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Dr. Joan Shiring
The Texas 10
The Alcalde
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“Shiring, MEd ’81, PhD ’86, says that beating cancer made her more grateful for a job she already loved: training future English teachers in UT’s College of Education, where she spent 32 years, first as a student and then as a faculty member.”

Dr. Harold “Bill” Kohl
The Marathon Runner as Couch Potato
The New York Times
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“… the data showed that ‘time spent exercising does not supplant time spent sitting.’ It seems that people can be simultaneously very active and very sedentary.”

Dr. Jonathan Dingwell
From Athletes to the Elderly: The Science of Trips and Falls
The Wall Street Journal
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“…research, at the University of Texas at Austin, tracked healthy people as they walked and ran and found that older individuals are more at risk from small variations in steps than younger people. Jonathan Dingwell, a professor in the department of kinesiology and health education, said younger people can more quickly adjust to the changes than the elderly.
The study was conducted by attaching reflective markers onto various parts of participants’ bodies. The positions of the markers, which reflected infra-red light caught on cameras, were reconstructed in a computer to generate a digital image that allowed researchers to analyze the gait of the participant.”

Dr. Kay McClenney
Ramping Up Engagement to Boost Student Success
Community College Times
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“Improved student success and college completion isn’t about having a checklist, or one of everything—a collection of boutique programs. Quality of design and implementation is critically important. Integrating discrete practices into coherent pathways is essential. And community colleges will achieve the improved results they seek only when they commit to high-quality implementation at significantly higher scale.”

Montserrat Garibay, Curriculum & Instruction alum
Closing a Fear Gap So Children Can Achieve
The New York Times
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“At a time when Latinos have surpassed whites to account for a majority of public school students in Texas, Ms. Garibay is taking an unusually direct approach to one of the most deeply entrenched challenges in education: the achievement gap in test scores and low graduation rates that are plaguing schools disproportionately populated by the children of immigrants.”


Dr. Gregory J. Vincent, a professor in the College of Education’s Department of Educational Administration and UT Austin’s vice president for diversity and community, joined President Barack Obama on Feb. 27 at the White House for the introduction of the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative.

Gregory J. Vincent, Ph.D.

Gregory J. Vincent, Ph.D.

Education, public sector and philanthropic leaders, including General Colin Powell, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Honorable Michael Bloomburg, also were on hand for the rollout.

The initiative will use proven tools that already are helping young men and boys of color in select communities reach their full potential and replicate those successful practices and programs on a large scale. To make this happen, the initiative has engaged the support of private philanthropies, governors, mayors, businesses, faith leaders and non-profit organizations. The President also has signed a presidential memorandum to create a federal government task force that will evaluate the efficacy of various intervention strategies so that all partners in the initiative will have a set of best practices to follow.

At UT Austin, Dr. Vincent has played a key role in establishing mentoring programs nationwide for young Black males through the work of the national fraternity Sigma Pi Phi and has been a leader in Communities in Schools’ X-Y Zone. X-Y Zone is a leadership development and peer support program that builds beneficial life skills in high school-age males of color.

Dr. Melissa Mosley Wetzel and Saba Khan Vlach
Language and Literacy Studies

Melissa Mosley Wetzel is An Associate Professor of Language and Literacy. Her research and teaching focus on how preservice teachers integrate critical literacy and culturally relevant practices into their field-based literacy teaching experiences.

Saba Vlach taught elementary school for 17 years.  She is currently in her first year of Ph.D coursework in The University of Texas at Austin’s Language and Literacy Studies program.



Title: “Fly Free”
Author: Written by Roseanne Thong, Illustrated by Eujin Kim Neilan
Age range: Grades K-3
Publisher: Boyds Mills Press, 2010
“Fly free, fly free in the sky so blue. When you do a good deed, it will come back to you.”  Mai softly sings these words when she invites Thu to help feed the caged sparrows outside the Buddhist temple in Vietnam.  Mai’s invitation begins a circle of kindness that will help all who join to “fly free” (including the readers).



Title: “This Is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration”
Author: Written by Jacqueline Woodson, Illustrated by James Ransome
Age range: Grades K-3
Publisher: Penguin Books, 2013
According to the illustrator, “I wanted to tell the story of how some Black people came to New York City. When I began writing it, my mom was still living. She didn’t live to see the final book but I think it would make her very proud. She came to Brooklyn a long time ago and if she hadn’t come to New York, I wouldn’t have grown up here! I couldn’t even imagine that!”



