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WeTeachCS Mixer

On Feb. 3, 2016, the Center for STEM Education played host to over 120 computer science (CS) educators at the Google Fiber Space in downtown Austin. Held during Texas Computer Education Association’s Annual Convention and Exposition, the WeTeachCS Mixer provided an opportunity for CS educators from across Texas to network, share ideas, and begin building a statewide professional learning community. This opportunity to connect with the larger CS education community is vital because there are relatively few CS teachers compared to other STEM fields.

For more information about the event, visit the Center for STEM Education website.

 

Inaugural Building Bridges Event Links Researchers and K-12 Teachers

On Jan. 20, 2016, the Center for STEM Education hosted its first specialized networking event, Building Bridges: Creating Partnerships and Closing the Gap Between Research and Practice, funded by a grant from the 100Kin10 organization. The meeting’s goal was to begin bridging the gap between UT Austin STEM faculty and researchers, and local K-12 educators. With both communities excited about this new initiative, over 60 researchers and educators attended the early morning event.

“We are focusing on more collaboration within the College of Education and across the university, with the goal of functioning like a hub,” explained Associate Professor Victor Sampson, the center’s new director. “We are looking out into the community and sitting down with them from the outset in order to collaborate around problems and provide research that is more inclusive and responsive to them.”

For more information about the event, visit the College of Education website.

 

CoE Professor Angela Valenzuela Nominated for ‘Si, Se Puede’ Award

Angela Valenzuela, professor of educational policy and planning and cultural studies in education programs, has been nominated to receive the Cesar E. Chavez – “Si, Se Puede” Award from the People Organized in Defense of Earth and her Resources (PODER). The distinction is given to individuals who demonstrate community leadership and whose work honors the legacy of Chavez’ civil rights and labor activism.

PODER, a grassroots organization devoted to addressing environmental issues, seeks to frame those issues as matters of social and economic justice. The organization is specifically focused on increasing participation of communities of color in corporate and government decision-making.

A reception in honor of the award and its recipients will be held Saturday, March 26, at the Emma Barrientos Mexican American Culture Center in Austin.

CoE Alumnus Ryan Miller, Ph.D., Receives National Award from NASPA

Ryan A. Miller, director for inclusion and equity at The University of Texas at Austin and a graduate of the College of Education, is the winner of the 2016 Melvene D. Hardee Dissertation of the Year Award. The recognition is given by NASPA, the national organization for student affairs administrators in higher education.

This award recognizes outstanding dissertation research conducted by doctoral degree recipients presently in or intending to enter the student affairs profession. Miller earned his Ph.D. in educational administration.

Miller received the honor for his dissertation, “Intersections of Disability, Gender, and Sexuality in Higher Education: Exploring Students’ Social Identities and Campus Experiences.”

CoE Alumnus Jason Rosenblum Commended for 2015 Dissertation

Jason Rosenblum, a 2015 Ph.D. graduate from the Learning Technologies program in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, has been chosen as a Highly Commended Award winner of the 2015 Emerald/HETL (Higher Education Teaching and Learning Association) Education Outstanding Doctoral Research Award for his doctoral dissertation entitled, “What is it like to experience sound while playing educational computer games?” In his innovative dissertation study, Dr. Rosenblum drew upon music, game development, and education to conduct an interdisciplinary, qualitative phenomenological investigation to explore the gameplay experiences of six participants.

Rosenblum is an assistant professor of visual studies at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. His research interests include frameworks for game sound research, game sound as a facet of learner motivation in games, and digital and analog game-based approaches to support engaged learning.

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Clinical Professor Dolly Lambdin’s retirement from UT won’t curtail her leadership in children’s physical education and health.

The year Rocky won three academy awards, Jimmy Carter was elected president, and America celebrated its 200th birthday was also the year that saw clinical professor Lambdin venture from New York City to Austin, bringing her passion for physical education to the Kinesiology and Health Education Department in the College of Education. It was the beginning of a 40-year teaching career at UT.

Since 1976, says Lambdin, the school has shifted strongly toward a public health focus.

“I’m excited about the move toward preventative health in physical education,” says Lambdin, whose enthusiasm for her work only grew stronger over the years. “Our society focuses on health care, but our program is about helping people develop healthy lifestyles.

We are about physical education for all kids all the time.

This shift in the conceptualization, purpose, and teaching of physical education is one that Lambdin not only has been a part of at UT and in Texas K-12 schools, but also has helped lead across the nation.

