• August 24, 2019

Spurlock seeks improved outcomes for first-generation students - Odessa American: Education

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Spurlock seeks improved outcomes for first-generation students

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Posted: Thursday, August 8, 2019 5:25 pm

Becky Spurlock knows higher education is not a given in all American households and she relates well to those who find college to be unfamiliar territory.

She is a first-generation college graduate who believes defying data trends that show students from low-income backgrounds, with little family support and limited college readiness are more likely to drop out of college before the end of their freshman year takes a combination of small and large acts of kindness from others to help them cross the stage.

The University of Texas of the Permian Basin named Spurlock as its new vice president for student development and leadership and she plans on identifying and eliminating barriers to student success by focusing on key areas for impactful programming.

“The division I get to work with provides so many essential functions in the lives of students like housing, recreation, counseling services and veteran services,” she said. “I hope by working with those departments we can grow our services and support students, but I think the bigger strategic vision in my position is really looking at three areas and how they might intersect to impact the overall student experience: career development, leadership and student engagement.”

Spurlock grew up on the Bergstrom Air Force base in Austin before it was transformed into Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. She considers Central Texas home having also lived in Lockhart, San Marcos and San Antonio.

She has more than 20 years of experience in student affairs, with duties that have included residence life, academic advising, career services, Greek life, the first-year experience, conduct and Title IX.

The mother of two most recently held the title of associate vice president and senior associate dean of student life at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., and moved to West Texas this summer with her husband, mother, 15-year-old daughter, 11-year-old son, Weimaraner, and Beagle-Dachshund mix.

When the opportunity to join UTPB arose, she said she did a double take.

“I saw a lot of jobs come across my desk and they tended to look pretty similar, but this job looked a little bit different, enough so that it really gave me pause and really caught my eye,” Spurlock said.

She found herself most connecting with the mission and the regional students served by the institution.

“I made a deliberate choice that I wanted to spend my time working at an institution that is serving a high number of first-generation students, a high number of federal Pell Grant eligible students and students for whom education isn’t a given, but has the power to not only transform their lives but their whole family,” Spurlock said.

While some may hold the notion that a bachelor's degree is now standard or the equivalent of a high school diploma in today’s job market, Spurlock says access to that education has not kept pace.

Kelly Carper Polden, spokeswoman for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, said in an email that educational attainment for the Odessa population lags behind the state.

In a 2017 American Community Survey, data collected showed about 15 percent of adults in Odessa earned a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to about 27 percent of adults in Texas, Polden’s email detailed.

The new UTPB hire hopes to learn more about what resources are needed for West Texas students to not only get them past barriers of access, but help them complete a degree program.

“It changes how they think about the world and their commitment to public service,” Spurlock said, “but a lot of campuses spend a lot of resources and energy figuring out how to get students there without really considering whether the campus was ready for those students, whether the support was ready for those students to help them graduate. I think here at UTPB we’re working on both.”

Spurlock will also lead the John Ben Shepperd Public Leadership Institute, which aims to develop well-rounded leaders dedicated to public service and resolving community concerns.

She said leadership programs have had a profound influence on her career trajectory.

The freshman leadership program she joined while attending Texas State University connected her to more resources on the campus and provided guidance from a variety of mentors about navigating the higher educational landscape.

“That program just began to change my life,” she said. “Luckily, I landed at an institution that was prepared and looking for first-generation students and putting those programs in place.”

Spurlock is still getting her feet wet in her new position, but aspires to provide services to UTPB students that will foster personal growth and development that they will carry with them throughout their lifetime.

Odessa, TX

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