Burlingtown County College is the institution that recently joined the Hispanic Educational Telecommunications System (HETS). This institution requested membership during the Consortium’s Board of Directors meeting, which took place at the Main Offices of the Inter American University of Puerto Rico (IAUPR) and at the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico (PUPR) this past January 15 and 16.
With the addition of this college, HETS member institutions total 19. The presidents of the institutions, or their appointed representatives, make up the HETS Board of Directors, which is currently chaired by IAUPR President Manuel J. Fernós, Esq., institution that also hosts HETS main office. Board meetings deal with the strategies regarding distance education that will be implemented each year in coordination with the affiliated institutions. This time around, when 17 of the 19 affiliated institutions were in attendance, most of the sessions targeted the topic of inter-institutional collaboration initiatives.
During the meeting, members of the Lehman College and John J. College’s faculties, in New York, as well as professors from Miami-Dade College, in Florida, were able to participate at-a-distance, through videoconference technology. These professors, along with others from the Sacred Heart University, PUPR, and IAUPR, presented to the HETS Board the four proposals that were selected to develop inter-institutional programs and services online. Three collaborative initiatives belong to the fields of cross-cultural nursing, security management, and bilingual journalism. The fourth constitutes a series of modules to support online learning. The teachers explained that many of the proposed offerings will be bilingual and will include from associate degrees and minors to continuing education certificates and programs. A total of thirteen HETS member institutions are currently involved in this project. “HETS is heading toward one of the most ambitious challenges that it has yet faced,” Consortium Executive Director Dr. Nitza Hernández stated during the meeting, “because this is the first time that several universities in the United States and Puerto Rico join to expand their online offerings in a collaborative manner. This will enlarge the inter-institutional alliances within the Consortium itself. Together they will begin creating new programs, minors, certificates and services.” Morevover, Hernández added, “A university will achieve through a collaborative group made up of several institutions that which it would not be able to do by itself”.
HETS Board members also participated in a workshop that was lead by the Great Plains Alliance (GPIDEA) of Kansas State University. The workshop addressed the most important issues and challenges as well as possible ways of solving them in order to support the development of these programs and services within institutions.
Also, the HETS Virtual Plaza project team shared with the Board its most recent achievements and lessons learned, as well as the challenges that it will be facing this coming semester in order to provide continuity to the services and programs. One of the project’s most notable achievements was the HETS Online Mentoring Program. Ms. Carmen Burtell, the Program Coordinator, indicated that more than 200 students of several HETS member institutions have benefited from the Online Mentoring Program.
Among the challenges faced by the Mentoring Program is getting more institutions involved in promoting it among faculty and students, as well as implementing some technical upgrades to the program in order to ease its use and management. “Among the lessons learned through the daily use of the Program during the semester,” Ms. Burtell explained, “one to highlight is realizing that the institution’s commitment is critical to its success, better results were achieved in those institutions where a faculty member was involved in the Program”.
HETS is the first telecommunications consortium created to serve the Hispanic community through distance education.