Office of General Education Peer Academic Leaders Student Academic Engagement & Success

The Office of General Education celebrates their November PAL of the month

As the Peer Academic Leaders (PALs) wrap up their Fall 2023 programming, the Office of General Education is excited to announce their PAL of the month for November 2023. Meet Bonita Davis.

Bonita is a current Sophomore at SMU, who is double majoring in Computer Science and Data Science. Along with her demanding course load, Bonita is also involved in other student organizations on campus and even serves as a Rotunda Scholar Peer Counselor.

Bonita is an excellent example of a student who excels in time management and is able to contribute 100% effort to everything she does. During her time as PAL, Bonita has boosted her confidence and has quickly become an outspoken leader on the team. Bonita contributes unique and thoughtful ideas to improve the PALs program overall, and she is consistently engaged during team meetings and brainstorming sessions.

The Office of General Education is proud of the work Bonita has put forth this semester, and looks forward to seeing her strengthen her leadership skills in Spring 2024.

Staff, students, and faculty can stay updated with the PALs programming via SMU 360, Instagram, or the PALs website.

SMU in Four Student Academic Engagement & Success

Advising @ SMU infographic now available

SMU in Four has released a new Advising @ SMU infographic designed to make student and advisor expectations transparent throughout their academic journey, from orientation to graduation.

In addition to clarifying the advising process and timeline, the infographic will help first-year admit undergraduate students understand the benefits of regularly meeting with their academic advisors.

Midsize posters will be distributed to advisors to place in their offices, and larger prints will hang in other campus offices and common spaces. To request copies of the flyers and posters, please email Dallas Forbes at

The infographic will also be socialized at SMU’s inaugural Success Fest, planned for Thursday, February 28th. This event will promote the completion of Degree Planner by the March 1st deadline – with food, swag, and a gift card giveaway to students who show that they’ve completed a degree plan. More information on Success Fest is to come… but, for now, save the date.

Office of General Education Student Academic Engagement & Success

Approved meeting minutes from the Council on General Education on November 10, 2023

The Council on General Education met on November 10, 2023. The meeting minutes for October 20, 2023 were approved at this meeting. Below is the agenda, and the meeting minutes have now been posted on the General Education website.

  1. Approval of Agenda for the November 10, 2023 Council on General Education meeting.
  2. Approval of Minutes for the October 20, 2023 Council on General Education meeting.
  3. Courses tabled- Revisions needed
    1. APSM 3360 (Nutrition and Population Health)- CE and CIE
    2. ASCE 1310 (Ceramic Technology)- TAS
    3. ENGL 1363 (The Myth of the West)-HD
  4. New Course Proposal
    1. GEOL 1311 (Climate Change Science) – ES
    2. PHYS 1337 (Nuclear Physics and Society)- TAS
    3. PSYC 3362 (Psychology & the Challenges of Life) – SBS and HD
    4. PSYC 3363 (Psychology of Conflict Resolution) – SBS and OC
    5. PSYC 4301 (Advanced Quantitative Methods in Psychology)-QA
    6. WL 3379 (Modern German Culture from the Enlightenment to the Present) – GPS
    7. GERM 3379 (Modern German Culture from the Enlightenment to the Present)- GPS
    8. HRTS 4399 (Human Rights Research)- CIE,HD, and GPS
  5. Activity Proposal
    1. SMU Abroad Programs – GPS
  6. General Education Office Updates

Please contact the Office of General Education for questions or proposal development support.

Office of General Education Peer Academic Leaders Student Academic Engagement & Success

The Peer Academic Leaders complete their Fall 2023 programming

This fall, the Peer Academic Leaders (PALs) program has been consistently offering programs to help support SMU students on their academic journey.

Their programming has covered topics such as Degree Planner, Enrollment, and effective study strategies. The PALs have also facilitated workshops and Peer Panels highlighting SMU resources, including the A-LEC, the Hegi Career Development Center, TAOS, Intersessions, and Study Abroad.

The PALs have also hosted monthly “Study Breaks” in each of their assigned Residential Commons to help students maintain a healthy academic lifestyle before major exams.

The PALs have had over 700 students attend their programs throughout the Fall 2023 semester. The PALs are proud of this achievement and have already started to plan events for the Spring 2024 semester.

The PALs will wrap up their fall programming on December 5th, where they will collaborate with Fondren Library for SMU’s first-ever Study-A-Thon. This event will take place in Fondren’s Blue Mezzanine, reserved so students can grab snacks and study for their final exams.

