SFA University

February 26, 2021 - The Music Preparatory Division of the Stephen F. Austin State University School of Music will celebrate its 40th anniversary with an all-day music festival on Saturday, May 1, at the Music Prep House, located at 3028 Raguet St.

The outdoor event will feature the talents of Music Prep’s outstanding student musicians and give local merchants the opportunity to showcase their businesses while showing support for the School of Music’s outreach program, according to Alba Madrid, Music Prep director and program instructor.

“This family-friendly outdoor music festival is the perfect way to end our school year, and it is a fitting tribute to 40 years of making music,” Madrid said. “This music festival will be a socially distanced event allowing music lovers to enjoy exceptional music, exhibition booths, food vendors and the great outdoors.”

Since 1980, the Music Prep faculty has worked to create a fun and rewarding environment for children and adults of Nacogdoches County and surrounding communities to pursue their musical endeavors, Madrid explained. The program’s mission is to provide an accessible and inclusive community center for music education that fosters the creative growth of individuals, inspires passion and creativity, and promotes excellence and well-being in the Nacogdoches area.

“Throughout the years, the Music Preparatory Division has had many apprentices who went on to enjoy successful music careers,” Madrid said. “With this music festival, we will celebrate the accomplishments of our current students by sharing their performances with the community. Our program will begin with our youngest artists in Kindermusik and Suzuki programs. Students taking private lessons will be featured in solo performances in various instruments. We will close with a compelling performance by the Piney Woods Youth Symphony Orchestra.”

Local merchants can be a part of the celebration by showcasing their businesses at booth spaces that will line the grounds of the Music Prep Building and/or by donating door prizes to be given away during the festival. Event sponsorships are also available, and local food trucks will be onsite.

“This will be our first live performances post-COVID, and we want the entire community to be involved,” Madrid said. “Your participation and sponsorships will help to fund future projects and support our students through scholarships.”

The event is from 9am to 6pm May 1. Deadline to register for event booth space is April 1. For more information about sponsorships, or to register for a booth, contact Madrid at (936) 468-1291 or musicprep@sfasu.edu. For more information about Music Prep, visit sfamusicprep.com.

The Music Preparatory Division of the Stephen F. Austin State University School of Music will celebrate 40 years of service to the Nacogdoches area with an all-day outdoor music festival Saturday, May 1, on the Music Prep House grounds at 3028 Raguet St. The event will include student performances, exhibition booths and food vendors.

February 24, 2021 - Stephen F. Austin State University visitors, students and their families now have centralized access to key student services through the university’s new Axe Handle one-stop shop, a virtual assistance center, and its recently launched 24-hour chatbot, Jack.

Both the Axe Handle and the chatbot it oversees will assist with matters related to SFA’s Office of the Registrar, Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships, Business Office, Student Success Center and Residence Life. All calls made to these offices will be automatically redirected to the Axe Handle.

The virtual assistance center will operate during SFA’s normal business hours; however, the chatbot, Jack, will be available 24 hours on desktop and phone browsers.

“The benefit and purpose of calling the Axe Handle is to offer current and prospective students comprehensive and thorough service for all five offices in one phone call,” said Alex Reisinger, SFA’s Axe Handle director. “In the past, students would have to call multiple offices to receive answers to questions that spanned beyond the scope of one office. Now, even if someone calls with one question, Axe Handle team members are trained to review the file for any potential issues within our other offices, reducing the number of calls a student must make.”

The Axe Handle functions on a tiered system, and its staff members are able to provide answers to 70% of the calls received. Student employees who have undergone training with all affiliated offices serve as the first tier, which encompasses basic questions, as well as a few slightly elevated issues. More complex questions are elevated to tier two and handled directly by Reisinger.

Calls that make it to tier three are transferred to affiliated offices, which currently receive approximately 30% of Axe Handle calls due to either their complex nature or a process that is maintained solely within the affiliated office.

“The Axe Handle one-stop shop and its chatbot, Jack, allow us to build a culture of holistic student services,” said Erma Brecht, SFA’s executive director of enrollment management. “The Axe Handle will be able to serve as a front-line service for multiple offices, allowing those offices to restructure operations to be more efficient and impactful in serving students.

“For example, in January 2021, Axe Handle staff members responded to 5,812 phone calls and were able to answer and resolve more than 65% of them,” she added. “That means staff members in campus offices had 3,793 less calls to address, gaining them back 404 hours that would have been spent on the phone.”

