March 2004

Staff Enrichment Day Makes a Comeback!


After a hiatus due to last year's budget cuts, we are pleased to announce that Staff Enrichment Day is returning this year! The SED Planning Committee is implementing new things this year, including a new slogan and logo as well as a slightly different agenda. And, of course, work is already underway for presentations, food, music, goody bags, prizes, games, and much more!

Staff Enrichment Day will be held Friday, May 28, 2004. The day is set aside to bring University employees enrichment sessions under a relaxed and fun-filled atmosphere. In order to allow full-time employees the opportunity to participate at SED 2004, the plan is to maintain administrative offices open with minimal operation by utilizing student workers for office staffing.

Here is a tentative schedule of the day's activities:

8:00 am - 8:30 am Welcome and Continental Breakfast
8:30 am - 9:45 am Keynote Speaker: Dr. Larry Helms
Topics: customer service, excellence, success, handling change, different generations working together
9:45 am - 10:00 am Break
10:00 am - 11:15 am --continued-- Keynote Speaker: Dr. Larry Helms
11:15 am - 1:00 pm Lunch and Games
1:00 pm - 2:30 pm Concurrent Sessions**
2:30 pm - 2:45 pm Break
2:45 pm - 4:15 pm Concurrent Sessions**

**Concurrent sessions will address differences in cultures, effective communication skills, basic ettiquette, team-building and how all departments inter-relate, leadership/mentoring/coaching.

Texas A&M International University is committed to promoting enrichment and growth in its employees. For more information about SED 2004, look for email announcements and keep reading your HR News & Views.


Spring Break Holiday on 3/18 and 3/19

Texas A&M International University will observe Spring Break during the week of March 15-19. No academic classes will be held during this week.

Administrative offices, however, will remain open for business from Monday, 3/15/04 through Wednesday, 3/17/04. Then, on Thursday, 3/18/04 and Friday, 3/19/04, administrative offices will close for a Spring Break holiday.

Have a safe and fun Spring Break!


Construction Update

The Science Building is well on its way for the scheduled completion in early Spring 2005. The construction firm is working on the third floor framing and will soon begin work on the planetarium.

Phase II housing is moving rapidly. In fact, the roof of one of the buildings is already being framed. Check out the activity on the construction site by clicking on WEB CAM from www.apexcstenn.com. Choose the TAMIU link, then you can control and move the camera by using the "Control" feature.

The Program of Requirements (POR) for Phase V has been completed by our System project manager and has been sent to the 5 architectural firms that were invited to present before the Architect/Engineer Technical and Selection committees in College Station on February 24 and 25. The Facilities and Construction Department reviewed this project with the Vice Chancellor for Finance and will present to the Board of Regents at their March board meeting.

The master plan update starts shortly...stay tuned to the HR News & Views for more information!


Highlights from 2/17/04 SEBAC Meeting

The System Employees Benefits Advisory Council (SEBAC) met in College Station on Tuesday, 2/17/04. Representing TAMIU at the meeting were Elizabeth N. Martinez (Associate VP for Administration), Jessica Palacios (HR Benefits Manager), and Cassandra Wheeler (HR Benefits Specialist).

Highlights from this 2/17/04 SEBAC meeting have been posted on the System Human Resources Office website at http://sago.tamu.edu/shro. To view the highlights, click on the heading "SEBAC information" on the main page of the website, then click on “February 17, 2004.”

As a reminder, all employees and retirees wishing to share comments and concerns about employee benefits can call the TAMIU HR Office at (956)326-2365.


CIGNA Healthy Rewards: Dental Plan Participants Have Access to Weight Watchers Discounts

Through the CIGNA Healthy Rewards program, A&M Dental and CIGNA Dental HMO participants now have access to discounts on the following Weight Watchers services:

  • Weight Watchers Meetings-Free registration at group meetings
  • Weight Watchers Online-$10 off online registration at participating locations
  • Weight Watchers at Home-$10 off at-home kit in participating areas

To obtain the discount, CIGNA plan participants must register at http://www.mycigna.com/.

If you have questions about your dental plan, please contact Jessica Palacios (ext. 2362) or Cassandra Wheeler (ext. 2363).


Medicare Now Provides Prescription Drug Coverage


The United States Congress recently passed a Medicare bill signed by the President that provides prescription drug coverage for the more than 40 million Medicare participants.

Called the Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act, this new law will soon take effect with the introduction of a prescription drug discount card. This card will give Medicare participants access to discounts of up to 20% off prescription drugs purchased through certain providers. Participants cannot use this discount in conjunction with their A&M System health plan's co-payment. In most cases, participants will get a better value by using their A&M System health plan's drug program.