The Office of General Education is excited to see what the PALs can achieve in Spring 2024. Students, staff, and faculty can stay updated with the PALs programming via SMU 360, Instagram, or the PALs website.

University Advising Center

The University Advising Center welcomes new Academic Advisor Benjamin Mandelbaum

The University Advising Center is very pleased to share that Ben Mandelbaum has joined us as our newest Academic Advisor! Ben joins us after spending 7 seasons as a college basketball coach. In his most recent position, he coached the Alcorn State University Men’s Basketball team to the 2023 Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship.  Ben is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he received his Bachelor’s degree in psychology, and a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham where he received his Master’s degree in Exercise Science. New to Dallas, Ben has enjoyed exploring the Dallas area by visiting museums, attending shows, and taking in sporting events. In his free time, Ben likes following his favorite sports teams, traveling to the beach, and listening to podcasts.

His email is and his phone number is 214-768-6790.    Join us in welcoming Ben to the UAC and to SMU!

Headshot of Ben Mandelbaum.
Headshot of Ben Mandelbaum.
Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning - Entrepreneurship Student Academic Engagement & Success

Interview with 2023-24 Big iDeas Entrepreneurship Fellow Michael Kelly

Michael Kelly is the Co-Founder of Resolute Future, a software company dedicated to empowering the next generation of innovators. He was a former VP of investments at JPMorgan Chase where he spent 12 years with a variety of responsibilities including sales, financial planning, management, & training. 

Michael helps to lead the Big iDeas E-Launch which is a series of co-curricular workshops with mentoring and guest speakers including book authors, investors, and Dallas company founders. The E-Launch aims to guide SMU students in developing the critical skills needed to be successful throughout their entrepreneurial journey.   

What are some exciting things you’re seeing from the students in our E-Launch program? 

From one week to the next, I’ve seen a lot of growth with each entrepreneur. They ask great questions, and every week comes with something new, which is really refreshing.  

What tips would you give to our E-Launch entrepreneurs to tackle the challenges of building and growing an early-stage startup? 

Never take your eye off the problem that you’re solving. There are a lot of distractions out there, so keep your eye on the problem you’re solving. 

What will be some of the biggest challenges that our E-Launch entrepreneurs will face as their journey begins or some common mistakes that they could make as young entrepreneurs? 

It can all be summed up the word “distractions.” There is always another business opportunity, there is always a way you can contort your business for opportunities, and there are always people and things that demand your time. The ability to block out all those distractions is a necessity and the biggest challenge for any entrepreneur. Going back to the biggest tip – never take your eye off the problem you’re solving, block out the distractions, and keep pushing forward.  

What are some key lessons you hope E-Launch entrepreneurs have learned throughout our workshop programs? 

The frameworks that can carry them forward as they run into new challenges. Starting and running a business is all about solving challenges until you hit the next leg of challenges. I hope that these frameworks are ways that they can go thinking about problems and solutions and will carry them forward in each new level that they reach.  And keeping the problem their solving as their north star in everything they do.  

Why should a SMU student learn to be an entrepreneur and take a chance at building a startup while in college? 

Learning to build a startup, you are doing several things. You are building self-motivation, you are learning to solve problems, you are learning to construct systems that allow you to move an organization forward, and you are learning to be creative about how to solve problems. As you look and project forward throughout the rest of your career, these are all essential, whether you are an entrepreneur or you are going to be a change agent in a large enterprise. 

This interview was conducted by Leon Jackson, interim Project Coordinator for Big iDeas.

Academic Devleopment of Student-Athletes (ADSA) Student Academic Engagement & Success

Ariana Contreras Uses Heritage To Connect With Hispanic Student-Athletes


By: Jordan Mitchell, originally on (October 26)

DALLAS (SMU) – Getting hired on as a senior academic counselor in SMU Athletics’ Academic Development of Student-Athletes (ADSA) office was a full-circle moment for Ariana Contreras.

When she was taking a sports law class during her undergraduate career at New Mexico State in 2015, Contreras was struggling to find a topic for a required paper. Eventually, her brother, Alan, suggested she watch the ESPN 30For30 documentary “Pony Excess.” After watching, Contreras decided to write about SMU and completed what she believes was one of the best papers of her undergraduate career.

Fast forward to November 2022. After earning her master’s in sports management from Eastern Michigan University and spending 18 months as an Assistant Director of Men’s and Women’s Track and Field and Cross Country at the University of Houston, Contreras found a job opening for a football academic counselor at SMU.

