UHV hires new director to focus on student retention

Mara Cooper

The University of Houston-Victoria recently hired Mara Cooper to help students succeed and make progress toward completing their college degrees.

As director of student success, Cooper will be responsible for increasing the retention of freshmen and sophomores, as well as overseeing academic tutoring, testing, supplemental instruction and career services at the university.

Phil Castille

“This is an important time in UHV’s development as a destination university as we place increasing emphasis on retaining the students we recruit as freshmen,” UHV President Phil Castille said. “Ms. Cooper’s student-success experience at large institutions in Miami and Houston will be a big asset to UHV as we add more academic support services for our students.”

Denee Thomas, senior director of enrollment management and retention, is excited to have Cooper join the student affairs team.

“Ms. Cooper’s experience will allow us to combine the efforts of our faculty in the classroom, UHV’s academic support programs and our student life offerings,” she said. “This will lead to a positive impact on student engagement, retention and graduation rates.”

Denee Thomas

Cooper said that student success has many components that affect whether students will continue toward completing a bachelor’s degree. These include advising, financial aid, tutoring, mentoring, residential housing, student engagement, and career and personal counseling.

“I have worked with a lot of freshmen and sophomores who are first-generation college students like many UHV students,” she said. “Sometimes they can’t see the big picture to get to graduation. So our first step to student success is making sure students understand their long-term goals, then getting them the resources they need.”

Cooper has nearly 30 years of higher education experience. She began her higher education career working for the Southeast Florida Literacy Network at Miami-Dade College in Miami. After spending time as a kindergarten teacher and grant writer, she returned to higher education as director of academic development center at the University of Miami.

Since 2002, she has been director of student life, ombudsman and adjunct psychology instructor at the College of the Mainland in Texas City. Her first day at UHV will be Aug. 26.

She earned an associate degree from Miami Dade College, as well as a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and Master of Science in Adult Education from Florida International University in Miami. She is working on a doctorate in educational leadership at Lamar University in Beaumont.

Cooper, originally from Miami, calls herself an education brat because so many of her family members have careers in higher education, including her father, a college dean. She said her family and college experiences helped shape her future. Cooper also has experience as a college athlete and received scholarships for volleyball and softball while earning her bachelor’s degree.

“At the time, my priorities were more on sports than academics,” she said. “I made all the mistakes that students can make in college, but my experiences have been beneficial as I try to help students succeed.”

Cooper said she looks forward to being part of UHV’s growth as a destination university.

“I’m excited to support UHV’s vision,” she said. “I want to help out wherever I can and think that my experience with diverse populations will come in handy as we continue to transition the freshmen and sophomores into becoming upperclassmen.”

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.

Katy Walterscheidt 361-570-4342