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The proverb, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” has been around since the 17th century. Over three hundred years later, it’s still widely understood that play is important to rejuvenation and creativity.

Education researchers also understand that, for children, play is essential to learning.

Experts like Christopher Brown, an associate professor at the College of Education of The University of Texas at Austin, are alarmed by the sharp reduction in play time for kindergarteners.

In Brown’s recent op-ed, published in the Conversation and Yahoo News, “Researchers have demonstrated that five-year-olds are spending more time engaged in teacher-led academic learning activities than play-based learning opportunities that facilitate child-initiated investigations and foster social development among peers.”

This shift is alarming, says Brown, because, “focus on rules can diminish children’s willingness to take academic risks and curiosity as well as impede their self-confidence and motivation as learners – all of which can negatively impact their performance in school and in later life.”

Christopher Brown during the recording session for Academic Minute.

Associate Professor Christopher Brown

Brown’s research-based perspective is becoming a call-to-action among the public. He has appeared on programs like the Academic Minute and most recently on Wisconsin Public Radio’s On Point broadcast.

Says Brown, a former kindergarten teacher, “No one … is advocating for the elimination of academics in kindergarten. … Kindergartners require more balanced learning experiences that nurture their development and their desire to learn and interact with others. This will improve their performance in school and assist them in seeing school as a place that will help them and their friends be better people.”


New nicotine delivery products change game for those working to lower tobacco use among young

BEFORE BIG TOBACCO WAS HIT with massive state-initiated lawsuits in the late 1990s, tobacco use among teens and young adults was so common that some high schools still maintained designated smoking areas for students. After the states won their lawsuits, the industry was forced to set up funding in perpetuity for programs to prevent smoking and to provide resources to help smokers quit. In 2013, 14 Tobacco Centers of Regulatory Science (TCORS) across the nation were established.

Texas TCORS on Youth and Young Adults, led by Cheryl L. Perry, of the University of Texas School of Public Health, is one such center. Comprised of three University of Texas sites—UT Austin, UT School of Public Health, and UT MD Anderson Cancer Center—the TCORS on Youth and Young Adults focuses its research on the impact of tobacco and tobacco marketing on the most vulnerable age groups for beginning tobacco use and becoming addicted: adolescents and young adults.

The center has found that while cigarette smoking has decreased among this age group, use of alternative tobacco products is increasing at an alarming rate.

In short, the fight against nicotine and tobacco is far from over.

The Good Old Days Go Up in Smoke

The “good old days” is how Alexandra Loukas, the Barbie M. and Gary L. Coleman Professor in Education in the College of Education, refers to the early tobacco landscape.

Loukas, who studies health behavior in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education (KHE), is the principal investigator for the Tobacco Marketing and Alternative Tobacco Use project, one of the center’s three research projects that focuses on young people’s nicotine and tobacco usage and the marketing aimed at them.

“Tobacco products used to come in a limited number of forms, like cigarettes, cigars, snuff, and chewing tobacco,” she says. In 2009, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act became law and gave the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate the manufacture, marketing, and distribution of cigarettes, roll-your-own, and smokeless tobacco products.

But while government began more intensive regulation and focus on traditional tobacco, myriad alternative tobacco and electronic nicotine delivery systems—also called e-cigarettes— flooded the market.

Loukas says that tobacco companies were “unprepared when lots of mom-and-pop shops started selling e-cigarettes,” devices that often look like cigarettes but use a battery to heat a nicotine vapor. E-cigarettes are available in more than 7,000 flavors and are often marketed as alternatives to cigarettes, a way to slow or stop smoking, or for use in places like bars or restaurants, where smoking is banned.

And they aren’t less dangerous to health. Not only is regular nicotine use—even through an e-cigarette— associated with respiratory problems, cardiovascular disease, and various cancers, new evidence suggests nicotine interferes with adolescent and young adult brain development.

E-cigarettes have divided the public health community. “Many public health professionals believe that e-cigarettes may reverse declining trends in tobacco use by re-normalizing cigarettes and introducing kids to a supposed safe alternative.