During an interview with associate head football coach Rob Likens, she told him about the “brilliant” paper that she had written about SMU as an undergrad and about how she almost came to the Hilltop for graduate school. He laughed.

“I think at this point, I’m manifesting (things) into reality!” Contreras said.

While manifestation is all well and good, Contreras excelled in her career through hard work and a passion for students. A first-generation college student and American from La Quinta, California, she had to wondered on and off different career paths before finding her love of academic counseling in athletics. A love that has only grown stronger since moving to Dallas.

Working with football, men’s soccer and women’s basketball gives Contreras a unique opportunity to build genuine relationships with a diverse group of student-athletes. When working with some men’s soccer student-athletes, she is able to practice her Spanish, her first language, so that she can communicate better with her father back home in California.

While speaking Spanish with Spanish-speaking students isn’t a job requirement, it allows Contreras to create a comfortable environment that feels like home for Hispanic students. Those students regularly praise her for making them feel connected to their heritage when away from home.

Women’s soccer midfielder Layla Garcia-Moreno had immense appreciation for Contreras when she stepped out of her office and called her “mija,” an endearing Spanish contraction translating to “my daughter” in English, and asked how she was doing.

“(Garcia-Moreno) was super excited,” Contreras said. “She was like, ‘You just made me feel like I was back home.’ That made my day.”

Her Spanish not only benefits other Spanish-speaking students, but those taking Spanish classes as well. SMU football offensive lineman Keaton Schultz approached her last Wednesday to talk about his upcoming advising appointment, but did so fully in Spanish. When he stumbled on a word, Contreras let him rummage through his thoughts to recall vocabulary, just as she must do when remembering obscure vocabulary when talking with her dad. But unlike her dad, who tells her to ask her mom for the word and will joke about her losing her grip on the language, she let him fumble until Schultz got it.

“It made me so happy!” Contreras said. “For the guys that are taking Spanish, once I know who they are, I start speaking to them in Spanish. And (Schultz) never used English! We had a full-on discussion.”

While working as an academic counselor allows for Contreras to play to her strengths and use her big personality to build relationships with student-athletes and help them grow holistically as people, she loves that she can be a role model for Hispanics and other minorities wanting to work in collegiate athletics. There aren’t many Hispanic women in those type of senior athletic staff roles, and Contreras believes that if she can be the first in her family to get her master’s and climb the ladder, others can too.

“I’m in this profession because I think it’s important that women of color, especially Hispanic women, be in leadership roles,” Contreras said. “I would love to eventually be a Director of Football Academics, Senior Woman Administrator and Deputy AD one day. I want student-athletes who look like me to have someone they can look up to and (say), ‘If she got there, I can too!'”

Office of Engaged Learning Student Academic Engagement & Success

Reflecting on the Sister2Sister Exchange Program, SMU – Summer 2023

This Fall has been a great success for the Engaged Learning Fellows and Big iDeas Winners, but the recent warm weather reminded me of an unpublished summer story of adventure, wonder, and student success!

The Office of Engaged Learning and SMU’s Dr. Wes Waggoner invited Khushi Kumar (AKA as just “Khushi”) and Ayesha Awan (check) to SMU as part of the Sister2Sister Exchange Program.  Khushi wants to work in marketing and storytelling (she can spin a tale), while Ayesha is a computer scientist who reignited her interest in game design after meeting Guildhall’s Gary Brubaker.

On one of the hottest days of the summer, I picked up Khushi and Ayesha from DFW Airport.  This was the first time these two young women had been outside of Pakistan. I’ll never forget seeing them approach the car with enormous suitcases and nervous smiles. I did what anyone would do to welcome them to Dallas: I fed them tacos (a first for them), hoping that delicious food and conversation would warm them up for what I knew would be a fantastic month at SMU.  It did.

It was neat to watch them change and flourish in such a short time. They took classes – like the Psychology of Evil with James Calvert and Creative Production with Sheryl Medenhall that were interesting to them but not related to their major. They went to Six Flags with other students from the SMU NSF REU Data Science for Good and made new friends. They would ride the Dart to explore Dallas and run personal errands. All experiences were new and ones that tested their abilities and sparked their imaginations.  The summer, away from their home and comforts, boosted their confidence, strengthened their independence, and allowed each one of them to know themselves better.  Of course, at times they felt homesick and bored — but the excitement of discovering new places, taking risks, and learning new things contributed to their growth and development.  When I dropped them off at the DFW airport to return to Pakistan, they were truly different people from the students I picked up just weeks before.