A Unique Dual-Teaching Career

After Lambdin completed her master’s degree and taught in a New York City K-8 school, an opportunity opened up at UT Austin for her to instruct future physical education teachers. It was a chance she didn’t want to pass up, but she also wanted to continue teaching PE.

Professor Dolly Lambdin

UGS 303 Advanced Weight Training

“Waneen Spirduso [then-chair of the KHE department] was an out-of-the-box thinker,” says Lambdin. So was the head of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Elementary School in Austin, and they agreed to allow Lambdin to teach in both locations, simultaneously.

With that, Lambdin became a teacher of elementary students who also taught teachers. “My dual career allowed me to be thoughtful about teaching teachers. Teaching at St. Andrew’s allowed me to see what worked and what didn’t,” she says.

Lambdin taught in both locations for a decade before leaving St. Andrews to focus on her growing family and to pursue her doctorate. By the mid-1990s, “I wanted to get back to the classroom and accepted a position at Blanton Elementary in Austin.”

At UT, Lambdin taught multiple courses across two departments—KHE and Curriculum and Instruction. Because she taught Intro to Teaching, Teaching Methods and the Student Teaching Seminar, she was able to develop a strong rapport with students and see them develop over time. “I supervised student teachers while I also taught,” she says, which gave her access to lots of new ideas and teaching innovations that she could share broadly. “I liken myself to a honeybee, finding these terrific ideas from each teacher and spreading them around like pollen.”

Professor Dolly Lambdin

EDC 370E Teaching Elementary Physical Education

Of the 600 student teachers who’ve graduated from the UT program in the last 40 years, Lambdin has supervised a whopping 150 of them. Some have taught more than 30 years, but even if they averaged 5-year careers, she says, “that means since physical education teachers often teach 200-300 new students each year, more than a half million elementary students have been taught by teachers from our program.”

That also means that more than 100,000 have been influenced by teachers Dolly has personally taught and mentored. “Some of the teachers have gone on to become National Board Certified Teachers, Teacher of the Year for their school and state, and school district supervisors,” she says, proudly.

“These people are producing a healthier society, which is critical for a successful society. They are going to change the world.”

Leader in Physical Education Curriculum Development

Former president (2003-04) of National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) and past president of the Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE America), Lambdin remains passionate about children’s physical health and education. Her unique perspective and career led her to be called on to help guide physical education curriculum and standards in Texas and beyond.

She was an original member of the committee that created the first curriculum framework for the state of Texas for physical education. The committee was tasked with writing Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for PE.

Her efforts helped launch new guidelines for PE, with a focus on children’s motor skills, fitness, and social skills. “Coordinated School Health, where physical education and health education concepts are integrated throughout the school—including the cafeteria and communication with parents, has became law in Texas and is spreading across the nation.”

Dolly Lambdin with Dr. Bartholomew after receiving the 2013-1014 Teaching Excellence Award.

Dolly Lambdin with Dr. Bartholomew after receiving the Teaching Excellence Award 2013-2014.

In addition, Lambdin helped create a national seminal document Get Adobe Reader that helps teachers “replace negative practices like having kids pick teams and putting them on the spot, and focusing more on empowering kids to take care of their bodies,” she says.

These guidelines are also highlighted in the relatively new Physical Education Teacher Education graduate program that involves faculty from Curriculum and Instruction and Kinesiology and Health Education.

KHE Chair John Bartholomew says, “I’m proud to have had a leader of her quality represent the department so well nationally while maintaining her work with undergraduates. Her impact has been impressive.”

What’s Next?

Lambdin says of her future goals, “My own desire is to make physical education a kids’ movement, helping them to develop the skills, knowledge, confidence, and determination to live a healthy life.”

And it’s that desire that continues to drive her. After retiring from UT this winter, she intends to do more national work. “I really want the public to see the power and positive impact of physical education. I want to help showcase what great programs are doing so that people recognize their power and desire it for their kids,” she says. “Every child should be ‘turned on’ to physical activity and have the skills and knowledge to make healthy choices.”

-Photos by Christina S. Murrey

UT College of Education’s Superintendency Program attracts and prepares education leaders of the future. Houston Independent School District’s Rick Cruz is one of those leaders.