Effective January 1, 2006, the discount cards will be replaced by a new prescription drug program called Medicare Part D. This plan will have a $35 monthly premium and a $250 annual deductible. The plan will cover 75% of the first $2,000 in prescription drug expenses after the deductible is met. After that, participants will be responsible for all costs up to a $3,600 out-of-pocket maximum. Once they reach the out-of-pocket maximum, participants will pay only 5% of their drug costs for the rest of that calendar year.

Because many of the details about this new plan are not yet available, it is still unclear how it will impact A&M System health plan participants who are enrolled in Medicare. Ellen Gerescher, Employee Benefits Manager for System Human Resources, said they are researching this. "Our goal over the next year is to determine how the A&M Care plans' prescription drug program can coordinate with Medicare's drug program to the benefit of the retirees and the A&M Care plans," Gerescher said. "The HMO’s will be studying this issue as well."

Information about the Medicare drug program and its impact on A&M System health plans will be provided in future issues of A&M System News Online. If you would like more information about the Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act, visit Medicare online at http://www.medicare.gov/MedicareReform or call 1-800-442-2620.


CareEnhance Program Available to A&M Care Participants with Congestive Heart Failure


If you are enrolled in an A&M Care plan and would like to know whether you qualify for Eckerd Health Services (EHS) new CareEnhance disease management program, you can contact EHS and find out.

CareEnhance is a program EHS recently implemented at the request of the A&M System to assist A&M Care health plan participants who suffer from congestive heart failure. This program provides people with the information they need to effectively manage this particular condition. More information about this program is available online at http://sago.tamu.edu/shro/newsnotes/03sept.htm.

This past fall, EHS identified potential candidates using prescription drug and medical data, and then contacted them to see if they would like to participate in the program. If EHS did not contact you, but you feel you qualify, you can refer yourself to the program by calling 1-800-973-6553 and following the menu options. Clinicians will review your claims history and contact you to let you know whether you qualify for the program.

If you have questions about your health plan, please contact Jessica Palacios (ext. 2362) or Cassandra Wheeler at (ext. 2363).


Dental and Vision Plan Websites Provide a Wealth of Services

If you are enrolled in one of the A&M System's dental plans or the Superior Vision plan, you owe it to yourself to check out what these plans have to offer online. You might be surprised.

CIGNA Health Care (for A&M Dental or CIGNA Dental HMO participants)
Visit CIGNA's web site and you'll find much more than information about your A&M Dental or CIGNA Dental HMO plan. While the site has standard features such as benefit information and a searchable provider directory, it also has information about discounts on various health-related services.

These discounts, which are provided through the CIGNA Healthy Rewards program, are available to you if you are enrolled in any CIGNA plan, including dental. For information about Healthy Reward discounts, go to http://www.cigna.com/health/consumer/medical/discount.html. This page lists discounts on a wide array of products and services, including chiropractic care, vision care, hearing care, massage therapy, smoking cessation, and weight management.

Keep in mind that these discounts are provided through the CIGNA Healthy Rewards program, not through one of its health plans. When you visit participating providers, make sure they know you are using a CIGNA Healthy Rewards discount. You may also be asked to present your dental plan ID card to verify that you participate in a CIGNA plan.

If you have questions about the CIGNA Healthy Rewards program, call 1-800-870-3470 (this number is different from CIGNA's customer service number).

If you're enrolled in a dental plan, you can also register at http://www.MyCIGNA.com and access your personal claims information. If you're a first-time user, you will need to create an account by clicking "Register now!" The information you need to provide can be found on your plan ID card.

Superior Vision
Superior Vision's web site allows visitors to review plan benefits, verify which dependents, if any, are enrolled, download non-network claim forms, search for providers, and print maps to provider locations.

If you are visiting the site for the first time and would like to access information specific to the A&M System's vision program, regardless of whether you're a member, click "Account Info" and use 999999999 as your member ID and TAMUS as your last name.

If you have questions about your dental and vision plans, please contact Jessica Palacios (ext. 2362) or Cassandra Wheeler (ext. 2363).


Welcome, New Employees!!
  Gladys R. Zepeda, Director of Student Center
Student Center
SC 127A ext. 2932
  Martha S. Trevino, Staff Assistant
Enrollment Services
SC 128 ext. 2770
  Jesus J. Herrera, Police Officer
University Police Department
KL 005 ext. 2100

Robert Hernandez, Service Specialist I

KL 257 ext. 2310
  Pamela Short, Executive Secretary to Ph.D. Program
Office of Ph.D. Program
WHTC 219 ext. 2840

