Sacha Kopp

The Bill and Melinda Gates Computer Science Complex. 

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

A handful of students claim they were promised transfer admission into the University’s increasingly popular computer science department as long as they maintained a 2.5 GPA and have taken to social media in protest.

Senior Italian major Eduardo Gamba Jr., applied to the College of Liberal Arts with hopes of transferring into the computer science department, within the College of Natural Sciences. He said advisers assured him repeatedly in an April information session and in subsequent advising appointments that his GPA would guarantee him a space.

“I have spent four application seasons patiently applying and waiting, while maintaining a 3.8 GPA, just to get my foot in the door,” Gamba wrote in a letter to Sacha Kopp, associate dean for undergraduate education in the College of Natural Sciences, in May. “This is my dream, and without it, I would be lost.”

Gamba is not alone. Dozens of computer science hopefuls have formed a Facebook group to share their struggles entering the department.

Economics sophomore Andrew Currie said he has a 3.86 GPA and he was given the same assurance by advisors at a March session. After being denied from computer science, he decided to study economics and apply to McCombs School of Business for an management Information system degree, his third major choice since he transferred to the University from ACC for the spring 2014 semester.

“If denied from McCombs too, I will leave the University,” Currie said.

On the transfer requirements, Kopp said he believed there was a “misinterpretation” or “miscommunication” during those information sessions, and the computer science department could not accommodate students claiming they were unfairly misguided.

“I’m a big fan of documentation that spells [transfer requirements] out clearly,” Kopp said. “I don’t want anyone to bank on something that’s not a guarantee.”

Kopp said the minimum 2.5 GPA is the requirement to move from lower to upper division courses within the computer science major. For internal transfer into the major itself, students must be in good academic standing, as well as gain approval from the department, according to Kopp. 

Every year, students drop out of the major, leaving anywhere from 50 to 100 spots for transfer students. This year, 380 students applied for just under 100 spots.

Kopp said accepting all of those students would require doubling the size of the department, which is already struggling to provide resources for current students hoping to graduate in four years.

Computer science sophomore Zack Misso said he could not get a seat in a required operating systems course.

“I have to apply to take the honors version or else I’ll basically be a semester behind all my classmates,” Misso said.

The computer science department has nearly tripled in size in the past 15 years, with enrollment growing from 700 undergraduates in 2000 to more than 2,300 students today, according to a letter posted on the University this week from department chair Bruce Porter.

Kopp said students are welcome to reapply, but the 2014-2015 catalog will have stricter admissions criteria.

This is Kopp’s last semester at the University. He has accepted a position as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Stony Brook University beginning in August, according to the Stony Brook website.

Beyonce must have been thinking of the 20 million college students’ freshman experience when she titled her song “Sweet Dreams (Beautiful Nightmare),” since it’s safe to call that memorable first year a giant oxymoron — in which we somehow experience the most exalting of highs and the most humbling of lows at the same time. This toggling of emotions can seriously impact academics, and faculty are finally taking action. Sacha Kopp, College of Natural Sciences associate dean, is on a mission to find out why students who were at the top of their class in high school are failing once they arrive on campus.

On Feb. 26, Kopp hosted more than 60 CNS students and faculty at a Town Hall event where students shared both their toughest and most glorifying experiences at the University, depicting what challenges they faced and how they succeeded. This Town Hall event was the second-to-last installation in a series held by Kopp this semester to gather student input. Kopp insists that a unified freshman experience is becoming increasingly pivotal for collegiate success because more people are graduating from CNS than ever before and, as his introductory graph showed, at a much higher rate than students in the rest of the colleges and schools at the University. 

In response to Kopp’s four main concerns that he voiced at the Town Hall — college readiness, finding role models, feeling alone and family or cultural expectations — the wide spectrum of students in attendance recounted their personal struggles, struggles I, as a first-generation Hispanic male, can relate to. 

Often, as biology senior Ronnie Shade pointed out, minority students are burdened by acute self-awareness. “I constantly have to look at myself in someone else’s lens,” Shade said. “Am I being eloquent enough? Does this person understand me? There’s always a pressure to be at a certain standard because if not, it makes the rest of us look bad. And I use this as motivation.” 

Shade alluded to a key element of college life — actually, life in general: identity. He, along with others who spoke out that evening with equally touching stories, revisited the topic of identity as one of the main obstacles that minority students face — and for good reason. 

According to the UT’s Office of Information Management and Analysis, black students constituted a mere 4 percent of the student body in 2011, despite the fact that African-Americans make up more than 12 percent of the total Texas population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Hispanics of “any combination” were enrolled at rates less than half that of the state’s: 17 percent compared to 38 percent, respectively. 

