By Sametria’ Taylor—
In a far ranging, end-of-semester interview, Tarleton President Dominic Dottavio discussed making the transformation to a Division I university, the increasing diversity and future plans of the O-zone, his recent trip to Ethiopia and his plans for the future.
Dottavio said the notion of Tarleton becoming a DI athletic program is something that has been considered for a long time preceding his appointment as president in 2008. “I think that the prospect of becoming a Division I university is something that we have to enter into carefully, thoughtfully and at the right time and with the right conference,” he said.
Tarleton, he said, is in the process of a comprehensive review of its athletic program to apply to a Division I conference. “But before it can happen, there has to be an opening in a Division I conference,” Dottavio said.
Expressing his confidence in Tarleton’s athletic program’s ability to compete in Division I, Dottavio cited two examples of DI schools that Tarleton teams have recently beaten. Football defeated Abilene Christian University and basketball defeated Incarnate Word. “I think that’s demonstration that in the right conference, we certainly are going to be competitive with a lot of DI schools,” the president said.
Dottavio said the university is making good progress toward its goal of becoming more diverse. The number of African Americans enrolled at Tarleton has increased by 62 percent since 2009. The number of Hispanics enrolled has increased 102 percent since 2009. By comparison, the size of the freshman class has increased by 48 percent over the same time. Dottavio also said that the university has students across 25 countries and 46 states. “Having international representation really strengthens the understanding of the people here on campus and certainly promotes diversity as a powerful tool for learning,” he said.
Dottavio said a future plan for Tarleton is starting an “English as a Second Language” program through the Language Company, TLC. In the Barry B. Thompson Student Center lower level where the O-zone was located, renovation is taking place to provide space for the program. TLC’s role will be to assist international students who are interested in attending universities in the United States as well as assisting them in language skills and preparing them for tests required to qualify to attend a university in the U.S. Dottavio hopes that having a program like this on campus will assist in making Tarleton a more welcoming place for international students. He also hopes it will help more students find out about Tarleton as they go through the program and possibly to become Tarleton students. He predicts that construction should finish this summer and the Language Company will move in and begin operations in the fall.
Dottavio also lauded Nikki Jackson from Tarleton’s Texas Institute for Applied Environmental Research (TIAER) and their work with universities in Ethiopia. Her work paved the way for his trip to Ethiopia in February. While he was there, Dottavio, with the presidents of the universities of Ethiopia, signed an agreement to pass the building of a facility for their researchers and their professors to develop appropriate techniques for monitoring water quality in the different regions of the country. The presidents who participated in the ceremony each represented a different region of the country. Dottavio described his experience as a “very enlightening trip.”
Dottavio’s plans for Tarleton include a new agriculture building to replace the Autry building, which was constructed in 1951, to keep up with modern agricultural program requirements. This would include expanding Tarleton’s footprint in Fort Worth. “We are the only public undergraduate university in the Fort Worth city limits,” he said.
News organizations in Ohio recently reported that Dottavio was a candidate for the president of Akron University. After the news broke, Dottavio sent an email to students, faculty and staff at Tarleton saying he has no plans to leave. By his own estimation, Dottavio says he still has a way to go. “I wouldn’t say I have a bucket list because that implies there’s some checklist and then I’m finished,” he said.