan to enhance teaching and learning at UT Arlington, especially as it relates to higher-order thinking.

"I believe these experiences among others will help me in my new role in that I will be able to build on my strong understanding of undergraduate student needs, to extend my experiences in directing programs for undergraduate research, and to shape the plans for enhancing the academic direction for undergraduates in the College," she said.

Minerva Cordero came to UT Arlington in 2001 and has been heavily involved in academic and student affairs.

Another area where Cordero wants to make a difference is in strengthening STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education. Nationwide, there is a shortage of undergraduates obtaining degrees in STEM fields, and according to predictions, in 10 years the deficit could be as large as one million graduates.

"While there are various reasons for this shortage, one of the most significant causes is attrition during the first two years of college," Cordero said. "One of the two foci for my first few years is to evaluate our undergraduate programs to ensure that the curriculum is designed to meet the needs of our students and that the teaching of the introductory courses is most effective. My other focus will be to help provide our undergraduate students with research experiences. While a number of them are engaged in research, I would like to see that number double or triple."

Cordero also wants to help increase participation by historically underrepresented minorities in the sciences. As governor-at-large for minority affairs of the MAA (2008-11), she studied ways to achieve this in the mathematical sciences, and she wants to work with colleagues to implement similar programs at UT Arlington. Statistics show that the number of historically underrepresented minorities receiving degrees in STEM fields is very low, while the percentage of the population comprised of minorities is increasing.

Moreover, underrepresented minorities leave STEM majors at higher rates than others. Given the predicted shortage of graduates in the STEM fields, it is increasingly important to devise mechanisms to reverse this trend, she said.
Cordero is heavily involved in trying to enhance math education by giving students a solid math foundation from their earliest educational experiences. She is principal investigator for the GK-12 Mathematically Aligned Vertical Strands (MAVS) Project, a program funded by a five-year, $2.85 million grant from the National Science Foundation. At the heart of the GK-12 MAVS project are cohesive vertical teams of graduate students in mathematics, K-12 teachers, and mathematicians.

The project involves three components for math graduate students: 1) developing a profound understanding of appropriate mathematics vertical strands that allow a seamless learning pathway for bringing research-level mathematics to the K-12 setting; 2) developing communication and leadership skills through interactions with K-12 teachers and students; and 3) producing learning materials that integrate their research into the K-12 curriculum and reflect the appropriate pedagogy in the K-12 setting.

This partnership builds upon a longstanding collaboration between the Department of Mathematics and the Arlington Independent School District (AISD) for improving mathematics education. One of many reasons why the program is important rests in the idea that it produces mathematicians and scientists who can communicate their research to a broad audience, spanning young children to adults. These mathematicians understand the ways in which mathematical ideas build and grow as students move through their study of mathematics from middle school to high school and then to college.

"Programs like the NSF GK-12 MAVS project provide important models for producing the next generation of mathematicians and scientists by connecting to children in the schools in a manner that will excite them about mathematics and science and provide experiences for future researchers that underscore the importance of remaining connected to K-12 education," Cordero said.
Among the many honors she has received are the UT Arlington Honors College Outstanding Faculty Award in 2012, the UT System Regents' Outstanding Teaching Award in 2009, and the Distinguished Teaching Award from the Texas Section of the MAA in 2008.

Cordero earned a B.S. in Mathematics from the University of Puerto Rico and then an M.A. from the University of California at Berkeley before adding a second master's and a Ph.D. at the University of Iowa. After receiving her Ph.D. in 1989, she took an assistant professor position at Texas Tech, where she won numerous awards for excellence in teaching. She joined UT Arlington in 2001.

Posted March 1, 2013