Title: “Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale”
Author: Written and Illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh
Age range: Grades 2-5
Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2013
Pancho, a young rabbit, sets out on an adventure with the reader to find his papa. His story is one of migration and an emotional journey. Readers will delight in Tonatiuh’s beautiful illustrations and word choices. Pancho’s story has won numerous awards, including the Pura Belpré Author and Illustrator Honor book for 2014 and most recently, the Tomás Rivera Children’s Book Award.



Title: “Parrots Over Puerto Rico”
Author: Written by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore
Age range: Grades 2-5
Publisher: Lee & Low Books, Inc., 2014
“Parrots Over Puerto Rico” is a nonfiction picture book that recounts the history of the Puerto Rican parrot and the efforts of the Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program to save these beautiful birds from the danger of extinction.  The illustrations, created with paper and fabric collages, are breathtaking and unforgettable. “Parrots Over Puerto Rico” won the 2014 Robert Siebert Award by ALA as the outstanding informational Children’s Book.

To maintain our ranking as one of the top-rated U.S. education programs we have to do a lot of things right. We balance the rigorous disciplines of instruction and research while striving to maintain such core values as diversity, discovery, innovation and leadership. But there’s one unifying theme to this multi-faceted labor of love: Teaching is at the heart of everything we do.

Video by: Christina S. Murrey


“Read. Read widely. Read beyond the syllabi. It will pay off in ways you can’t imagine.”

Program Area: Language and Literacy Studies

Tom’s Story
I was 25 when I entered the Ph.D. program, after having taught three years in a pretty desperate high school in


Dr. Newkirk taught a graduate seminar in the history of composition at the University of New Hampshire in the fall of 2011. He was inspired by a UT class he took the summer of 1973 taught by Geneva Pilgrim.

Boston. During those three years I was immersed in African American speech and forms of behavior that intrigued, puzzled, and (occasionally) tormented me. Graduate school, I hoped, would help me understand this situation better—particularly ways in which these oral performances and rituals could map onto reading.

Why UT?
I loved Austin from the moment I set foot there, and I loved the freedom of the doctoral program. Geneva Pilgrim, Jim Kinneavy, and Bob Kline were supportive and accessible, yet gave us all great freedom to find our way in a great and rich university. Kinneavy had recently published his magnum opus, The Theory of Discourse , which to this day shapes my map of language use. I also benefited tremendously from taking courses in the Speech and Communication Department, especially working with Beverly Whittaker who helped me understand the rhetoric of fiction.

NewkirkLife After UT
In the years, now decades, since I graduated I find myself coming back repeatedly to the work I read there. It seemed to me an age of “big” thinkers—along with Kinneavy there was James Moffett, John Dixon, Wayne Booth, James Britton, and Louise Rosenblatt. I know that the term “foundation” gets thrown around a lot, but I truly gained a foundation at the University of Texas.  For example, in my writing this week I revisited Kinneavy’s concept of “surprise value” in informative writing (timely because of the Common Core emphasis on non-fiction). It’s always with me.


NewkirkAdvice For Students
As for advice, I would say stay open to new directions; don’t get locked into a set project too early. Although I came to Texas with an interest in reading, it was writing and writing development that came to excite me—following that new interest was one of the best decisions I have ever made.  And read. Read widely. Read beyond the syllabi. It will pay off in ways you can’t imagine.

Finally, for heaven’s sake, enjoy your time in graduate school, enjoy Austin. And if you can find your way to the Scholz Garten, lift a Pearl for me.

Photos by Melissa Cooperman

To read more about our Curriculum and Instruction Alumni, go to: http://www.edb.utexas.edu/education/departments/ci/alumni/

Meet new faculty member Dr. Katherina Payne, an assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction’s Social Studies Education area –

“I’m really interested in how elementary school teachers prepare students to be active democratic citizens. In classes where teachers are addressing this issue, you see them giving children ample opportunities to participate, make choices and solve problems themselves or with their classmates, as a small community.

I’m also very interested in helping teachers become more effective at and comfortable with talking about sensitive social and cultural topics with very young children. I’ve spent a lot of time studying how teachers do this and working with future and current teachers on successful strategies. When we say “social issues,” we’re talking about things like racism, perhaps, or atypical family structures, immigration, divorce, incarceration, issues around gender, and so forth.