When Rick Cruz was a 5th grade teacher at Joe E. Moreno Elementary in the Houston Independent School District, his students achieved the highest state standardized testing results in the school’s history, with 93 percent passing the exam and 58 percent earning the commended level. Cruz was named Teacher of the Year two years in a row.

Rick Cruz

Photo by Christina S. Murrey

Yet he quickly learned that no matter how successful his students were in the classroom, few of them would actually make it past high school. “They didn’t have the support necessary to actually go on to college,” says Cruz.

Ninety-eight percent of the student population at the elementary were economically disadvantaged and most had no family members who’d attended college. Yet Cruz, who’d double majored in literature and Portuguese at Yale University, knew that colleges were looking for kids just like them to enroll in their schools, and that many highly selective colleges offered qualified students from underserved communities full scholarships and life-changing opportunities.

“I began organizing after-school workshops with fellow teachers to help students and their families learn what it takes to get into these highly selective schools,” Cruz says.

Interest in the workshops grew. Cruz then founded and led a 501(c3) nonprofit organization called the EMERGE Fellowship and the program spread across HISD. It’s currently serving more than 750 students and has helped nearly 200 students gain entry and scholarships allowing them to attend colleges like Harvard, Yale, Penn, Rice, Stanford, Cornell, and Smith.

HISD Superintendent Terry Grier had originally encouraged Cruz to start EMERGE and provided the support to expand the program. Says Cruz, “[Grier] was excited about the success of the program and wanted to see it implemented even more widely throughout HISD. He asked me to become an assistant superintendent. I tried to say no because I was initially apprehensive about becoming an administrator.”

But Cruz changed his mind when Grier shared his story. When Grier was a senior in high school, he asked his counselor about the logistics of taking the SAT to gain entrance into college. His counselor tried to dissuade him and told him he’d be better suited for military service given his family’s low-income background. One of Grier’s teachers overheard the conversation and gave him money out of her own pocket to take the test. “Terry’ sincerity and passion for helping students access postsecondary opportunities persuaded me to take on the role,” says Cruz.

Cruz led the district’s College Readiness division for two years as assistant superintendent, preparing 215,000 students across 282 schools for post-secondary success. In that role, he scaled EMERGE, increased scholarship and financial aid offers by more than $70 million, and helped the district achieve record-breaking performance levels on AP, SAT and other college readiness indicators.

Because of the progress made, the district was awarded an $8.5 million grant from a local foundation to scale college readiness efforts even further and ensure that quality college advising was available to all students in the district. Cruz was also recognized by Houston Mayor Annise Parker for his contributions to education and had a day named in his honor.

Cruz was subsequently promoted to major projects officer for the district, a role in which he is responsible for leading several of the district’s key initiatives, including a secondary transformation initiative fueled by a $30 million Race to the Top Grant.

Still, he felt he needed to continue his education. “It was a big jump from teaching to being an administrator and I knew there was a lot I still wanted and needed to learn.” A colleague had earned his Ed. D. in educational administration from the UT College of Education’s Cooperative Superintendency Program and recommended Cruz. “UT’s program is one of the best in the country,” says Cruz, “and I’m learning from the cohort as well as the professors.”

Cruz says what he most enjoys about the program is that it “marries theory with practice; it provides me with a conceptual understanding of the work I am doing, as well as practical ways to improve upon it.” Cruz is also extremely impressed by the strength of the department’s alumni network and feels that he has already grown significantly as a result of the program. “I look forward to becoming a more effective educator and leader,” he says, “and I am excited by the prospect of having a greater impact on the lives of students as a result.”

Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk Executive Director Sharon Vaughn joined a panel of national experts at the White House on November 17 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in Washington, D.C.

Sharon Vaughn at the White House

Vaughn’s presentation on successful research-based interventions for literacy (which can be viewed at this link) took place at the U.S. Department of Education’s Barnard Auditorium. Joining her on the panel were distinguished researchers from across the nation, including Sue Swenson (family engagement), Lynn Fuchs (mathematics), Rob Horner (school climate/social and behavior), Lise Fox (early childhood), Michael Wehmeyer (inclusion), Lisa Dieker (teacher training), and David Test (secondary/transition).

According to the Department of Education, “When IDEA was enacted in 1975, America pledged to provide and ensure that children with disabilities have opportunities to develop their talents and contribute to their communities. That pledge endures today and IDEA continues to provide not only access to the school house, to assessment, and to the general curriculum, but the full promise of inclusion, equity, and opportunity.”

