The University of Texas at Tyler got its faculty and staff ready for the new year by celebrating success and taking a look at upcoming projects during its Fall 2019 Convocation.

President Michael Tidwell announced the university is taking the first steps toward adding new campus housing. While there is not yet a timetable for the projects, the college has started taking early steps and brought on a consultant.

Tidwell said the university is looking into options for what likely will be a public-private mixed development at the corner of Old Omen Road and University Boulevard. The development would feature retail space, a coffee shop and possibly the campus bookstore on its first floor, and dormitory-style housing on the upper levels.

Another project in the very early stages is a proposed face-lift for the college’s University Center. The new facade, which would feature a large video screen facing the new Patriot Plaza and upstairs outdoor seating, would be part of what Tidwell hopes will become a dynamic new area that will encourage students to stay on campus on the weekends. The UC upgrades are in the early planning stages, and the college is still seeking input.

The three areas, which include the Patriot Plaza outdoor amphitheater, a revamped University Center and the new housing project, would offer weekend and evening activities for students who have long said there is little to do when class isn’t in session.

The proposed video screen also would enhance commencement ceremonies and concerts in the plaza. The first outdoor commencement ceremony will take place in the spring, and the Cowan Center soon will launch its “Cowan After Dark” series in the plaza, which will have capacity for up to about 8,000 people.

Tidwell also announced the launch of UT Tyler’s drum line. The program will kick off this academic year and become a staple at all of the university’s games and many community events such as parades. Tidwell said the hope is to grow the program to about 30 members.

The college also celebrated the academic success it has seen over the past two years at Wednesday’s Convocation. Tidwell said early projections show UT Tyler once again breaking records with the size of its incoming freshman class, which is expected to peak at just shy of 1,100 first-time college students. The sophomore class also will grow to about 1,140. Census numbers are not due until mid-September, so the numbers still could fluctuate.

Student retention is also up over 2018, with students returning for their second year moving from 70% to 76.7%. Tidwell said the goal is to reach 90% by the end of the university’s current Strategic Plan, which launched last year, and the college is well on its way.

“As of today we’re tracking very, very well,” he said. “We’re doing a great job but we need to be doing an excellent job.”

The college also expects to see the size of its nursing program double over the next year as it adds a summer semester to the existing fall and spring semesters in 2020.

Tidwell said that while none of the UT System colleges received legislative funding for facilities this biennium, he is hopeful to hear back about a funding request to get the university started on its proposed new College of Nursing and Health Sciences facility by the end of the year. He said that funding it not guaranteed, but he is optimistic.

The college also is working toward moving up another classification in its research standings. This year it was upgraded to a Carnegie R3 research institute, and the college’s provost already has launched plans to move to a level R2. The Carnegie ratings are determined by the quality and volume of research being conducted.

To help meet these goals, the college welcomed nearly four dozen new faculty members this semester.

The college also will expand its automatic admissions to bring in more students. The top 25% of students in their high school class will now be eligible for automatic admission beginning in Fall 2020. The college currently auto-admits the top 10%.

Tidwell hopes that a proposed expansion of Toll 49 also can benefit students, by making their commute across Smith County easier.

“Our preference as a campus community is to get or develop a route as close to campus as possible,” he said.

At less than two years into its new 20-year Campus Master Plan and 10-year strategic plan, the University of Texas at Tyler is plowing ahead to transform the campus and its role in East Texas.

TWITTER: @TMT_Cory

Cory is a multimedia journalist and member of the Education Writers Association, Criminal Justice Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. He has appeared on Crime Watch Daily and Grave Mysteries on Investigation Discovery.

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