Children know much more about these topics than we adults assume, and they don’t see them as ‘controversial’ in the same way that adults can. They want to discuss them and they have a great natural sense of fairness when it comes to talking about things like discrimination and prejudice. Teachers usually discover that at least a few of their students are directly affected by one or more of these issues.

One of the best ways to broach these topics in class is to use relevant children’s literature as a launching point. For example, in kindergarten through second grade, the topic of families comes up often in the age-appropriate literature. Using books, the teacher can open up a discussion about what a family is supposed to look like and all of the different kinds of families there are.”

Photo by: Christina S. Murrey

Originally published in November 2011

In order to become better writing teachers, around 160 education students in The University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education recently gathered on a Saturday at Sanchez Elementary in Austin to walk the surrounding community and record thoughts and impressions that later could be incorporated in their writing.

The project, called “Writing Communities,” was designed to:

  • give future teachers an opportunity to be part of a community of fellow writers
  • help teacher education students as they work with Austin ISD students to complete writing projects focused on the people, places and history of Austin and determine how best to record and publish the children’s voices
  • emphasize the importance of writing in teacher education and showcase the outstanding work that UT is doing in Austin schools

Students at the Saturday event were introduced to the East Austin community they’d be visiting through brief narratives from three natives of the area – entrepreneur and philanthropist Juan Mesa, teacher and artist Raul Valdez and AISD parent support specialist Jennifer Riojas.

Writing Comm Books

The future teachers who participated in Writing Communities have been working with students in area school districts, helping them become better writers and produce works like the illustrated books that were on hand for viewing at the Saturday event.

“I grew up down the street from this school,” said Riojas, “and I have to say that the neighborhood has changed a great deal and is very different from the place I experienced when I was young. I remember getting up early in the morning when I was little, walking down the street to meet my friends and consistently encountering two distinct smells: the tortillas being made in each house and Pine-Sol.

“It was an extremely close-knit community, with everyone knowing everyone else. The adults watched out for all of the children, and we were all like one large family. My grandfather was not just a car mechanic – he was the person who fixed everyone’s cars in the community. It’s still a wonderful place, a place that you can return to and be greeted with open arms.”

Students also had the pleasure of hearing an inspirational talk by author, teacher and writing instruction expert Katherine Bomer. She encouraged attendees to think about the “power of place” and demonstrated to them how they could inspire their young students to draw upon their own lives to amass rich subject matter for writing.

Bomer urged the future teachers to contemplate their “heart places,” those sacred and special spots that they carry inside of them over a lifetime, and shared several excellent children’s books that address the importance of place. The students were urged to jot down thoughts about place as she made her presentation.
“I’m talking to you as writers today and also honoring you as future teachers of writers,” said Bomer. “I want to help you write about who you are and the things that you discover and for you to know how to help your students write about who they are, what they think and how they feel.

“As you walk these neighborhoods today you’ll be looking for what holds meaning, looking through the eyes of a writer. You’ll be describing the smells, sounds, sights, maybe even the foods, weather and the people who live here. What is the history of the place? How is it different from the way it used to be? Think about all of the lenses through which you can view a place – it might be through the lens of politics, language or cuisine. If you use this activity with your students, it’s also very powerful to help them generate memories by bringing in and showing photos or DVD’s, listening to music or telling family stories and singing songs.”

Following Bomer’s talk the large group broke up into smaller color-coded groups, and discussed what it means to use a writer’s notebook as a place to plant the seeds of ideas, as well as what it means to model “the writing life” for students.

“If you are a teacher asking your students to be writers, it’s very important for you to model that for them,” said Dr. Ramon Martinez, an assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and leader of the “magic mint green” group. We shouldn’t ask our students to do anything that we haven’t even done once.

“As you do this activity, think about what you carry inside of you as far as past places you’ve been and lived, and what the relationship is among place, identity and writing.  You’ll plant these ideas in your writer’s notebook and then go back to revisit them and cultivate them. Doing this will help you be much more effective when you’re working with your students and they’re planting their own seeds in their own notebooks and then build them into poems or stories, for example.”

Mini groups of six or seven students were each given a map with one of three different routes to follow. Groups had an hour in which to make the mile-long trek, explore the neighborhood and stop at designated spots to write and reflect. After the walk, the students once again gathered in their color-coded groups at Sanchez Elementary. They shared ideas that they had jotted down on the walk, talked about how the writing had shaped their views of the community and how viewing the community with other group members influenced what they saw.