The chatbot, which launched this month, also will help in reducing not only the time employees spend answering calls but also the time current or prospective students must spend making calls to multiple campus offices.

“The chatbot is able to answer specific questions related to our five affiliated offices plus the Barnes & Noble Bookstore, ITS Help Desk and the Office of Admissions,” Reisinger said. “We plan to add a live chat function in the near future so if Jack is unable to answer a question, the caller will be prompted to chat live with a waiting Axe Handle student employee.”

Plans for the creation of a one-stop shop have been in the works for approximately four years but shifted alongside evolving state and institutional budgets.

“The original plan was to house a one-stop welcome center in Kennedy Auditorium; however, construction projects and budget changes altered the plans, shifting the one-stop shop toward a virtual offering,” said Brecht. “The Axe Handle is designed to train front-line student workers on tier one questions for key student service offices. This helps minimize the occurrence of students being ping-ponged from office to office and helps provide timely and effective service.”

The Axe Handle opened through a soft launch in August 2020 and, using historical data, chose to begin by assisting only financial aid queries. Axe Handle employees spent more than 458 hours on the phone during that month answering calls for just one office.

“The Axe Handle has allowed our staff members to concentrate on processing applications so aid can be awarded more quickly,” said Rachele Garrett, SFA’s director of financial aid and scholarships. “With COVID-19 affecting the lives of so many of our students and their families, the decrease in general phone calls also allowed our staff members to work one on one with students whose financial situations have changed drastically since they completed the FAFSA, which often meant they could receive additional aid.”

All SFA offices serviced through the Axe Handle have noted this same drastic decrease in call volumes.

“The phone traffic has substantially diminished and freed us up to work on projects like scheduling and graduation checkout, which can be time consuming,” said Lynda Langham, SFA’s registrar. “Axe Handle employees do a fabulous job of assisting our students with the majority of their questions about services across campus. We really appreciate their can-do attitude and hard work!”

Plans are already in place to continue expanding Axe Handle services, including the eventual creation of a front counter, holistic student service appointments, and additional chat functionalities that would allow students to log in to the chatbot through mySFA to receive account-specific answers.

“The ultimate phase will be to incorporate a face-to-face location that will be able to serve students (and their families) in a personal manner,” Brecht said. “We’re thrilled that the Axe Handle is already benefiting new and continuing students as well as our whole campus community.”

Stephen F. Austin State University recently opened the virtual Axe Handle one-stop shop and launched an affiliated chatbot, Jack, on the main university website. Alex Reisinger, the Axe Handle director, said both will allow SFA to offer current and prospective students comprehensive and thorough service for five student service-related offices on campus. 

February 11, 2021 - Kasey Jobe will represent Stephen F. Austin State University at the 2021 Texas Undergraduate Research Day held virtually at the state Capitol Feb. 23 and 24.

Jobe, pursuing a Bachelor of Science in biology with a minor in forestry, worked with Dr. Christopher Schalk, assistant professor of forest wildlife management at SFA’s Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture, to investigate how installation methods affect snake entanglement in erosion control blankets.

His work is one of only 100 research projects from across the state selected to participate.

“Erosion control blankets are installed at construction sites to mitigate against soil loss and promote plant growth,” Jobe said.

Previous research conducted by Jobe found that particular types of erosion control blankets — small‐diameter polypropylene mesh with fixed intersections and multiple-layers — are more likely to cause wildlife entanglement, especially among snakes.

With this knowledge, Jobe and his collaborators moved forward to determine if the installation method of these blankets could reduce instances of entanglement and subsequent mortality.

They found that burying the edges of the installed erosion control blankets led to a significant decline in snake entanglement.

“No snakes became entangled in the buried edge treatment, supporting our hypothesis that modifying the installation technique for erosion control blankets is effective at reducing behavior that leads to entanglement,” Jobe said. “An exposed edge increased the number of attempts, which is a precursor to entanglement.”

Jobe is a co-author on three peer-reviewed scientific papers focused on snake entanglement research conducted at SFA.

“Involving undergraduates in research is a rewarding process, as they are involved in every step in the scientific method and experience the challenges of designing and addressing questions in science,” Schalk said. “It also allows students to see that we as faculty members do not have the answers ahead of time, but we are interpreting these results together.”

Funding for this project was provided by the Texas Department of Transportation, the state agency responsible for numerous large and complex transportation projects that require the use of erosion control mats. The research findings were presented to the agency.

