Irma Becerra has shaken many hands since being named the seventh president of Marymount University in Arlington following Matthew Shank, and she wants to continue shaking hands with the students right through graduation.
“I feel personally responsible for every student I meet at Marymount,” she said. “I want to see them cross the stage, shaking my hand and receiving their diploma.”
Becerra is a Cuban-born American. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Miami and became the first woman to earn a doctorate in engineering from Florida International University in Miami. She then worked as a professor there and later led the school’s Entrepreneurship Center.
Beginning her tenure July 1, Becerra has hit the ground running. A strategic plan, which she hopes to complete by March 2019, focuses on four anchors enrollment growth; improving retention and graduation rates; ensuring a culture of excellent service to the students; and expanding the financial resources for the university.
Each member of the board of trustees will focus on a key area, and the university will be trying many things quickly to figure out what works, said Becerra.
“In my prior positions, I have been very focused on improving graduation and retention rates because I firmly believe in being student centric and focusing on the success of the students,” she said.
In addition to enrollment growth, Becerra will concentrate on growing the small dual enrollment program. “We are meeting to see what steps (we need) to take it to scale,” she said. “It is an important program not only for Marymount, but it allows the students to build their own confidence by taking college level courses while they are still in high school.”
Her goal is to structure the program in a way that saves students an entire year of work toward their bachelor’s degree. “I want to provide a mechanism where parents can see the value of a Catholic education, not only from the spiritual formation aspect but also that we are committed to graduate students in less than four years,” said Becerra. “This will enable them to go to graduate school and save time and money, or go into the workforce and start gaining experience.”
While at St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens, Fla., Becerra created the Catholic Education Contiuum, a partnership that allows students at local Catholic high schools to enroll and earn college credit through their high school courses. “We understand how we can help the Catholic high schools and help serve their needs by increasing the number of college prep classes that students are taking while in high school,” she said.
As Marymount increases dual enrollment, it also will increase faculty. “All the faculty that are teaching dual enrollment are our faculty,” said Becerra.
Students at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington participate in both the dual enrollment and dual credits offered at Marymount. Students in the dual enrollment program take classes at Marymount, while those who are in the dual credit program take classes at their high school.
Sister, Servant of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catherine Hill, said the high school wanted to make the partnership with Marymount, a program that has been in place since 2012. “It’s Catholic and the academic component for students was good,” she said. “I love the dual credit. It is exceptionally good for high school kids because they dont have to interrupt the day.
O’Connell students take classes in French, Spanish and statistics for dual credit. The class sizes for dual credit range from year to year. “It’s a worthwhile program and students get a Marymount transcript, which is transferable to another university, said Sister Hill.”
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