As a wrap-up activity, the entire group reconvened and Language and Literacy Program professor Bonnie Elliott, along with several of her students, shared some of the colorful, illustrated story books produced by elementary students who wrote with a focus on place. All of the UT students who attended the event currently are implementing community writing projects with students across several school districts, including AISD. The students’ work will be featured in an anthology and on a website this spring.

Originally published in March 2011

Let’s say you have to teach a dozen college freshmen how to whip up a batch of chocolate éclairs, and the extent of their culinary experience up to now has been stirring Honey Nut Cheerios into lowfat yogurt.

You can stand in front of the group and tell them how to do it while they sit at their desks and copy it down. Then you can give them a multiple choice test to see if they remember the recipe.
George Veletsianos

Adventure Learning

Veletsianos was introduced to adventure learning when he worked with Dr. Aaron Doering, the architect of adventure learning, on a GoNorth! Arctic expedition. GoNorth! links up explorers, teachers and students from around the world to answer a ‘big’ science-related question such as “Why are the world’s oceans important to us all?”.

Or you can provide computers with Internet access and have them search for éclair recipes, choosing one that seems promising based on cooking principles they’ve learned from a cooking science scholar who spoke to the group. They also could use the computer to watch Parisian pastry chefs demonstrate classic cooking techniques and ask the experts questions during the demonstration.

Then the students could go select the cooking ingredients and try their hand at preparing the dish while they receive instant feedback, via the Internet and a webcam, from chefs who’ve successfully made the dessert.  After making the dish, the budding chefs could blog about their experiences and communicate online with cooking school students around the country, sharing some of the éclair recipes that were successful, as well as tips on how to tweak and improve the recipes that more or less went down in flames.

Notice how, with that second approach, the students are likely to learn more than just the recipe and the teacher doesn’t put a cap on what they learn? That’s actually a good thing.

According to University of Texas at Austin Professor George Veletsianos and other top education scholars, the most meaningful learning occurs when students become an active part of the whole process and become investigators and explorers, collecting data and searching for answers and solutions. In a class where this is happening, the instructor designs learning environments that are supported and amplified by technology. There aren’t restrictions on how much can be learned and the teacher’s more of a very skilled guide and supporter than disseminator of bite-sized, pre-packaged factoids.
Aaron Doering sits in a tent working on his laptop during a GoNorth! Arctic expedition

Adventure Learning

Dr. George Veletsianos

“I’m very interested in how to use emerging technologies and pedagogies to design engaging and powerful online learning experiences,” said Veletsianos, who’s an assistant professor in the College of Education‘s Department of Curriculum and Instruction. “We know that technology’s often used in familiar ways in education, in ways that support the status quo.

“But in my work, I try to break away from that mold and rethink the role of technology, role of the teacher and role of the student. The teacher becomes someone who orchestrates rich, exciting, challenging learning situations and is adept at tapping the potential of online networks and contemporary technology. The student generates valuable knowledge and participates in worthwhile activities. And technology transforms and extends the work that these individuals do.”

Back in 2004, when Veletsianos was a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, he had the good fortune to be introduced to a new educational approach called “adventure learning,” which is one approach to inquiry-based, hands-on, technology-supported education. It’s the kind of learning that teaches students how to think rather than simply how to recite, report and recall. Veletsianos was able to work closely with the pioneer of adventure learning and has over the last decade become a well-known national expert on the topic himself.

“I had a really dramatic first experience with adventure learning,” said Veletsianos. “I was able to join Dr. Aaron Doering, an architect of adventure learning, and a program called GoNorth! to research online learning environments that are based on and built around Arctic expeditions. These expeditions are followed, via technology, by students and teachers around the world.

Screen grab from George Veletsianos’ blog

Adventure Learning

To demonstrate the ease with which adventure learning can be implemented as well as some of the technology resources that can be used, Veletsianos turned his blog post about biking around Austin on a Saturday into an adventure learning experience.

“It’s not that there weren’t any teachers offering active learning experiences or instructors using technology in creative ways before the dawn of adventure learning, but adventure learning represents the first time the process was formalized and informed, down to the last detail, by scrupulous research. Adventure learning requires a well-researched, inquiry-based curriculum, collaboration between all of the participants, media and materials that students receive regularly and at frequent intervals from scientists and researchers in the field, and specific pedagogical guidelines.”