“E-cigarettes have divided the public health community.”

“Others, however, believe e-cigarettes may help smokers quit their habit,” Loukas says.  They’re also concerned that overregulation of e-cigarettes might put small companies out of business and cause the large tobacco companies, which have more resources and experience to fight regulation, to gain ground.

With no regulation of the industry and limited knowledge of the chemicals in the ubiquitous flavors, no one really knows how safe, or dangerous, e-cigarettes are.

And according to research, from November 2012 to June 2013, e-cigarette companies spent $39 million marketing these products, which have a particular appeal to young people.

An Intro to Nicotine Addiction for the Young

Many Millennials, people 18 to 34 years old, grew up viewing cigarette smoking as a disgusting and dangerous habit. That’s due in part to “the media promotions such as the Truth campaign, which decreased tobacco use among young people by showing how the tobacco industry has manipulated and targeted youth and young adults,” says KHE Associate Professor Keryn Pasch, a coinvestigator for the project.

From November to june 2013 alone, e-cigarette companies spent $39 million marketing their products. High school students use of e-cigarettes grew 12% between 2011 and 2014

Despite smoking’s decline in recent years, tobacco use is still the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States.

Eighty-five percent of those who become addicted to nicotine try it before age 18, and 99 percent who become addicted do so by age 26, according to research.

The college years are the ones in which young people transition from regular use to addiction. That’s why the rise in college students’ use of alternative nicotine products is disturbing. “Youth are drawn to e-cigarettes,” says Loukas, “because they view them as a safer alternative.”

And according to the research, e-cigarettes might serve as an introduction to the array of nicotine products, with 11.5 percent of students using multiple tobacco products, like hookah, which is also growing in popularity among college students.

What’s Being Done

The $20 million dollar grant that funded the Texas TCORS is helping UT researchers track changes in college students’ tobacco use and examine the role of tobacco marketing.

Photo of Keryn Pasch

Keryn E. Pasch

Photo of Alexandra Loukas

Alexandra Loukas

The center is in its third year collecting data from students at 24 two-and four-year colleges in Texas. Funding by the Texas Department of State Health Services to Loukas and her colleagues contributes to the development and implementation of college-based programs to prevent tobacco use. These prevention programs are being implemented in an additional 21 two- and four-year colleges in Texas.

Pasch leads work that examines the various ways tobacco is marketed to students. She and her students assess outlets that sell tobacco products around each campus. They document and describe what tobacco products stores sell, which bars students attend, and how much tobacco students might encounter in their environment.

According to Pasch, the FDA is building an arsenal of data to pass regulations to regulate marketing, and “in order to get policy change we have to add evidence to the stockpile,” she says.

Her team is helping gather that evidence, and in May, the Obama Administration announced it will begin regulating e-cigarettes, hookahs, and premium cigars like regular cigarettes— barring those under 18 from purchasing the products, adding warning labels and preventing them from being given away as samples.

In addition to evidence-gathering to facilitate policy change, Pasch, who also studies the effects of food marketing on K-12 students, explains that “we need to consider the environment. We focus on individual choices and behavior, but people don’t realize how much of their world is influenced by marketing in their environment. Our research is looking for links between the students’ environment and what they use.”

Lara Latimer, lecturer and project coordinator in KHE, provides college student groups with resources, such as ways to assess and strengthen tobacco policies on their campus, a web-based curriculum, and coordinated anti-tobacco marketing campaign materials and messages to help them combat the problem.

The peer-to-peer communication about the risks of the various kinds of tobacco use and the dangers of hookah and e-cigarette use in particular is key to helping students make better choices.

In the end, says Loukas, the message that young people need to understand is simple: “No matter the product, a smoker is a smoker is a smoker, and all of these products have a negative impact on health.”

New research shines much-needed light on gay men’s use of Facebook to reveal their sexual identity

Educational Psychology Professor Aaron Rochlen and doctoral student Matthew Chester

The idea of a gay man coming out often evokes in the mind a certain scene: images of a family member or friend seated in an arm chair in a living room, while the gay son, brother, father or husband opens up about his closely guarded sexual identity. However, a new study from researchers at The University of Texas at Austin suggests not only that social media may be disrupting this familiar tableau, it may also be helpful in lessening the negative ramifications for these men.