  Lilia E. Gomez-Luna SC 226 ext. 2281
  FROM: Staff Assistant, Office of Special Programs (GEAR-UP)    
  TO: Staff Assistant, Student Activities    
  Sonia I. Moreno KL 257 ext. 2310
  FROM: User Services Specialist, CTS    
  TO: Service Specialist I, CTS    
  Maria S. Gallegos KL 257 ext. 2303
  FROM: Student Employee, Department of Fine & Performing Arts    
  TO: Service Specialist I, CTS    
  Melissa Medina-Razzaque KL 257 ext. 2310
  FROM: Staff Assistant, Department of Biology & Chemistry    
  TO: Service Specialist I, CTS    

  Cynthia Bouvier, Events Services Manager
Student Center
  Nancy C. Lozano, Financial Aid Counselor
Financial Aid
  Heather M. Stokke, Director of Student Center
Student Center

Retiring From The A&M System


Below are general guidelines to follow in preparation for retirement from The A&M System. Preparation should begin at least 1 year before retiring. For assistance with retirement from The A&M System, please contact Jessica Palacios (ext. 2362) or Cassandra Wheeler (ext. 2363) in the TAMIU HR Office.

If under TRS (Teacher Retirement System of Texas)

Contact the Office of Human Resources to:

  • Verify if you meet retirement eligibility requirements.
  • Complete System-required TRS forms.
  • Discuss changes in your group insurance coverages.
  • Complete appropriate group insurance continuation forms.
  ...and to make sure TRS has:
  • Birth records for you and your primary beneficiary.
  • Verification and/or purchase of any withdrawn, unreported, military, or out-of-state service for retirement credit.
  • A completed Request for Estimate of Retirement Benefits Form.
  • A completed Authorization to TRS for Records Disclosure.
  If under ORP (Optional Retirement Program)
  Contact the Office of Human Resources to:
  • Verify if you meet retirement eligibility requirements.
  • Complete System-required ORP forms.
  • Discuss changes in your group insurance coverages.
  • Complete appropriate group insurance continuation forms.
  ...and contact your ORP vendor representative to:
  • Discuss your retirement options. (You may need to provide an original or certified copy of your and your primary beneficiary’s birth certificates.)
  If also under a TDA (Tax-Deferred Account)
  Contact your TDA vendor representative to:
  • Discuss your retirement settlement options.
  In all cases
  Contact your local Social Security Office to:
  • Apply for Social Security (and Medicare, if applicable) benefits. (You may need to provide W-2 tax forms for the 2 years before retirement, an estimate of earnings for the year of retirement, and a record of date of birth.)

Family/Medical Leave: Usage and Obligations

If you have at least 12 months of state service and have worked for the state at least 1,250 hours in the past 12 months, you are entitled to 12 weeks of Family/Medical Leave per fiscal year. If you request leave (whether sick leave, annual leave, or other paid or unpaid leave) due to one of the following reasons, the leave will count toward your Family/Medical Leave entitlement for the fiscal year:

  • Birth of a child
  • Placement in your home of a child for adoption or state-certified foster care
  • Your serious health condition (illness, injury, or pregnancy)
  • To care for your spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition

If you are applying for sick leave for one of these reasons, you must use all available paid leave before taking unpaid leave. Additionally, you must have your treating physician complete a Medical Certification Form (available from the Office of Human Resources) and submit it with your leave request form(s.)

While you are on paid leave, your benefit coverages will continue, and any premiums you normally pay for will be deducted from your pay. If you go on unpaid leave for one of the reasons stated above, the State will continue to pay its contribution toward your health coverage; however, you must continue to pay your share of premiums. Failure to do so may end some or all of your benefits coverages. You will receive a bill for your share of the premiums each month while you are on leave, and the bill must be paid within 30 days.

It is your responsibility to check in with your supervisor every 2 weeks while on leave to inform him/her of your status and expected date of return. It is also your responsibility to inform the Office of Human Resources if you would like to add a dependent to your coverage. This must be done within 60 days of the birth, adoption, etc. of the dependent.

If you take leave for one of the reasons stated above, you will be reinstated to your job or a similar job when you return from leave, unless you would not otherwise have been employed at that time.

If you have any questions about Family/Medical Leave, please contact Xochitl Kladis in the Office of Human Resources at ext. 2364.


Your Responsibilities When Requesting Leave

Employees and their supervisors are responsible for assuring that a leave request is submitted via LeaveTraq prior to taking leave or immediately upon returning from leave.

A leave request must be submitted when requesting any type of absence from work: vacation, sick leave, overtime compensatory time (OCT), straight compensatory time (SCT), funeral leave, jury duty, military duty, leave without pay, family/medical leave, and parental leave.