Texas Undergraduate Research Day, coordinated by the Council of Public University Presidents and Chancellors and the Independent Colleges and Universities of Texas, Inc., showcases the experiences of undergraduate students engaged in research that positively impacts Texas and Texans.

Jobe’s work will be showcased for Texas legislators and the public through high-quality virtual poster presentations available at cpupc.org/ugrd/.

Biology student Kasey Jobe will represent Stephen F. Austin State University at the 2021 Texas Undergraduate Research Day held virtually at the state Capitol Feb. 23 and 24. His work is one of only 100 research projects from across the state selected to participate and focuses on how installation methods affect snake entanglement in erosion control blankets commonly used in transportation and construction projects.

February 4, 2021 — Celebrations honoring Black History Month, held annually each February, may be especially poignant this year as Americans continue to process the racial unrest that escalated throughout 2020. Staff members in Stephen F. Austin State University’s Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) hope to unpack some of those events as they discuss Black history and culture during the annual Black History Month Celebration.

“The events that occurred this past year will definitely carry weight during our program as we seek to inform students who may not fully understand their significance,” said DaQuan Allen, OMA student ambassador. “Our speakers will give their unique perspectives on Black History and how we have overcome adversity on campus, in the community and in the country, allowing others to gain a more knowledgeable understanding of the weight of these movements and provide ways to get involved.”

Three guest speakers will present during the celebration, including SFA alumnus Dennis Hagan, SFA student leader Gabrielle Harris and Nacogdoches community member G.W. Neal.

“This year’s Black History Month program is titled ‘From Lemons to Lemonade’ and is aimed at highlighting the perseverance the Black community has displayed throughout history,” said Lauren Roach, OMA student ambassador. “We believe it is important that OMA honors Black History Month because of the significant contributions that Black/African-American people have provided not only to America but to the world. We would like to give Black History Month the recognition it deserves by honoring the historical figures of the past and highlighting the leaders of today.”

The program also will include various performing arts, such as singing, dancing and poetry.

“Participants should expect to have a great time enjoying the display of African-American history and gain insight on how this history continues to remain impactful and inspirational for the present and future,” Roach added.

The Black History Month program begins at 6pm on February 23 in the Baker Pattillo Student Center Grand Ballroom on the SFA campus as well as virtually via Zoom.

There is no entry fee. Seating is limited for in-person attendance, and the event dress code is business casual. Masks and physical distancing also will be enforced.

The deadline to register for either the in-person or Zoom event is February 19.

For information or to register, visit sfasu.edu/oma.

January 22, 2021 - The Stephen F. Austin State University Office of Multicultural Affairs’ seventh annual Diversity Conference will examine diversity, equity and inclusion in the years ahead with the theme “Diversity in the New Decade: Defining the New Normal.”

“As our institution and community continue to embrace diversity and create an inclusive environment, it is important for us to focus on what diversity will look like in the new decade,” said Jalon Berry, OMA assistant director.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s conference will be held via Zoom. Through the virtual conference, the OMA aims to spread diversity and inclusion on the SFA campus and within the Nacogdoches community by inviting speakers to present diversity-related information and experiences to conference attendees.

“With recent events, the world as we have known it has changed, and we have to adapt,” Berry said. “As a result, we want to ensure that all conference attendees are able to take away vital information and tips that will assist with their intentionality to embrace diversity, be equitable and promote inclusiveness.”

This year’s luncheon keynote speaker is Dr. Griselda Flores, director for Student Life at Harford Community College. The closing keynote speaker is Nicanor “Nick” Pesina Jr., JD, SFA alumnus and trial attorney with Roberts and Roberts in Tyler.

Throughout the day, presenters will host 15 sessions, including the following, on Zoom:

  • Why Diversity Matters in College: COVID Edition
  • New Faculty Spotlight: Equity and Social Justice in SFA’s Department of Education Studies
  • Learning from HSI Success Stories: Opportunities for Implementation at SFA
  • A Closer Look at Mental Health Resources for Students at SFA
  • Effective Solutions for Student Wellness

The seventh annual Diversity Conference will be held from 9am to 4pm Friday, Feb. 12. It is free and open to the public. To register to attend via Zoom, visit sfasu.edu/oma.

For more information, contact OMA at oma@sfasu.edu or (936) 468-1073.