Educational Psychology Ph.D. student Matthew R. Chester and Professor Aaron Rochlen at the College of Education were part of a team of researchers that investigated the experiences of 12 gay men who came out online using Facebook. Their paper was recently published in the Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services. The study fills a gap in the literature about gay men’s coming out experiences.

Coming out as a gay man is rife with risks. In fact, research shows that gay men face higher incidences of sexual prejudice than lesbian women or bisexual men, and increased violence, verbal abuse and crime. They are more likely to be perceived as mentally ill or as child molesters. To mitigate the effect of these outcomes, gay men may use a variety of methods to disclose their sexual identity, such as direct disclosure, clues, and speculation. Their methods of disclosure often depend on social contexts, such as whether or not the audience is a member of their family, work community, or friendship group. However, much of the research about gay men coming out only focuses on verbal direct disclosure.

Said Chester, the study’s lead author, “While taking a break from work one evening, I came across news articles about young men who were using Facebook to come out to their loved ones. The thought of coming out on social media intrigued me, and I began searching for scientific literature on the topic. To my surprise, no empirical articles existed about the phenomenon, so I decided to conduct a study.”

It turns out that coming out on Facebook is actually quite common. In fact, previous research revealed that more than 6 million Americans have come out on Facebook since 2014. Chester’s study sought to formulate a better understanding of gay men’s use of the social media tool for this purpose, to identify goals for coming out online, and investigate differences between disclosure methods.

“Overall, an interesting pattern emerged that gay men used Facebook as a way to avoid repeated, emotionally-taxing discussions about their sexuality,” said Chester. “The men in our study who came out online said it was a wholly positive experience in which they received significant social support that exceeded their expectations. Our research provides valuable information about the shifting landscape in which gay men are coming out to others.”

“This study shows the deep emotional and personal nature social media posts (and others’ reactions) can have on people’s lives.”

“Research in this area, like our use of social media in general, is evolving,” said Rochlen. “Matt has done an amazing job of using some of his own experiences and observations to contribute to a needed and novel research area with real-world implications. Even if on a small scale, this study shows the deep emotional and personal nature social media posts (and others’ reactions) can have on people’s lives.”   

Although the research only looked at gay men’s use of Facebook to come out, Chester said, “There are interesting trends—especially among young people—with regard to use of social media, specifically, engagement with social media well beyond Facebook with platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, and Twitter.  I would like to see future research focus on coming out in a digital age across all these platforms.”


Stephanie Cawthon and Carrie Lou Garberoglio are deaf. They have lived the experience—as students and professionals—of working with accommodations and breaking down barriers. Their passion for changing the paradigm of the educational experience in the U.S. for deaf individuals has influenced their work as researchers.

Stephanie Cawthon and Carrie Lou Garberoglio

Stephanie Cawthon and Carrie Lou Garberoglio

Cawthon is the director of a new center in the College of Education that has received a $20 million, five-year grant from the Office of Special Education Programs of the U.S. Department of Education (DOE). It is one of the largest grants awarded by the DOE to support technical assistance and professional development in education.

The center’s goal is to help change the climate, culture and expectations for deaf and hard of hearing individuals.

“We want to increase accessibility, concentrating on the grass roots, and understand why things are happening at a deeper level”

“We want people who are deaf or hard of hearing to have access to more robust services—services that serve the whole person, and that have been, and that have been proven effective. We want to increase accessibility, concentrating on the grass roots, and understand why things are happening at a deeper level,” says Cawthon, an associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology and an Elizabeth Glenadine Gibb Teaching Fellow in Education.

The Deaf and Hard of Hearing Institute, which will open in January, will be housed in the College’s Meadows Center’s infrastructure and nationally recognized expertise in translating research into practice.