In the case of GoNorth!, which has arranged annual educational expeditions to remote Arctic locations since 2004, the learning takes place around a few central “big” questions that relate to the travel destination. For example, a few years ago, scientists, teachers and students set out to answer the question, “What is climate change?” through a GoNorth! adventure.

Teachers, students and experts around the world collected data from their own regions and used authentic, real-time reports from the explorers, as well as the adventure learning curriculum and resources, to learn natural and social sciences. The participants were able to share their findings with one another in online photo albums, webcasts, blogs, movies and interactive maps. One team from the circumpolar Arctic even paddled along the shores of British Columbia and Washington State, reporting daily in journals and with audio and video on the sights and sounds that they encountered as they investigated climate change.

“This sort of large-scale version of adventure learning typically includes exploration and inquiry by an expedition team to some remote location -– Alaska, Australia, wherever –- and the experts share their findings as they happen,” said Veletsianos. “Along with the students, they predict and investigate outcomes.

“Teachers interested in using adventure learning will want to have the option of doing it in a more modest way and implementing it with more ease and frequency, so I’ve begun to study how it can be scaled down and still deliver the same benefits. In the fall of 2010 I and a small group of instructional technology graduate students teamed up with a large, introductory sociology class -– the Study of Society — here on campus to see if the adventure learning approach could help the students experience what it’s like to be a sociologist.”

Veletsianos and instructional technology graduate students Gregory Russell, Cesar Chavez Navarrete and Janice Rios ventured out into Austin to ask the man -– and woman –- on the street, “What’s the role of the teacher?” and collect anecdotes from interviewees about some of their most memorable teachers. Veletsianos named the project “YoTeach.Us,” and he and his team designed and developed a set of online environments where YoTeach.Us data were gathered and posted over three weeks. The sociology students watched and commented on the interview responses, while also collaborating on related tasks assigned to them.

Adventure Learning“The goal was to give the sociology students an accurate approximation of authentic sociology field research,” said Navarrete. “In addition to gathering interviews in Austin, we also solicited responses from instructors around the country. We received a substantial number of audio and video submissions, ending up mainly with YouTube interviews -– and we’re still taking responses. The result was an impressive collection of sociological perspectives gathered around one ‘big question’ that a real sociologist might actually address, and this body of data will likely continue to grow.”

Even though online education tends to be associated with passive instruction, our work and research show how you can capitalize on the power of creative pedagogies and social-oriented technologies to design incredible, lively learning opportunities, whether these are for kindergarten through high school classes or for higher education. George Veletsianos

Next, the sociology students broke up into teams to launch independent explorations of a sociological issue of their choice. They conducted interviews, analyzed print and digital media, created video recordings, researched, blogged and produced digital analyses of their research.

Navarrete, Russell and graduate student Anita Harvin assisted the sociology students by developing and sharing a set of tutorials for online technologies like Bubblr, GoAnimate, Pixton, StoryBird, VoiceThread and BlogSpot. They also worked directly with each team to help the amateur sociologists figure out how best to integrate the technology.

Veletsianos hopes to build a substantial online portfolio of adventure learning projects, similar to YoTeach.Us, that any kindergarten through 12th grade or university instructor can access, use or replicate. Also, university instructors will be able to use the YoTeach.Us videos to lead their pre-service teachers in a study of instructors’ roles in the classroom.

“Even though online education tends to be associated with passive instruction,” said Veletsianos, “our work and research show how you can capitalize on the power of creative pedagogies and social-oriented technologies to design incredible, lively learning opportunities, whether these are for kindergarten through high school classes or for higher education.”

Students tend to share Veletsianos’ enthusiasm for interactive technology and for adventure learning, using words and phrases like “real-life,” “meaningful” and “engrossing” to describe adventure learning. The word “fun” crops up an awful lot, too.

“I hope adventure learning eventually just becomes synonymous with ‘good teaching’ and that at some point it’s what everyone is doing,” said Dee Davis, a middle school science teacher. “It’s not unimportant that our students remember the War of 1812 was in 1812 and can repeat a two-sentence definition of photosynthesis, but, honestly, if I were looking to hire an engineer, computer scientist, teacher, marketing consultant –- whatever –- I’d want the adventure learner. I’d want somebody who’d learned how to think, solve problems and create things that didn’t exist before.”