January 14, 2021 - Spring semester ticket sales for Stephen F. Austin State University’s student-run Culinary Café and Lumberjack Express mobile food lab will open at 8am Friday, Jan.15, with service on Tuesdays and Thursdays beginning Feb. 16.

Patrons must follow the COVID-19 drive-thru and walk-up procedures. Physical distancing will be required, and seating is limited on the Education Annex building’s patio.

For pickup orders, a server will ask you to verify your name and order quantity. If you’re picking up meals for other reservation holders, have all names available. Your meal will include bottled water and utensils.

The Culinary Café, a fine-dining restaurant, will be open from noon to 1pm. Drive-thru meals can be picked up in the Education Annex building’s drive-thru portico located at 1620 Raguet St. For walk-up service, pick up your meals at the purple tent in front of the Education Annex’s north entrance.

Lumberjack Express, a quick-service food truck, will be open from 11am to 12:30pm. Pick up orders at the Lumberjack Express by Education Annex Parking Lot No. 15 on campus. Reservations are highly recommended, but walk-up orders can be purchased with credit card only. Each meal is $8, and only 60 meals will be sold.

Despite COVID-19’s effects on the restaurant business, hospitality administration students working in the Culinary Café and Lumberjack Express were able to prepare delicious meals while gaining hands-on experience during the fall semester because of the support from the Nacogdoches and SFA communities.

“We couldn’t have made it through the fall without their help,” said Dr. Chay Runnels, professor of hospitality administration and interim director of SFA’s School of Human Sciences. “Their support helped our students gain real-world experience and achieve numbers comparable to those we saw before the pandemic hit even with our scaled-back schedules.”

Culinary Café served 762 meals in the fall despite a reduced campus population and one less week of service. The café usually serves around 925 meals a semester. Lumberjack Express served 713 meals during the fall, including two private events. The mobile food lab usually serves around 750 meals each semester.

Construction on the future location of Culinary Café at 1401 Mound St., previously the home of former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, also continues this semester. The $1.5 million renovation will preserve the 1920 home’s historic nature and add a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen and prep area to give students experience working in a more realistic fine-dining restaurant setting.

The first phase of construction for the kitchen and prep area is scheduled to be complete by early spring.

View menus and purchase tickets at sfasu.edu/culinary café and sfasu.edu/lumberjackexpress. For more information, call (936) 468-4502. To learn more about SFA’s hospitality administration program, visit sfasu.edu/hospitality.

Spring semester ticket sales for Stephen F. Austin State University’s student-run Culinary Café and Lumberjack Express mobile food lab open at 8am Friday, Jan.15, with service on Tuesdays and Thursdays beginning Feb. 16.

January 11, 2021 - Classes at Stephen F. Austin State University will resume and offices will reopen at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 12. The SFA Charter School and Early Childhood Laboratory also will open at 11 a.m. 

According to Dr. Scott Gordon, SFA president, the decision to cancel early morning classes was made with the safety of faculty, staff members and students in mind.

“A later opening should allow time for temperatures to rise above freezing and melt any ice on the roadways,” he said.

The university asks that faculty, staff and students exercise extreme caution if traveling overnight or early in the morning. The National Weather Service is forecasting widespread freezing fog that will cover the roadways with a layer of ice, and roads that are still wet will freeze during the overnight hours. Temperatures will drop to the mid-20s and not reach above freezing until approximately 9 a.m Tuesday.

SFA’s Physical Plant has applied gravel to the bridges on campus, and high-traffic walkways and building entrances have been treated with ice-melting substances to assist in keeping the campus safe.

For more information, contact the University Police Department at (936) 468-2608. 

Stephen F. Austin State University students enjoy the wintry weather conditions on campus Sunday, Jan. 10. Classes for Monday have been canceled.

January 10, 2021 — Due to the snowfall in the East Texas area and expectations for continued freezing temperatures, Stephen F. Austin State University classes and all campus activities scheduled for Monday, Jan. 11, have been canceled. SFA’s Early Childhood Laboratory and Charter School also will be closed.

The SFA administration and University Police Department will continue to closely monitor weather conditions that will impact East Texas, according to Dr. Scott Gordon, SFA president. Additional weather-related announcements will be posted on the SFA website and Facebook page.

Current SFA students, faculty and staff were notified of the closure via Jack Alert, the university’s emergency messaging system.

All essential SFA staff members, including UPD officers, are to report for duty as scheduled.

For more information, visit www.sfasu.edu.