“Dr. Cawthon will lead a strong collaborative national team of researchers and practitioners. The project is well-positioned to draw upon extensive experience, data-driven research, and scholarship in the field,” says College of Education Dean Manuel J. Justiz.

The center will support colleges and universities that work with organizations and public agencies across the nation to more effectively address postsecondary, vocational, technical, continuing, and adult educational needs of deaf and hard of hearing individuals.

“Ultimately, we seek to change the culture surrounding postsecondary outcomes for deaf individuals and create conditions for success in a way that recognizes and honors their experiences, perspectives, and abilities,” says Garberoglio, project Manager at the Meadows Center and a co-principal investigator on the team.

Currently, best practices for supporting educational outcomes after high school for deaf and hard of hearing individuals have not been studied rigorously or shared broadly, which means that uneven outcomes are common. The new center aims to change that.

The center’s researchers want to increase admittance to, persistence in and completion of college or post-secondary training without remedial coursework, as well as institutional capacity to implement evidence-based practices and strategies. The team also wants to increase the body of knowledge on ways to use technology to promote access and provide accommodations.

Says Cawthon, “I’m proud that we’re bringing together teams of people from education, business, and community organizations, as well as families, in an innovative and useful effort. We want to improve the research and find better ways for individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing to overcome challenges and be successful.”

-Photo by Christina S. Murrey

Kimberly Gonzales, M.A.’12, is a rare Latina in tech. The Dallas native and digital content engineer for Texas Instruments earned her bachelor’s degree in computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before graduating from the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin with a master’s in learning technologies.

Kimberley Gonzales

“The rumors are true. MIT is very challenging,” she says with a laugh. But in addition to the challenge of content, “it can be hard to also face discrimination.” Working in assigned groups with males can be particularly tough, she explains. “The guys don’t let you code or gain access to the circuit boards. Instead, they want girls to do the presentations.”

But Gonzales didn’t let the challenge and discrimination deter her. “I joined a sorority with six to seven girls who were computer science majors, and we’d do group projects together,” she says. The support was just what she needed to successfully complete her studies.

When Gonzales graduated from MIT, she decided to pursue study in educational technology because she knew she wanted to work within the field of education in some way. “Diversity in any field is valuable. Diversity fuels innovation. In education technology, it should be diverse people working on the tech that will be in the hands of kids these days, because those kids themselves are diverse,” she says.

Kids and science

STEM photo booth at Mi Escuelita preschool in Dallas

Latinas comprise only 2 percent of the STEM industry, “but it’s such a great field and you learn a lot,” she says. “I think a lot of factors affect students’ desire or lack of desire to pursue these fields. Teachers should be aware of what they say to students that might discourage them or to watch for signs of students who self-select out of more challenging work. For example, watch to see if the minority female student offers to take notes when working in a group activity with male students and encourage her to take on a more challenging task.”

She adds, “It’s tough being such a small minority within the field, but in my case, it made me want to go home and do something to help change the numbers.”

After completing her master’s, she returned home to Dallas to take on the role of digital content engineer at Texas Instruments, managing the development of educational content for various platforms. In addition to her job, she’s also the community involvement chair for Texas Instruments’ Hispanic Employee Initiative.

“Being in a workplace where few people look like you can feel lonely and isolating,” she says. “The Hispanic Employee Initiative provides mentorship, networking with other leadership teams, and is a place where you can build community and feel safe to voice your opinions or just feel a little at home.”


Planning team at the Latinas in STEM 101 conference

Gonzales also volunteers on the Latinas in STEM Foundation’s board of directors as the director of marketing and public relations. Her involvement represents coming full circle for Gonzales. “My mother has worked as an executive assistant at Texas Instruments for many years. One day, she met a Latina engineer who’d graduated from MIT and co-founded the Latinas in STEM Foundation.” That meeting led Gonzales’ mom to push her daughter to apply to the college. “I wouldn’t have applied otherwise,” she says.