For certain types of leave, additional documentation must accompany the leave request form as follows:

  • Sick Leave - When the period of absence is in excess of 3 continuous working days, a physician's statement indicating the cause and nature of illness and expected date of recovery is required.
  • Jury Duty - A Certificate of Service from the court specifying the date(s) and time(s) served is required.
  • Military Duty - Orders documenting the time period requested is required.
  • Family/Medical Leave - A Medical Certification Form (available from the Office of Human Resources) completed by the treating physician is required.
  • Parental Leave - A Physician's Statement (available from the Office of Human Resources) completed by the treating physician is required.
  If you have any questions regarding leave, contact Xochitl Kladis at ext. 2364.

University Sick Leave Pool

The University Sick Leave Pool was established to alleviate hardship caused to an employee and the employee's family if a catastrophic illness or injury forces the employee to exhaust all leave time earned by the employee and lose compensation. At that time, an employee may request to draw time from the University Sick Leave Pool in order to remain in pay status.

Employees may contribute to the University Sick Leave Pool at any time. Anyone wishing to contribute, or if you have questions about the University Sick Leave Pool, please contact Xochitl Kladis at ext. 2363.



SCT (State Compensatory Time):
System Regulation 31.01.09 Overtime states that SCT must be taken within the 12-month period following the workweek in which it was earned and that it may not be carried forward past the end of the 12-month period.

Previously, there was no automated leave system in place to monitor the expiration of SCT so employees were simply reminded regularly to monitor their SCT themselves and ensure the leave was taken within 12 months from which it was earned.

However, now that LeaveTraq is in place, the expiration of all SCT earned since March 2003 is being monitored. Employees must take their SCT within 12 months from which it was earned because LeaveTraq will "clear out" any SCT not used by the expiration date. To avoid losing SCT, it is recommended that employees regularly log onto LeaveTraq to check the expiration status of their SCT.

From your main page on LeaveTraq, you can check the expiration of your SCT. If you have an SCT balance, you will see an "Expiration Detail” button by the SCT category. Click on this button then scroll down to see the expiration dates of the SCT you have earned.

OCT (Overtime Compensatory Time):
System Regulation 31.01.09 Overtime states that, when practical, OCT should be taken during the 12-month period following the workweek in which it was earned. Supervisors may require employees to take OCT and may require employees to use OCT before using vacation leave.

Should you have any questions about your SCT and/or OCT balances, please contact Xochitl Kladis via email or at ext. 2364.


Mug O' The Month
Ron Eichorst is the Comptroller in the Business Office. He joined TAMIU in January 2000.

Ron received a prize for being the first to identify the TAMIU employee in the "Who is This?" section of the previous issue of the HR News & Views.

Who is This?  

The first person to email Cassandra Wheeler and correctly identify this TAMIU employee by name and title will win a prize!

The identity of the employee who appeared in the last issue of HR News & Views can be found in "The Answer Corner" section of this newsletter!

The Answer Corner
The following are frequently-asked questions received in the Office of Human Resources. To ask us questions, use the "Ask HR" button on this newsletter.


Who was the baby in the "Who is This?" section of the last issue of "HR News & Views"?



That was Maria Isabel Cantu, User Services Specialist in CTS. TAMIU employees who wish to submit their picture for the "Who is This?" section may contact Cassandra Wheeler via email or at ext. 2363.


I just moved to another office, and my extension changed too. What do I need to do so that these changes are made to the online TAMIU Employee Directory?

You must notify the HR Office of changes (or anticipated changes) to your office location, extension, email address, or fax number so that the online TAMIU Employee Directory can be updated. You can report your changes to Gracy Buentello at gracy@tamiu.edu.

That Extra (S)Mile!
This section describes the deeds of TAMIU employees who have been observed going the "extra mile" for our University.

I would like to nominate Elsie De Leon, Staff Assistant in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction, for always going that EXTRA MILE and having an EXTRA SMILE when she has been overwhelmed with different projects and needing to meet deadlines.  Ms. De Leon never complains and is willing to help those in need of assistance. If she doesn't have the answer to the problem, she'll do what is in her power to resolve it. I have been out for about a week because my mother suffered a stroke and I was unable to proceed with my job duties that had deadlines and were time-consuming. Despite the work Ms. De Leon already had to do, she still found the time to assist me with my projects and do hers at the same time. She has been my co-worker for 9 years and never have I seen her lose professionalism and  organization when working under stress. Students and co-workers  admire how efficient and cooperative she is.

Those of us who have been with this institution since the days when it was called Laredo State University still remember the pleasant, mellifluous voice that answered the calls to the central switchboard. That was the voice of Norma Maciel who continues to work for the University, now as Office Coordinator with Purchasing and Support Services. She is a dedicated professional who performs her work with outstanding competence. She supplements that with remarkable friendliness and charm, making any contact with her a pleasant and rewarding experience.
If you know of any employee performing in such a way that deserves mention in this column, send their name and details of their deeds to Cassandra Wheeler via email.



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