January 8, 2021 - In its continued efforts to seek new avenues for reducing barriers to higher education, Stephen F. Austin State University has unveiled a new program aimed at recognizing high-achieving SFA undergraduates by fast tracking them into a graduate program of their choice.

Created through the Office of Research and Graduate Studies, Axe-celerated Admission allows faculty members to nominate standout students once a year in the spring for VIP admission into a graduate program of their choice at SFA.

“The program is meant to encourage great SFA undergraduate students to continue their advanced education by enrolling in a graduate program at SFA,” said Dr. Pauline M. Sampson, dean of the SFA Office of Research and Graduate Studies. “The program will benefit students by easing their application process and allow them to register earlier. It also will recognize students for their outstanding work as the nomination alone is a prestigious acknowledgment.”

Nomination allows students to bypass proof of a bachelor’s degree as well as offers 

  • early admission to an SFA graduate program of their choice
  • early registration
  • and reduction of the required three letters of recommendation to just one, written by the nominator.

The inaugural nomination period will open Feb. 1 and close March 1.

“We want to let students know about their nomination and acceptance prior to spring break each year so they have more time to best prepare for entry into a graduate program,” Sampson said. “We are excited to recognize our great undergraduate students and encourage them to continue their outstanding work for a master’s degree with professors who already know them.”

As of now, there are no limits to the number of students a faculty member can recommend. Coordinators will assess initial reception and use of the program and will consider implementation of a limit in the future.

For more information, visit the Axe-celerated Admission website at sfasu.edu/axe-celerated.

January 4, 2021 - Stephen F. Austin State University has named a new vice president for student affairs.

Dr. Brandon Frye, who currently serves as associate vice president for academic engagement and student affairs at the University of West Florida, will join the SFA staff on Feb. 4 and will lead the student affairs division, which comprises student programs and services, including housing, student engagement, counseling and wellness.

After conducting a national search for the position­­, Dr. Scott Gordon, SFA president, said Frye’s 20 years of student affairs experience will be essential in advancing SFA’s mission and supporting student engagement, health, wellness and retention.

“Dr. Frye will serve as an advocate for students,” Gordon said. “He will be charged with developing and facilitating high-quality programs and services and effective business practices that support student learning and post-college success.”

Frye will provide direct leadership for departments across campus that are designed to attract potential students, enhance student development, promote retention and enrich the educational experience for all students.

The hire comes at a pivotal moment in SFA’s history, Gordon said, as the university prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary while strategically managing the currently disruptive higher education environment.

 “The work ahead will require a strategic framework for student success and community engagement that provides a fully integrated student experience,” Gordon said. “We look forward to collaborating with Dr. Frye and the student affairs team in providing transformational experiences that support, engage and empower students to succeed.”

At the University of West Florida, Frye also serves as dean of students and deputy Title IX coordinator and manages a $14.5 million budget. In 2019, he played an executive-level role in developing UWF’s Division of Academic Engagement and Student Affairs and also provided leadership for $2.1 million in construction and enhancement projects for the University Commons facility.

Frye provided leadership in developing and implementing the university’s COVID-19 response and return-to-campus plan for students. Additionally, he serves as an affiliate instructor for the Master of Education program in College Student Affairs Administration. 

Previously, Frye provided institutional leadership in areas including student development, crisis response, diversity programming and student conduct at Auburn University from 2010 through 2013 and aided in student success and engagement efforts while working in student conduct and fraternity and sorority life programs at the University of Georgia from 2001 until 2010.

In addition to serving as vice president of the board of directors for Pike University, the leadership and educational curriculum foundation for the Pi Kappa Alpha international fraternity, Frye is the university delegate for the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators.

Frye said he was drawn to SFA because of its strategic plan and focus on creating transformational student experiences.

“I am excited about joining the Stephen F. Austin team, and I look forward to working collaboratively with faculty, staff, students, and community stakeholders to enhance student development, engagement, well-being, belonging, success, and post-college employment,” he said. “Dr. Gordon’s values, passion, and commitment to student success aligned well with my educational philosophy and vision for student affairs.” 

Frye received his doctorate in student affairs administration from the University of Georgia, as well as a master’s degree in student development and a bachelor’s degree in history and secondary education from Appalachian State University. He participated in an educational management symposium at Harvard University in 2019.

Frye will replace Dr. Steve Westbrook, who retired from SFA in December 2020.