Her mother’s support of her education goals was crucial, and parental support is a component that is important for other Latinas considering STEM fields. “When I ran the Dallas Latinas in STEM 101 workshop for high school and middle school students and included their parents, I had my mom answer questions. A lot of the parents had never been to college and didn’t speak English. Hearing my mom’s perspective was very helpful to them.”

Gonzales is the eldest of three sisters, all who studied engineering. She and her family are doing their part to increase diversity in a field that needs them.


When Gilma Sanchez was a student, she and her family faced traumatic hardships that went unnoticed by teachers. Now an elementary school principal, she prioritizes understanding and nurturing the whole student.

When Gilma Sanchez was nine, she and her mother, father, and five siblings lived in the state of Tamaulipas, in northeastern Mexico. Her mother was a teacher in Valle Hermoso and her father often worked in Houston-area refineries. Though Gilma and her siblings were born in Brownville, Texas, most of the life they knew was full of the beauty of Tamaulipas. There, family life was the center of everything. Growing up, children played outside most of the time and in school, they celebrated special events with parades, folkloric dances, and poetry.

But when Gilma was 10, her father died. His loss created severe emotional and financial challenges for the family. Gilma’s mother, hoping to give her daughter a better chance for stability and education, made the heart-wrenching decision to send Gilma to Baytown, southeast of Houston, to live with her father’s relatives.

“It was very difficult,” says Sanchez, reflecting on this time from her office at Barrington Elementary, on Austin’s north side, where she has been principal for four years. “I had to learn the English language and live with relatives while visiting my mom only twice a year.” She recalls the positive influence of a teacher in Baytown who became an early mentor, and though she would eventually move back home with her mother and family, “by 12th grade we were essentially homeless. My mother couldn’t afford rent on the apartment on the Texas side of the border, so we lived in Valle Hermoso and went to school in Brownsville.”

Sanchez and her younger sister would wake at 5 AM to begin their journey to school, which included a bus trip that started in one country and ended in another. “We had to walk for miles, sometimes in pouring rain, and clean ourselves up in the bus station before school.”

Sanchez graduated from high school with good grades, but it saddens her that no teacher or administrator noticed the hardships she and her sister went through. “No one even asked,” she says.

That lack of acknowledgement of the personal struggles she and and other students faced would have a profound influence on the direction of Sanchez’s career.

Because she didn’t receive counseling that implied otherwise, the young high school graduate assumed she had to pay for college herself. “So I immediately started working. I became assistant lead cashier at Weiner’s,” she says, laughing. She worked forty hours a week, got married, started a family, and kept pushing forward on her college goals until she graduated from the University of Texas-Pan American and began her career as an elementary school teacher in Weslaco, Texas.

“Through it all, there was never a question as to what I would do. The drive was always in me to finish school and to become a teacher. That was a given,” she explains. “But I thought teaching would be the end goal.”

She quickly found that although she enjoyed it, classroom teaching limited the impact she had on students’ lives.

“I wanted to give what I hadn’t gotten to my students.” She decided to return to school to become a counselor. After two years counseling at Reagan High School in Austin, Sanchez was a counselor at Langford Elementary for three years. “I wanted to help with the early stage of students’ lives. Counseling not only let me help with their emotional issues, but it let me see the administrative side of education.”

It turned out to be great preparation for what would become the next step in her evolution as an educational leader. Both an assistant principal and principal at Langford recommended Sanchez for the UT Principalship Program at the College of Education.

According to Sanchez, “The program built our capacity as leaders.”

The courses were aligned with what you’d really see in the school setting. We tied current research to real events that allowed us to see inside a school—beyond the classroom perspective—before becoming responsible for a school.”

By the time she’d begun her second year, Sanchez was assistant principal of Austin’s Cunningham and Zilker Elementary schools. “Being able to start as an administrator while still in the program meant that I received a lot of valuable support from my cohort and program leaders while I was in my first year as an assistant principal.”

She says that the program helped her look at the overall organization and build capacity on her campus. “As a leader, I look at the data consistently. I have conversations with teachers. I visit the classrooms. I counsel. I focus on the emotional state of students and help the teachers do the same. But I can’t do everything. I have to build the capacity of my team and teachers, as well as the parents and other specialists on campus. It’s a holistic approach.”