Educational Psychology Professor Toni Falbo and graduate student Sophia Y. Hooper recently conducted and published a meta-analysis of research into China’s only children.

Though in October 2015, China announced that it will allow two children for every couple, effectively dismantling its  one-child policy, the one-child policy had been in effect since the late 1970s. Falbo and Hooper’s research uncovered that in certain contexts the country’s only children have benefited from less psychopathology, like anxiety and depression.

Toni Falbo and graduate student Sophia Y. Hooper

Photo by Christina S. Murrey

“Broadly speaking, there’s a slight advantage for China’s only children in terms of symptoms of psychopathology,” explained Professor of Educational Psychology Falbo. But the findings vary based on whether the only children meet social expectations.

“We quantitatively synthesized the results of 22 studies that compared Chinese only children to their peers. When the sample was college students, only children had lower psychopathology. When the sample consisted of military recruits, however, only children reported more symptoms of psychopathology,” explained Falbo.

The researchers interpret this difference in terms of meeting expectations consistent with social class. In 1979, China began instituting a one-child policy, which, alongside other national policies, was aimed at accelerating the country’s economic development. China began incentivizing parents to invest in quality over quantity with regards to children, providing one-child families with benefits like extra pay and priority in schools. By 2005, the percentage of women aged 35 to 44 with just one child was nearly 80% in large cities like Shanghai. The birth rate in smaller western provinces also dropped, with families having 2-3 children rather than 4-5.

“Only children in China are more likely to be born to educated parents who push them harder to succeed. Those who make it to college meet parental and societal expectations,” said Falbo. Yet if the only children aren’t accepted into college and join the military instead, they suffer more from anxiety and depression than their peers with siblings, who tend to be from working class communities. “The Chinese army prefers recruits from Red Class, who are rural and working class,” said Falbo.

“The advantage the only child may have over a child with siblings in a college setting is reversed in the military setting, according to the data,” explained Falbo. She says that despite this finding, only children still have a chance to adjust to a military environment.

“China’s one-child policy [was] unique in the world and its effects are different from what we see in the U.S., where people have just one child for more personal reasons, such as divorce, rather than political reasons,” explained Falbo.

Falbo and graduate student Hooper conducted a meta-analysis, collecting 22 previous studies of China’s only children, which featured 23 research samples, and studied their results. Their overall analysis, “China’s Only Children and Psychopathology: A Quantitative Synthesis,” shows that China’s only children are more likely to have educated parents and, though they do receive more resources, attention and education, they are not coddled. Instead, they have high expectations and more pressures placed upon them by parents and society for educational and career success.

China’s Only Children and Psychopathy: A Quantitative Synthesis was published in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry.

Allison SkerrettAllison Skerrett, associate professor in the Curriculum and Instruction department at The University of Texas at Austin College of Education, recently published a book for educators and researchers, Teaching Transnational Youth: Literacy and Education in a Changing World.

A Q&A with the language and literacy professor explores just who “transnational youth” are, how her interest in the topic developed, and how her book helps teachers and researchers understand the educational needs and gifts of a diverse population of students who straddle multiple cultures and lands.

What does the term “transnational youth” mean?

Transnational youth are young people who live across two or more countries—spending significant amounts of time in each (for instance, across a year) and maintaining deep ties to each of the places they live. Often they belong to families who are transnational, so their living “here and there” occurs as part of their families’ transnational lifestyle; but there are also youths who have their own transnational experiences independent of their families’ movements.

What specific needs does this book address?

Although literacy scholars have been investigating how transnational youths use reading, writing, and other literacy practices in outside-school contexts to sustain their lifestyles and identities, this book is the first to investigate educational practices that can promote transnational students’ learning in school.

The book offers approaches to literacy curriculum and instruction through which literacy educators can learn about their transnational students’ educational experiences, challenges, resources and academic needs and use what they learn to promote these students’ academic development. Importantly, the book describes how teaching with more awareness of transnationalism ultimately supports the academic development of all students in the classroom.

How did your interest in this topic develop?

I immigrated to the U.S. from the Caribbean island of Dominica as an adolescent, and growing up on Dominica, my family was transnational in that my father worked in other countries, given the economic hardships on Dominica. He would be away for six months at a time before he was able to come home for a visit for two weeks. Thus I have a strong identity in relation to the phenomenon of transnationalism.

