El Paso professor sees psychology background as helpful
Second forum is today for candidates for Palo Alto president.
Published: Friday, August 31, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 4, 2012 13:09
College students who feel a sense of community on-campus are more likely to graduate, Dr. Ernst Roberts, faculty member and former interim president at El Paso Community College, said Thursday in the first of two forums at Palo Alto College.
He is one of two finalists for president of the college.
Roberts said when students and employees are comfortable with each other, things change for the better.
About 115 people attended the session in Pedernales Hall.
Palo Alto College is searching for its sixth president because Dr. Ana “Cha” Guzman, president of Palo Alto College, is retiring today.
Guzman, who was not at the forum, has been president of Palo Alto College for 11 years and assumes the presidency of Santa Fe Community College in Santa Fe, New Mexico Tuesday.
Roberts started at El Paso Community College in 1978 as a psychology professor.
He has also been an assistant to the president and vice president of finance before becoming interim president.
According to Roberts’ résumé, he received a bachelor’s degree in psychology and pre-medicine from West Virginia University, a master’s degree in psychology from the University of Texas at El Paso and his doctorate degree in higher education from Texas Tech University.
Roberts said picking a college president is similar to getting married because the choice has to be trustworthy, an advocate and a confidant.
One achievement Roberts named was El Paso Community College’s recent nomination for the Aspen award, a “prestigious award in higher education.”
The Aspen Prize for Community Colleges given by the Aspen Institute recognizes community colleges with impressive academic and workforce outcomes.
El Paso Community College is one of 120 community colleges across the country that have acquired admirable student success in persistence, retention and transfer; increased outcomes over time; and have shown equal outcome for students with various ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, according to the Aspen Institute website.
Roberts said his track record includes the current expansion of student services, a library extension and the beginning stages of master planning for a sixth campus at El Paso Community College.
Roberts said he became interested in Palo Alto College because of its similarity to El Paso Community College.
Since El Paso’s population is 86 percent Hispanic, Roberts is familiar with the same needs San Antonio has.
According to the 2011 U.S. Census, 63 percent of the San Antonio population is Hispanic.
El Paso Community College had 29,260 students enrolled during the spring semester and Palo Alto College had 8,387, public relations Director Ginger Carnes said.
Other familiarities include working with first generation college students and financial obstacles.
Both colleges need to create better opportunities for students and give them financial access, such as scholarships or financial aid, Roberts said.
He said making sure students have secured finances, like scholarships or financial aid, is a way to increase retention.
Palo Alto College public information officer Natalie Barajas said 85 percent of Palo Alto College receives financial aid.
He said another way the college can increase retention rates is by students spending less time in developmental education classes.
He said it is important to get students into college-level courses as soon as possible.
Roberts said it is important to have a leader at Palo Alto College who can bring the college together in bad financial times, since the state is projecting a $9 billion to $13 billion deficit.
“How do you ride this economic trough that we are all going through?” Roberts asked. “Well, the way you do it is by pulling together as a college family.”
He said good communication helps maximize resources, which means the college can reach out to community groups or other college presidents to resolve problems.
“Ultimately, all of us are trying to go down the same road, to the same direction. We are trying to achieve student success. The question is: How do we all do that?” Roberts said.
When financial aid Director Lamar Duarte wanted to know Roberts’ thought about financial aid in today’s market, Roberts said it is important for government leaders to know that the community needs their support in education.
“I think right now what’s called for is a lot of political awareness and willingness to communicate with those leaders and say, ‘Look, we need your help,’” Roberts said. “If you’re trying to create this educated society, you go to give us some support here and help us out.”
Librarian Camille Florillo wanted to know Roberts’ view of the role of the librarian and the library in the college.
Roberts said the library plays a big role in the academic community because it is the “heart of the college.”
He said libraries have evolved since he was in college, and have a “coffee house” feel to them.
He said libraries should be the epicenter of college activities, therefore, needing proper funds, properly maintained facilities and staff members who have the knowledge to tend to student’s questions.
When art Professor Alba Deleon, who is also the international education liaison, asked about Roberts’ experience with internationalization, Roberts said he is comfortable overseeing international studies
Roberts said El Paso Community College receives a U.S. Agency for International Development grant through Georgetown University, which brings students from Central America to that college.
He said he knows it is a great experience for international students and another reason international studies is an important program.