Photo of George Veletsianos: Marsha Miller

Originally published in October 2011

Working with The University of Texas at Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering, area school districts, and members of the education industry, the College of Education is helping implement Beyond Blackboards, a program that introduces middle school students to engineering design.

Robo Maniacs

“An art student, for example, who shows design promise would never know that there was a niche for her in engineering and most teachers would not know that this talented student could flourish in an engineering class.” – Dr. Anthony Petrosino

Beyond Blackboards is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) is based on the highly successful Design Technology and Engineering for America’s Children (DTEACh) engineering outreach program. DTEACh and Beyond Blackboards emphasize hands-on experience with technology and the use of design challenges and robotics to create a context for math and science learning.

“Most students don’t have an entirely accurate perception of what it means to be an engineer and what engineering involves,” said Dr. Anthony Petrosino, associate professor in the College of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction and co-principal investigator for the NSF grant. “Most adults don’t either, for that matter. One of the strengths of Beyond Blackboards is that it’s designed to educate not only the middle school students, but also teachers, school administrators and parents, or other caregivers, regarding the breadth of education and career opportunities available to someone who’s developed strong math and science skills. Most people are surprised – they possess a rather narrow definition of ‘engineer.’”

Realizing that not all students will, or should, become engineers, Beyond Blackboards focuses on using engineering-based challenges and projects to build students’ skills in analysis, problem-solving, negotiation, creativity, tolerance for ambiguity and understanding of systems thinking. Any or all of these skills can help students successfully pursue university degrees and lucrative career paths in any number of fields.

Ojeda Gators

The Ojeda Middle School “Engin Ears” robotics team participating in a Beyond Blackboards robotics competition. According to Dr. Anthony Petrosino, middle school is a critical decision-making time for students and Beyond Blackboards focuses on supporting and educating those individuals who are in a position to positively influence students when it comes to the development of math, science and technology skills.

“Unfortunately, many K-12 engineering programs have been modeled after university engineering programs, which means that students don’t get introduced to the design element of engineering,” said Petrosino. “An art student, for example, who shows design promise would never know that there was a niche for her in engineering and most teachers would not know that this talented student could flourish in an engineering class.”

Historically underserved student populations are particularly at risk for falling through the cracks, with the dropout rate for Hispanics currently standing at around 40 percent. Many of these students may not perform well on tests but can possess skill sets that allow them to do well in engineering design. The confidence and expertise gained in engineering design can be a launching point for understanding core math and science subject material.

To encourage more students to enter science, math, engineering and technology (STEM) fields, Beyond Blackboards is taking a four-pronged approach that includes research-based materials and training for students, teachers, school administrators and parents.

Students are engaged in inquiry-based, open-ended, hands-on learning activities and introduced to a varied selection of STEM college options and careers during after-school programs, such as robotics clubs, as well as in intensive summer camps.

Teachers are trained to lead out-of-school robotics programs, receiving engineering professional development that increases their content knowledge and the level of comfort with which they employ technology in their classrooms.

Teachers are educated in how to introduce students to engineering, using techniques such as drawing students’ attention to everyday examples of engineering topics, thereby placing abstract engineering concepts into familiar contexts. The teachers also learn how to generate interactive discussions about science and math concepts underlying engineering subject areas; set up exploratory labs for the students; present open-ended design problems in class; and help students become adept at communicating technical information, such as their engineering design solutions.


“Really focusing on historically underserved groups, we’re tapping into a large, promising future workforce – this is a great opportunity to increase the number of individuals who have STEM skills.” – Dr. Anthony Petrosino

Beyond Blackboards builds support from school counselors and administrators by offering them professional development that include education on STEM career opportunities and field trips to area businesses and organizations that offer a broad array of jobs in STEM fields. The education professionals also can avail themselves of presentations, discussions and hands-on activities that explain and illustrate students’ learning experiences. Teachers outside math and science – career instructors and art teachers, for example – have access to this training as well.

And finally, the program also reaches out to parents and caregivers, targeting historically under-represented groups in order to build understanding about the options open to students who have math and science skills. Among other things, Beyond Blackboards shares STEM college and career awareness activities with parents of children who are in the robotics after-school clubs or summer camps.

At The University of Texas at Austin, Beyond Blackboards engages engineering and UTeach students to serve as mentors for middle school students in the program.