I was also an English teacher in the Boston Public Schools before entering doctoral studies, and I had students each year who were transnational. At the time I did not have the term, awareness, or professional knowledge that would have allowed me to understand these students’ lifestyles, resources, and educational needs, and be responsive in my curriculum and teaching. Later, as a teacher educator and researcher at UT Austin, I conducted research in an Austin classroom that included transnational students. I began to focus on transnational students’ educational experiences and conceptualize curriculum and instructional approaches that can promote their academic development.

What are the findings about transnational youth in the classroom? What do they bring to the classroom that educators may be missing, for example?

Transnational students face a unique and severe challenge in literacy development because they must learn through different curriculum and instructional approaches of two or more nations. The research of migration scholars concludes that these challenges result in poor academic outcomes, academic disengagement, and dropout of transnational students from one or more of the schools they attend.

However, literacy research also paints a vibrant picture of the outside-school literate lives and capabilities of transnational youths. For instance, literacy scholarship portrays how transnational youths use reading, writing, and other literacy practices in outside-school contexts to sustain their transnational lifestyles and identities. As one example, transnational students often engage in digital literacies, using social media and the web, to maintain social relationships across the different countries in which they live. Literacy research also reveals how transnational youths develop special forms of intercultural and world knowledge, and expand their linguistic knowledge and language practices, through participating in transnational life.

Conclusion

Dr. Skerrett recently gave two lectures based in her book at the University of California Berkeley. She will be presenting on her book at the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention in Minneapolis in November and at the Literacy Research Association’s Annual Conference in Carlsbad, CA., in December. Dr. Skerrett is currently teaching from her book in a course titled “Teaching Secondary English and Reading” at the University of Texas at Austin this fall. She has received two university research awards to conduct additional research in spring 2016 in a high school English classroom that includes transnational students.

-Photo by Christina S. Murrey

Dr. Sherry Field was awarded the Dr. Truman L. Kelley Award for Scholarship Excellence by Kappa Delta Pi. The award is one of three Founders Awards that pay tribute to the visions of the organization’s founding members and honor stellar exemplars of those visions.

Read the story and view a video in which Field discusses her research.

Kinesiology and Health Education Doctoral Program Ranks 2nd in the Nation

The National Academy of Kinesiology (NAK) announced that The University of Texas at Austin’s doctoral program in Kinesiology and Health Education (KHE) ranks second in the nation.

Says KHE Professor and Department Chair John Bartholomew, “The NAK rankings are based on indicators of faculty productivity, including extramural funding, publications and editorships; along with student productivity, including publications and placements. As such, the steady rise in rankings is a wonderful reflection of the work of our entire department –staff, students, and faculty. I could not be more proud of their achievement.”

Read the story on our website to find out more.

Department Chair Wins Massey Award

Cinthia Salinas, associate professor and new chair of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education at the University of Texas at Austin was named this year’s recipient of the Elizabeth Shatto Massey Award for Excellence in Teacher Education. The Massey Award recognizes a “teacher of teachers,” one who inspires and prepares future elementary and secondary school teachers, and includes a $12,000 gift.

Salinas works with future elementary and secondary social studies teachers as they enter increasingly linguistically and culturally diverse 21st-century classrooms.

Follow the link for the full story and more about the Massey Award.

One More River to Cross

Immigration and Language Barriers Could Not Deter This Education Champion

In April, College of Education bilingual education major Mayte De Paz was named a McNair Scholar recipient. The McNair is a prestigious award and the process is competitive. But Mayte has had years of practice beating seemingly insurmountable odds. She first began doing so when she was just six years old.

“When I was a child in Trojes, Mexico, I farmed with my mom and sisters. I learned how to work in the fields. We grew flowers and food, like corn and tomatoes, and raised animals,” explains De Paz.

Mayte De Paz

Mayte De Paz (Photo by: Christina S. Murrey)

The family farmed one side of a river and lived on the other. The river would rise during the day, making the return crossing laborious, even treacherous. “The walk home was wet and muddy, and each day we’d have to construct makeshift bridges by filling bags with dirt and bricks to try to make it across. Not everyone was successful making it across and would end up trapped for the night away from their homes.”

When Mayte was 12, her family moved to El Potrero Nuevo León. It was the first time she had a chance to attend school on a regular basis. “There wasn’t time to go to school when we were farming, so I was 12 years old and did not know how to read or write.” The family lived in Monterrey for five years before immigrating to the United States when Mayte was 17. She and her sister enrolled in school in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas. Entrance exams placed Mayte and her younger sister in their freshman year of high school.

