Staff, faculty guide students through first week of classes

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Employees cite ACES difficulties, missed deadlines and registration hurdles as biggest problems.

By: Ranger Staff

From uncooperative technology to understaffed offices, employees at this college faced numerous challenges surviving the first week of school.

As they assisted students Friday, staff and faculty offered several tips for starting a smooth semester.

They suggested Alamo Colleges adopt a more user-friendly registration process and continue fine-tuning ACES, the district’s online system. Meanwhile, students should submit applications early, keep close tabs on their registration status and always check their student email— when it is available, that is.

Most staff and faculty expressed frustration with ACES, whose recent upgrade caused it to be down, slow or just confusing.

“ACES was a major problem,” said Cynthia Escatel, student success generalist in the mortuary science department. “Students were not able to check ACES for last-minute changes for classes, if any. A lot of students really rely on ACES. … Due to the upgrade, they were unable to log in.”

Michelle Gable, assistant bursar, said this semester was like any other, as students peppered the business office with questions about tuition costs, payment schedules and, especially, financial aid.

“Financial aid recalculation after a student has added or dropped a class is always an issue,” Gable said. “My advice to students is be aware of your current student account status and make sure everything matches with what you have on record.”

Mario Gonzalez, a certified adviser in the veterans affairs office, encourages students to apply early in April to receive VA benefits for the fall. Those who failed to do so were flocking to his office as this semester began.

“We’ve had around 115 students come in here every day this week,” Gonzalez said Friday.

English Professor Alexander V. Bernal noted some students lack their own computers or printers to complete their assignments. He said one challenge is providing sufficient access to technology on campus.

Bernal, who once printed an assignment for a student, said they should not be afraid to ask faculty members for help, Bernal said. After all, teachers were once students, too.

“We all start the same way,” Bernal said. “We learn something every day.”

Many students need to learn the deadlines for college enrollment, said Abigail Ozuna, registration specialist at the new Tino and Millie Duran Welcome Center. She said the center’s staff had to turn away some prospective students because they had missed deadlines for registration, financial aid and payment.

The center offers “one-on-one” assistance, Ozuna said, to streamline the registration process.

Such streamlining is much needed, said staff members in the office of student life in Loftin Student Center.

Other departments often misdirect students to their office to lift registration holds or handle issues beyond the capabilities of student life staff, said Mary Schlabig, administrative services specialist.

Her colleague, senior student success specialist Carrie Hernandez, proposed the college host a “one-stop shop for registration and orientation” in one central location over consecutive days.

That one-stop shop should peddle the benefits of testing and assessment, said Susana Herrera, senior student success specialist in the assessment center.

Located in Fletcher Administration Center, the assessment center assists students with testing out of remedial math, reading and writing courses. But students are often unaware of those options, she said.

This college is the only campus in the Alamo Colleges that allows walk-ins for Accuplacer testing, Herrera said.

She advised students to “check with the different departments to see what you can test out of.”

Also, getting directions before hitting campus can save time and reduce stress.

Esmeralda Nandin, director of student success, said she escorted some lost students from Chance Academic Center to their rightful destinations.

“I actually had to walk some of the students who had no idea where they were going,” she said.

Students who found the cafeteria were surprised by a pricier menu. This college’s new food vendor is Lancer Hospitality, cashier Martha Marquez said. Students were polite but “complaining about food prices,” she said.

In Longwith Radio, Television and Film Building, academic unit assistant Judy Kabo assisted her share of students with ACES-related problems, such as adding or dropping courses and trouble accessing class material.

“The system and process are getting easier and better each semester, but we still have some issues,” she said.

A couple of students did not realize their classes had been canceled, but they had failed to check their emails, she said.

“Students are too comfortable using their regular email, and they need to get used to using their school email,” Kabo said, adding that students also should update their personal information on ACES.

In McAllister Fine Arts Center, stage tech Daniel Mitchell worked on the set of “Servant of Two Masters,” the theater program’s first production of the season.

He gave the semester a good review so far, with the exception of parking issues and the hiccups in ACES.

English work-study David Puente encouraged students to take advantage of on-campus resources.

“The writing center is there for them,” he said. “It affects them, not us, if they choose not to take advantage.”

Michelle Contreras, administrative assistant for the Law Enforcement Training Academy, reminded her students they must first create a profile through the continuing education training network and then log in to ACES through their student profile.

For Raven Duron, leasing manager at Tobin Lofts, the main challenges are no-shows and roommate conflicts, but the building has completed all move-ins, she said. About 50 percent of Tobin’s renters are students at this college.

“We’ve got to keep the boat sailing until next semester,” she said.

The boat needs more hands on deck, said several college employees. Short-staffed offices work extra hard to serve students, they said.

“It would be nice for a full staff,” said library assistant Leticia Alvarado. “You can’t provide good service if you’re understaffed. But for the crew we have, we do an outstanding job.”

Astronomy and physics Professor Alfred Alaniz described a familiar challenge at the beginning of each semester.

“Physics students are not mathematically prepared even though they passed the prerequisite mathematic courses,” he said.

Geraldo R. Guerra, academic program coordinator in the SLAC lab, also bemoaned technology problems at semester’s start, citing the sluggish ACES and even malfunctioning printers.

“Employees are prepared,” Guerra said. “The technology is not.”


Contributing to this story were E. David Guel, Courtney R. Kaiser, Gabriela Rodriguez, Evelyn Reyes, Cassi Armstrong, Tress-Marie Landa, Ryan A. Flournoy, Maritza Ramirez, Michael Reyna, Ivàn Valdez Morales, V.G. Garlisi and Hannah Norman.


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