Both Shade and I are pursuing careers in medicine; our two demographics make up about 30 percent of the national population yet account for less than 6 percent of total physicians. Given the University’s history as well as the underrepresentation of minorities in scientific disciplines, it would serve administrators well to investigate how this disparity affects student’s academically, socially and emotionally.

By sharing their experiences, they subsequently shared their innermost doubts, worries and fears that UT has brought them. The impact on the audience’s mood by talking about our struggles, in what felt like a large group therapy session, certainly was visceral, a transformation from frustration to relief. In effect, the Town Hall helped the students in attendance become supremely aware of the trials other students are facing and how similar they are to their own. 

Town Hall events increase understanding and, in turn, inclusivity. Now, even though we can’t identify with other students physically or idealistically, we can empathize and relate with the effects of our differences. It was funny to hear an echoing in testimonials from an event that focused on diversity. Practically every angle was hit, and yet the struggles sounded so similar. Perhaps diversity being an issue is a facade, and, rather, we should recognize our Universality. Town Hall meetings, and gatherings of the sort, help us arrive at this conclusion.

With that, my quest continues: to find just one other Puerto-Rican student at the University level.

Dominguez is a biology junior from San Antonio.

David Laude, the University’s senior vice provost for enrollment and graduation management, will step down from his position as director of the Joint Admission Medical Program Faculty in order to focus on increased responsibilities in the Provost’s office. 

Laude was promoted to the vice provost position from his position as interim dean of the College of Natural Sciences in fall 2012.

The Joint Admission program is designed to guarantee economically disadvantaged Texas students admission to one of the state’s schools. The program works in partnership with nine Texas medical schools, including four health institutions in the UT System.

Laude, who has directed the program’s initiatives for seven years, said he now plans to focus on his work increasing four-year graduation rates.

“I will continue to teach general chemistry for the college, but an increase in the duties of my new position require that I resign from my position,” Laude said. “[This includes work] as the ‘champion’ of four-year graduation rates.

 

Despite several initiatives from administrators to increase graduation rates, recently released data shows that four-year graduation rates actually decreased from 52.2 percent in spring 2012 to 52 percent in spring 2013. Laude’s ultimate goal is to reach a 70 percent four-year rate by 2016.

 

Sacha Kopp, associate dean for Undergraduate Education, will inherit Laude’s role as faculty director of the program. Kopp, who said he had worked with many of the program’s participants, said the new position would likely be permanent.

 

Under Laude, the program grew from less than 15 to close to 80 participants at the peak of the program at its peak.

 

Lesley Riley, director of the Health Professions Office, worked with Laude to administer the program from spring 2006 to 2013. Riley said he feels confident Kopp will continue to maintain the strong support of the program on campus.

 

“I am excited to see how Dr. Kopp will put his own ‘stamp’ on the program. Dr. Kopp is very dedicated to the undergraduate student experience,” Riley said. “I can’t imagine any one better suited to take on this role.”

 

Laude said the time he spent with the program was one of the most rewarding things he’s done as a faculty member of UT.

 

“It was a privilege being their advocate, and it is with a real sadness that I must move on,” Laude said.

 

Riley said he was unsurprised Laude is stepping down, given the new responsibilities Laude has undertaken.

 

“Dr. Laude was key to growing the program’s presence on our campus,” Riley said. “I will miss Dr. Laude’s passion for helping these students succeed.”

On March 17, Sacha Kopp, an associate dean in the College of Natural Sciences, sent out an email to all CNS students asking them to give their opinion on the creation of a new degree a Bachelor of Science and Arts (abbreviated BSA). The proposed degree would allow students to join “a core experience in math/science” with a certificate program or minor from another college. “The idea is to put together a proposal that allows students to marry a math/science discipline with something else of their choosing,” Kopp said. 

Kopp, who has led the initiative, said conversations with students inspired him to propose the new degree plan. He remembers in particular a young woman who had majored in physics and realized close to graduation that she’d rather pursue a career in industry than in academic research. She believed she lacked the necessary business skills, yet she didn’t have the time to complete both her physics-major degree plan and the courses required for a Business Foundations certificate. 

“At the same time, it wasn’t the case that every last aspect of her physics degree was vital to her career plan. Lots of aspects of physics are useful in a technology world … but maybe not all the coursework in physics is absolutely essential for a Bachelors of Science degree,” Kopp explained. 

Had the student had available the option of completing a BSA degree, however, she would have been able to earn her degree in physics by completing a core science and math “component” that consisted of 48 hours of credit in math and science determined by the physics department. The rest of her degree would consist of 30 hours of non-science core requirements, 24 hours of electives and 15-18 hours of a minor or a certificate program. Those are a lot of numbers, but they add up to one thing: more flexibility to pursue her other interests while earning her physics degree. 