I have felt a little guilty for not sharing this blog right after the summer program, but now might be best moment to do so.  SMU students are applying for programs beyond the SMU main campus or consider enrolling in a class that expands their skill set or challenges what they already know.  Like Khushi and Ayesha, SMU students should break through discomfort and talk with professors to clarify college plans or ask questions about their last assignments.  SMU students should do research or start a company (with the Office of Engaged Learning). Or maybe they should study abroad like our guests did or take a course at SMU in Taos.  The latter is a personal favorite of mine because, even if Taos is close to Dallas (and not on the other side of the world) it will transport one to another place and space; with new smells, sights, sounds, and sensations that are unforgettable.

I will never forget how exceptionally courageous, humorous, and curious these young women were.  After applying for the Sister2Sister Exchange Program, they were selected from thousands of applicants, they took a risk, pushed themselves out of their comfort zones, and accomplished things they never believed possible. I urge all SMU students to do the same and promise it will change lives and build lasting friendships to cherish forever.

Jennifer Ebinger is the director of the Office of Engaged Learning.  She extends her gratitude to SMU’s Kim Herman, Maeve Skidmore, and Claudia Hart Sotomayor for helping her run this one-off program this summer.  Additionally, she thanks the Sister2Sister Exchange Program liaison, Mahveen Azam, and most of all Khushi and Ayesha for giving her, too, a new and enriching experience.

Office of General Education

2nd Annal Place-based Community Engagement Symposium a success

The 2nd Annual Place-based Community Engagement Symposium was a success last week. Participants engaged around the theme of “Listening, Learning, and Leading: A Place-based Approach to Promoting Public Responsibility and Community Engagement in a COVID-impacted World.” 114 registered for the two-day symposium.

The conference planning committee chose this theme due to their observation of the challenges posed by COVID-19; our community engagement landscape has evolved significantly, from decreased volunteer participation to heightened community needs.

Conference registrants helped shape this year’s symposium. The planning committee had over 60 questions submitted for our opening session and panel discussion. Plus, questions were arranged as discussion topics at the networking event on Thursday evening.

Audryanna Reed, Associate Director for High-Impact Practices, Co-initiative Manager of Engage Dallas, and Chair of the conference planning committee, shared, “Engage Dallas is grateful for the opportunity to bring together non-profit and civic leaders in Dallas as well as staff and faculty across SMU and Dallas College. Such inspiring words, cultural context, and critical challenges posed by our keynotes Latosha Bruff and Jerry L. Hawkins, M.Ed., as well as our panelists and workshop hosts!”

A copy of the program booklet is included below.

Reed and the conference planning committee are underway with year three planning. Building off the dialogue from this year’s conference, the theme will likely incorporate the concept of “under-championed communities,” which was prevalent in this year’s sessions. Reed says to expect a save the date soon for the November 2024 symposium.

This Engage Dallas symposium collaborated with Residence Life & Student Housing, The Budd CenterThe Office of General Education, the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics & Public Responsibility, and The Center for Teaching Excellence.

Student Success & Retention

Now accepting applications for Program Coordinator position in Student Success and Retention

SMU Student Academic Engagement & Success (SAES) is excited to share that the Office of Student Success and Retention is hiring a full-time Program Coordinator.

Please consider, share with your offices, and post within your professional networks.   

Program Coordinator, Student Success and Retention: The coordinator’s visible position provides support for SSR, customer service to a variety of constituents, & support for the implementation & ongoing usage of a campus-wide early alert system to help SMU meet retention & graduation goals. This position will coordinate efforts across areas involved in early alert identification & reports, & integrate the information into a single system in order to connect students to the appropriate campus resources. Campus-wide solutions that need integration/coordination include early & mid-term grade reports, mid-term student self-assessments, weekly reports from dropout detective, PeopleSoft Queries, surveys, & CCC reports of academic concerns. The position will also manage the paperwork and flow of information for students intending to transfer from SMU to another institution, track & summarize data in reports, & maintain website. Will compile and analyze data to assist in change recommendations

  • Deadline: November 22, 2023
  • Hiring point-of-contact: Dr. Dustin Grabsch (; 214-768-4887) 

Submit an application within the SMU Staff Career Portal.

A search committee comprised of SAES staff members will review applications, conduct virtual and in-person campus interviews, and make a recommendation for hire.