“I didn’t know any English,” she says. “I started watching TV, reading aloud. I got an English-Spanish dictionary.” Though she struggled with reading and writing, she excelled in sciences and math. “I liked biology because I could understand it. I stayed for tutoring and my teacher would tell us about the next class. I made an 85.”

Despite the language barrier, Mayte made the B honor roll her freshman year.

Single-minded Perseverance

“But I wanted more,” Mayte says. She spent many days after school watching other students play soccer. “I wanted to play, but I was too shy to ask. Finally, I asked the coach and I went to tryouts. I felt like a bird flying. I began to play on the team. I made it to varsity. I got a jacket. I joined student council and ROTC, and I became the company commander; I joined the multicultural club too. I wanted to be part of the National Honors Society, but you had to be in the top 10%, and I didn’t have the GPA and grades. I needed an 87.9.”

She didn’t let that challenge stop her either. “Each semester I would try harder. I’d go to my counselor and she’d say, ‘Not yet, Mayte, but keep trying.’ Then finally I made it.”

Mayte was accepted at UT Arlington, “but I didn’t go because my parents said no. My parents thought I was crazy to follow a different path. But I decided that if they didn’t allow me, I would keep going for myself.”

She enrolled in community college, where she tackled yet another barrier.

“I could not pass the writing class,” she says. “If you make three major errors on the writing test—things like subject/verb agreement or fragment errors, you can’t pass. I took the test nine times. I couldn’t take English, government or history until I passed that class.” But she excelled at math. The school began to notice her math ability and she earned a scholarship. “I was happy. I finally took the writing test the last time. Fifteen students took it and only four passed. When I found out that I passed I fell on the ground crying.”

Discovering her Passion, with a Little Help

Mayte always wanted to attend The University of Texas in Austin, but she thought that goal was out of reach. “I was in community college for six years. I thought UT was for rich, really smart people; but when I decided to try to get in, my professors didn’t hesitate to support me. I even got a letter of recommendation from the community college president.”

In 2014, the math and science whiz was accepted into the Cockrell School of Engineering, which humbled her. “It’s extremely difficult to get into the school of engineering at UT. I knew it was a big honor.” She spent her first semester trying to find out what she wanted to do, pursue and be. That’s when Mayte discovered something that troubled her: “I wanted to be involved more directly with making people’s lives better, but I didn’t see myself doing that by becoming an engineer.”

Mayte sought out professors, mentors and counselors to help with her dilemma. She realized that, though she excelled at math and science, her English language skills kept her from uncovering her true academic and career passion: education.

So Mayte changed her major to bilingual education. She credits Jessica Silva [academic advising coordinator in the College of Education] with encouraging her to continue on for her Ph.D. and to apply for the McNair Scholars program. The McNair Scholars program works to increase the number of students in doctoral degree programs who are low-income and first-generation undergraduates, or students who come from groups underrepresented in graduate education. Program participants must be committed to enrolling in graduate programs with an end goal of successfully completing a Ph.D.

The biggest challenge in earning the prestigious award? “I had to write an essay,” she says, proudly. “I wrote about how I want to help the community.”


Building a Stronger Bridge

Ph.D, Candidate’s White House Internship Further Supports First-Generation Latino Students

A native of the Texas Rio Grande Valley, current UT College of Education Ph.D. student Joanna Sanchez was a first-generation college student who remembers how difficult the transition to higher education was, especially without the support of family and community. Sanchez received a Gates Millennium Scholarship in its inaugural year, 1999. The scholarship, which provides financial assistance to outstanding minority students with significant financial need, was instrumental in helping Joanna earn a bachelor’s degree in geosciences from Trinity University. She went on to earn a master’s in geographic information science from the University of Denver.

Joanna Sanchez

Joanna Sanchez

Joanna then embarked on a successful career in geographic information systems (GIS), but volunteering with the Gates program led her to discover her true calling. “Part of my responsibility as a Gates Millennium Scholar was to speak to students in the community about the program and my experience,” says Joanna. Not only did she find that engagement fulfilling, she also saw a distinct void that needed to be filled. “As in my own experience, I saw a lack of family support for first-generation students to leave home and go off into the unknown world of college. I began to understand how important it is for the families of these students to become educated about the opportunities the college journey gives their young people.”