Why is this proposed new degree in the College of Natural Sciences a big deal? Because if the effort succeeds, it could inspire other colleges to make their degrees (and their minors and certificate programs) less confusing and more suitable for students’ needs and desires. The proposed BSA degree would require 15-18 hours in a minor or certificate program. Right now, the definition of “minor” varies widely across the campus, with individual colleges determining what constitutes a minor. A biology minor in the College of Engineering is not the same as a biology minor in the College of Liberal Arts or a biology minor in the College of Communication. A biology minor doesn’t even exist in the College of Natural Sciences, where students are not allowed to have minors at all, although they do have a wide range of certificate programs available to them. 

To add insult to injury, because of the variation in minor requirements across UT, minors don’t even appear on transcripts. The Biological Sciences Advising Center does, however, note on its website, “If you want to take enough courses to have the equivalent of a minor (typically 12 hours, six of which are upper division), you can do that and claim to have the equivalent of a minor on your resume, but your UT transcript will ONLY state that you had a major in biology.” Great. If I take the equivalent of a Spanish major (liberal arts classes are open to all students, after all), can I claim that on my resume too?

The new BSA degree doesn’t deal specifically with the standardization of minors, but it does encourage degrees that are modular, or that have a core curriculum component, a major component and a minor component. Kopp also stated that the minors students would complete as part of a BSA degree then appear on transcripts.

Though the BSA would only be offered to students inside the College of Natural Sciences, I hope that the effort Kopp has made in proposing the degree influences other colleges to look at similar measures. Not only has Kopp put forth a great proposal, he’s also been proactive in seeking student input. He has held focus groups and encouraged the Natural Sciences Council to host a town hall on the issue (which will be held next Monday, March 25).  

Before the degree is added to the catalog, it must be approved by a University-wide curriculum council, faculty council and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. That’s plenty of levels at which to start a University-wide conversation about how we can make our degree plans less byzantine and more flexible. 

Wright is a Plan II and biology junior from San Antonio.

RTF freshman Sean Arthur looks through the telescope on the roof of the RLM during the Star Party. Star Parties are hosted every Wednesday night while school is in session as an outreach program from the Astronomy department.

Photo Credit: Trent Lesikar | Daily Texan Staff

Anybody who watched the 2009 feature film “2012” was exposed to many scientific inaccuracies about how the world may end, according to a College of Natural Sciences presentation.

Students gathered Wednesday evening for a lecture and celebration in honor of Natural Sciences Week at UT. College of Natural Sciences associate dean Sacha Kopp kicked off the night by discussing the film’s exaggeration.

Kopp said the 11-year solar cycle in which the sun goes through periods of magnetic storms and periods of quiet activity is a key reason why the world will not be destroyed in 2012. However, he did qualify that some parts of the movie were almost true.

“Yellowstone is featured in the movie as the beginning point at which the end of world will start because it’s a hotspot,” Kopp said. “In these hotspots are places where you would find things like volcanic activity, and Yellowstone is such a place.”

Yellowstone, however, hasn’t seen any active volcanoes for at least 1,000,000 years and Kopp assured students it was not a prominent concern.

“Neutrinos will not cause the end of the earth,” Kopp said. “You should not worry. You must study for your final exams.”

Kopp began his work at UT as a physicals professor in 1999 and was appointed associate dean in 2009. He handles undergraduate curriculum, creating outside research opportunities for students and advising students toward their career goals.

“Natural Sciences Week allows students to get involved and see what’s out there,” Kopp said. “I decided to use ‘2012’ because a lot of people have seen it and it’s something to talk about.”

The Natural Sciences Council organizes and hosts the annual event, inviting faculty and staff to participate in the social and informational activities throughout the week.

Fine arts freshman Ashley Miller came to the event after an astronomy class sparked her interest.

“I like how he explained it, especially for non-science majors,” Miller said.

A Star Party, held on the rooftop of the Robert Lee Moore Hall, followed the lecture. The RLM rooftop provides one of the best views of Austin and is home to the telescope.

Students such as math freshman Kyle Crop came to enjoy the liquid nitrogen ice cream and an opportunity to stargaze through the telescope.

“I’m enjoying myself,” Crop said. “It’s like a support group for nerdiness.”

The Star Party and lecture were one of many events offered to students during Natural Sciences week. On Thursday, the Natural Sciences Council will host The Look to Land a Job, and on Friday the Dean’s Scholars luncheon and a discussion titled The Importance of Funding Research will be held. 

Printed on Thursday, September 29, 2011 as: Natural Sciences Week hosts discussion, Star Party