|Ashley Purgason definitely won't need any time getting used to her new surroundings.
That's because Purgason, who started her tenure as College of Science Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Research and Student Advancement on August 12, is no stranger to UT Arlington. As a student, she earned a B.S. in Biology with Honors in 2006 and a M.S. in Biology in 2007. She was also a member of the UT Arlington Lady Mavs basketball team, where she was named an Academic All-American in 2004. While working on her master's degree, she also served as director of Women's Basketball Operations.
Needless to say, there won't be much for Purgason to learn during new employee orientation.
"There really aren't enough ways to say that I'm thrilled to be back! Truly, this is an honor and privilege to be a Maverick 24/7 again," she said. "Every time I walk across campus I'm flooded with memories of positive experiences, and those good feelings sure make it easy to go to work. The best part is seeing how UT Arlington is thriving and evolving, and how motivating and exciting that is. I am one of those lucky individuals who get to say I'm inspired and ecstatic to go to work every day. All of my colleagues in the College of Science are teaching me every day just through their talents and actions."
Purgason is well-suited to her new role of helping undergraduate students become more involved in research. In May, she completed work on her Ph.D. in Environmental Toxicology from UT Medical Branch at Galveston. She also spent the past year immersing herself in issues important to students as a member of the UT System Board of Regents. She was appointed a student regent by Gov. Rick Perry; her one-year term ended May 31.
As a student regent, Purgason acted as a liaison between the UT board of regents and students throughout the UT System, which includes 15 institutions. She traveled around Texas talking with students about their concerns of how decisions made by the board will affect their college experience.
As a doctoral student, she conducted research at both UTMB and the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, focusing on the dangers of the space radiation environment and its effects on the health of astronauts in long duration missions beyond low Earth orbit. While at UTMB, Purgason also served as president of both the Student Government Association and the Graduate Student Organization.
In her role as assistant dean, her main responsibility will be to ensure that research becomes an essential component of the undergraduate experience in the College.
To accomplish this goal, Purgason will identify best practices for undergraduates, including: coordinating research threads in laboratory courses for majors; advising students on research opportunities, fellowships and programs; seeking funding opportunities for undergraduate research; and encouraging undergraduate participation in conferences. Purgason will also facilitate student success in the core curriculum and teach one course per semester in the role of assistant professor of practice.
"It is so incredible to me that I now have the chance and responsibility to better the experiences of our undergraduates in the College of Science," she said. "My primary duty will be to create, implement and assess multiple and varying avenues for our undergraduates to engage in research and critical thinking processes. Believe it or not, the laboratory is just one avenue where that can happen. We want our students to have many options to grow as young scholars beyond the traditional exams so that they do not have to sacrifice their already limited time."
College of Science Dean Pamela Jansma first met Purgason last year when the two served as members of the search advisory committee which interviewed candidates to replace outgoing UT Arlington President James Spaniolo. The committee recommended Vistasp Karbhari, who took office on June 1. Jansma says she was impressed by Purgason's passion for helping students.
"We're thrilled to have Dr. Purgason join the College of Science in this role of assistant dean," Jansma said. "She has a great deal of experience working with students, and her thorough knowledge of the research process will be invaluable in giving our students opportunities to become involved in hands-on research, which will greatly benefit their educational experience. Her enthusiasm is infectious and she's really excited by the chance to work with students and help provide them with every possible tool to succeed."
Purgason agrees that both her research background and her experiences in working with students are critical to her new job.
"As academicians we are often so focused on innovation or productivity that we may lose that continued and supportive contact with individual students," she said. "Listening to their changing needs as they progress through classes