“It’s scary for students to leave the Valley, with no support. And their families are afraid that if their children leave, they won’t come back,” she explains. “But I get to show them not only that it is possible for their kids to do well, but that, like me, they can and do come back.”

Joanna channelled her passion for supporting students and their families into a nonprofit organization that she founded in the Rio Grande Valley called Odisea. Odisea’s mission is to work with local high school students and parents to try to make the transition from high school to moving away from home for college easier. Her nonprofit work proved so inspiring that she made it her career. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in educational policy and planning. Her research interests include college access, minority first-generation college students and school/family/community partnerships. Joanna was named a 2014-2016 Barbara L. Jackson Scholar and, this summer, the third-year doctoral student was named an Archer Fellow.

It was the Archer Fellowship that opened the door to the White House. The program was established by The University of Texas System and former U.S. Representative Bill Archer to bring students to Washington, D.C., to participate in internships and attend classes focusing on policy, history and advocacy. Joanna took classes in D.C. this summer and found an internship in a White House program that is applicable to her research and career goals. “There are five White House initiatives on educational excellence. Each one focuses on studying educational policies and programs within a particular minority or underrepresented group. My work this summer focuses on the Hispanic community. It’s a great fit with my work at Odisea and my research. There can be a huge disconnect between local and federal efforts in the field, and I want to work on building that connection.”

 

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Gaining pre-service practicum experience during the sun-drenched summer months is a challenge for students pursuing teaching certification. But this summer, The University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education teamed up with the nonprofit Breakthrough Austin, forging a relationship that gives our students a chance to gain valuable teaching experience and professional development hours needed for certification.

“Each day, the students blew us away with the knowledge they brought into the classroom along with their desire to remain committed to an academic program during their precious summer vacation,” says Dhara Lad, a UTeach Urban Teachers (UTUT) junior. “The greatest moments at Breakthrough involved seeing students have their very own breakthroughs, whether that be in finding books enjoyable, overcoming a math strategy, identifying college as a priority, or breaking out of their shell and stepping into positions of leadership and public speaking roles.”

Lad, who is majoring in International Relations and Global Studies and Asian Cultures and Languages, taught 7th graders African American Civil Rights and Make It Up as You Go, an improvisation class. When asked about the summer experience, she admits it was exhausting but worth it: “The program allowed us to tweak existing curriculum while also giving us the complete freedom to design and execute our own lessons and unit plans, incorporating material relevant to the lives of our students like gentrification, immigration, gay marriage and racism.”

Breakthrough Austin is part of a national nonprofit system that provides out-of-school learning and academic case management to students from low-income communities who will be the first in their families to graduate from college. The service lasts from middle school through college. During the summer break, middle school students take academic classes. They also spend time learning skills and receiving counseling that will help them succeed academically and navigate a world that is new to them and their families. Though the Breakthrough summer program has taken place at UT for more than a decade, this is the first year College of Education students have taken part as instructors.

“Finding meaningful summer placements where our students gain professional development hours is a struggle,” explains Thea Williamson, a doctoral student in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and instructional coach for the Breakthrough project. “Earlier in the year, Cinthia Salinas (Curriculum and Instruction chair and professor) reached out to Breakthrough to offer the services of UTeach Urban Teachers students as summer school academic instructors. It was a win-win,” she says.

UTeach Urban Teachers prepares English and Social Studies educators to thrive in the context of urban schools. UTUT students took two classes this semester: Literacy Across the Disciplines, taught by College of Education graduate student Alina Pruitt, and Sociocultural Influences on Learning, taught by graduate student Kevin Magill. The courses gave UTUT students theoretical knowledge pertinent to teaching students with diverse cultural backgrounds, like those at Breakthrough.

Says Magill, “The partnership gave our students a unique, supportive community environment to develop their skills through first-hand experience. They were able to develop fairly dynamic insights into many elements of teaching in a short time. As a cohort they came together in support of each other and their students, having developed confidence in the classroom, in the community, and working with parents. They now understand what creative, interesting lesson plans look like and how to implement them. They are quite prepared for their intern teaching experience this fall.”

Michael Griffith, executive director of Breakthrough Austin, says he’s excited about the new relationship between the college and his organization. “The College of Education at UT is one of the best colleges of education in the country. It’s remarkable that our students get to benefit from that. I’m very humbled by it.”

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