“Support from multiple sources increases the likelihood of success,” said Petrosino. “Corporate partners like DTEACh are very involved as well as Skillpoint Alliance, a Central Texas education and workforce agency, and members of communities around the participating schools.

“Research points to the fact that middle school is a critical decision-making time for students and Beyond Blackboards focuses on those individuals who are in a position to positively influence students. Really focusing on historically underserved groups, we’re tapping into a large, promising future workforce – this is a great opportunity to increase the number of individuals who have STEM skills.”

Originally published in March 2011

I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news.

The bad news first -– Texas has a critical shortage of school guidance counselors and this means many students who are academically capable of getting into college but need help with the application process won’t end up attending. To make matters worse, the schools most affected by the shortage have large low-income student populations.


Iván Medina (Business), Abigail Young-Sing (Human Biology) and Alison Najera (Communication) are May 2010 University of Texas at Austin graduates now working as Advise TX advisers in San Antonio, Texas high schools. They are pictured here in Jefferson High School, where Alison was placed as an adviser.Photo: George Brainard

Now the good news –- The University of Texas at Austin’s Advise TX is hiring talented new graduates from four-year universities to help students in several high-need Texas high schools tackle the college application process. Advise TX is in the College of Education’s Institute for Public School Initiatives and, like Americorps, Teach for America and the Peace Corps, it’s tapping into many new graduates’ spirit of community service.

The College of Education’s Institute for Public School Initiatives launched Advise TX (initially called Texas College Advising Corps) last year. Partnerships with the College for All Texans Foundation, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, TG and Bank of America have allowed Advise TX to place counselors in 15 Houston, Rio Grande Valley and San Antonio high schools. The project will be expanding this fall, adding 120 Texas high schools from the 266 that have applied and hiring 50 new graduates to fill the full-time adviser positions.

Each school will receive one adviser, and what a difference that one will make.

According to a study done by Stanford University, the advising corps has the potential to improve college attendance rates by 10 percent or more, which means that Advise TX is poised to help send an additional 10,000 low-income students per year to college.

“Advise TX is part of the National College Advising Corps, which is a national movement lead by universities to help historically underrepresented high school students enroll in college,” said Matt Orem, Advise TX director. “In Texas, the ratio of students to counselors is almost 400 to one and counselors get to spend, on average, only around 20 minutes with each high school senior. That’s 20 minutes to talk to them about what the SAT is, help them schedule to take the test, choose colleges, help fill out college applications, explain financial aid options, help them fill out financial aid paperwork –- it’s impossible.

Matt Orem

Matt Orem is the director of Advise TX.

“A national study done in 2004 showed that half of the eight million undergraduates enrolled in colleges and universities didn’t complete financial aid eligibility paperwork, and more than 20 percent of them would have been eligible for the need-based Pell Grant. If no one’s available to help students find universities to apply to, navigate the admissions paperwork and apply for financial aid, many students simply will end up not attending college. Most of the students that our advisers help don’t have parents who’ve gone to college or brothers or sisters who are familiar with the process –- a lot of them will be the first in their families to graduate from high school.”

A chance to help students who have the necessary academic skills but not the financial resources is the main reason University of Texas at Austin graduate Abigail Young Sing applied last year to be part of the advising corps. Advise TX accepts graduates from a variety of fields, so Abigail’s degree in human biology rather than education didn’t preclude her from being considered and selected.

University of Texas at Austin graduates chosen for this first year’s Texas corps have come from the Colleges of Liberal Arts, Communication, Education, Natural Sciences and the McCombs School of Business.

“As soon as I read the job description, I knew I wanted to apply for the job,” Abigail said. “I had gone through the college application process just a few years earlier myself and also had recently helped one of my younger sisters apply to college so I knew how much help one needed, even someone who was reasonably savvy. I was interviewed by program director Emily Watson, and she was so passionate about the organization that all I could do after I left the interview was picture myself as a college adviser. I was absolutely dying to get a call back telling me I was in.”

Abigail did get the much-anticipated call and, with the 14 other advisers who’d been chosen, soon began four weeks of summer training in preparation for placement at South San Antonio High School.

“The training was excellent,” she said. “Several education veterans and experts taught us all about financial aid, admissions, school administration, how to interact with parents, student transfers, locating community resources and a host of other topics that would be very relevant once we were on the job. During the third week of training we traveled to a several different universities, received grand tours, and talked to students, admissions officers and financial aid representatives.

“As advisers, we must help students make individualized choices as to which college to attend, so this opportunity to familiarize ourselves with other schools was crucial. In the last week of training, we traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with the national corps members and were able to interact with advisers like us from other states. We attended workshops, lectures, brainstorming sessions and spoke with advisers who’d already served a year and could relate their experiences. We even were able to visit the Capitol and meet with politicians to hear how they’re addressing education-related issues.”

At San Antonio High School, where Abigail is an adviser, the student body is about 95 percent Hispanic and many of those aren’t English-language proficient.

Because of the demographics –- low-income families in which the parents may not have graduated from high school and also may not speak English -– and counselors with multiple competing priorities, the school has not been able to provide regular college planning assistance to students.

“I’m not sure most people know just how much a high school counselor does,” said Abigail. “They’re responsible for registering students for classes and counseling students who have disciplinary problems, problems at home, students who are being bullied, who are skipping school –- you name it. Their plates are full and overflowing.

“Offering help with college attendance is only one part of the job, but it’s a very important part, especially at a school such as mine. “

Since being at San Antonio High, Abigail has introduced herself to all of the senior classes and given lots of presentations on the value of getting a college education, what success means, what a major is and how to choose one, university options, what it’s like to live away from home and how to get through the application process.

She’s worked one-on-one with numerous seniors, helping them register for the SAT and ACT, complete college applications and essays, and research financial aid possibilities.

“Right now, I’m working on putting up what we’re calling the ‘College Wall,’” said Abigail. “On it there are photos of our seniors who’ve been accepted to four-year universities, showing their names and the names of the universities they’ll be attending. This is going to be displayed at the front of the school and is just one of the initiatives we’ve got in place to recognize the great achievements of the students. After all, many of them are blazing a completely new trail in their family, this school and their community.”

As the spring semester speeds toward May and the end of another school year, Abigail reports, “Things are looking really good at South San!” So far, she’s had 100 seniors apply to four-year universities and all around the school there’s evidence that a “college culture” is beginning to take hold.

In addition to relieving the overwhelming workloads of counselors already on staff and helping low-income students get into college, Advise TX has another substantial upside – it’s economical.

At a cost of about $22 per student served, it’s a highly efficient and effective way of improving access to higher education. Research done for the National College Advising Corps revealed that similar programs cost around $1,500 or more per student served.

Advise TX projects that, along with its new partners at Texas A&M, Rice University, Trinity University and Texas Christian University, the 120 advisers who will be on staff next year will provide services to about 200,000 Texas students.

As former University of Texas Board of Regents Chairman Charles Miller says about the advising corps, “Truly, lives will not only be enhanced but will be saved for many students -– and it’s just the beginning.”

Q&A with Andria Schur

Principal, Houston ISD’s Barbara Jordan High School

How many counselors do you have per student?

We were, and are, fortunate to have one counselor per grade level here at the high school, and there are about 270 students in each grade. The counselors were, however, unable to give students the personal attention and in-depth focus on college bound activities that our Advise TX adviser is providing.

Can you describe the student population at your school? Are most of the families affluent? Are the majority of students English language learners? African American? College bound?

As far as ethnicity, about 54 percent of our students are African American and around 46 percent are Hispanic. Almost all of the students will be first generation college attendees, and a good portion of them will be first generation high school graduates. This year 100 percent of our seniors will be graduating — last year all but one graduated and that one will be doing so this year. Of our 284 seniors, 86 percent are enrolled in a two- or four-year college and we have a goal of 100 percent being enrolled before graduation.

How has the Advise TX adviser been able to help ease some of the burden for the guidance counselors?

Our guidance counselors usually have opportunities to make general announcements and get together whole assemblies regarding SAT registration or availability of scholarships, but our Advise TX adviser is able to track down individual students to assist in registration and scholarship applications, as well as with follow-up submissions. This has been the greatest advantage of the advisers and has made an enormous difference as far as helping students go to college who probably never would have otherwise.

The adviser we were assigned is absolutely amazing and she has, to a certain extent, set new expectations for what a senior counselor needs to be able to do. I couldn’t ask for more –- she’s very internally driven to see students succeed and go to college. Her sincere passion has broken down all cultural barriers and has impacted the lives of all my seniors.

Photo of Matt Orem: Marsha Miller