That holistic approach is important at every school, and Barrington is no exception. “Seventy-four percent of our students are bilingual. Many of them are homeless or from immigrant families where the socioeconomic status is low.” She gestures to a closet in her office, “I keep clothes here for students who need them.” She also keeps a pair of flats handy, so she can change out of heels to quickly track down a student and keep him or her safe.

Sanchez believes the holistic approach to educational leadership that the program prepared her for has helped her improve the educational experience for her young students. “I can tell that the campus has improved based on parental feedback. The parents feel safe and welcome here and that positively affects student behavior.” She has personally hired most of the teachers now working at Barrington, and she’s had candid conversations with them.

“I explain what we are about,” she says. “Teachers can’t come to Barrington expecting only to teach. The students have emotional needs, and understanding and tending to them have to be the basis of what we do.”

“I explain to my teachers, ‘You cannot make assumptions.’ A lot of the parents don’t read or write. Many of them work well into the night or early in the morning. It’s not unusual for me to see little kids sitting on the curb, waiting for school to open, when I arrive here at 6:30 in the morning. You must build those relationships with the students and the parents. Once you do that, they will trust you. Because of my background, I don’t need a translator and that also helps with the parental partnerships.”

When reflecting on her passion for the community at Barrington, Sanchez says, “My school is not at the top academically yet, but that is our goal. Right now, we are taking care of challenges as we support the whole child. I love what I do, even with the struggles that we face as a campus.”

She pauses and flashes a brilliant smile: “I tell my students that challenges are there to build you and make you stronger.”

And Gilma Sanchez has the story to prove it.

-Photo by Christina S. Murrey

UT College of Education student Alyssa Mayleen Mermea combines new interests with long-standing ones, earns Washington, D.C., internship

Nurturing a long-standing interest in counseling within minority communities, Alyssa Mermea traveled from her home in El Paso to The University of Texas at Austin to study psychology. She was interested in developing a safe place for minorities to talk with someone. “We don’t talk about mental health in our communities,” she explains, “and I believe that conversation—allowing people to safely let everything out—can change lives. I’m passionate about that.”
Alyssa Mermea

Mermea became involved with the university’s League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) chapter, a branch of the nationwide organization that works to advance the economic condition, educational attainment, political influence, health, and civil rights of the Hispanic population in the United States. There, she met then-president of the university’s LULAC chapter, Maria Librado ‘14, who was a youth and community studies major at the College of Education.

“I wasn’t happy as a psychology major, and I talked to Maria about it,” says Mermea. “She showed me the degree requirements for her major and the concentrations were everything I could ask for. I transferred. It’s a smaller school and I connect well with the professors.”

Mermea became director of education at LULAC, which fit well with her interests. “Part of LULAC’s mission is community and advocacy,” she says. LULAC gave her the opportunity to attend the EMERGE Latino conference, a multi-day leadership conference that takes place in Washington D.C. There, she had a chance to witness public policy briefings on public health, education, and immigration, and received training in civic engagement and advocacy. Says Maria, “We attended a panel discussion that seemed like gibberish and I had absolutely no interest. But I fell in love with D.C. and got more involved.”

The experience changed her previous perceptions about politics and public policy.

“I began having conversations about politics and it became a part of my life,” she says.

“Witnessing advocacy on the Hill, I began to wonder how I could be the voice in the room next time. I started to understand the vocabulary, demeanor, and tone to get things done on the Hill, and why it was relevant to be more politically educated.”

Alyssa MermeaMermea decided to apply to become a congressional intern through the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, headquartered in D.C. “The program is about helping people understand how legislators work,” she explains. “It’s a prestigious and competitive application process. I was nervous because I am not a political science or government major, and my resume doesn’t show a keen interest in politics. But I did it anyway. I figured if I didn’t get it, at least I took a risk to educate myself, and if I failed, it wouldn’t diminish anything that I’ve accomplished to date.”

Mermea got the call in June that she was accepted and would be an intern with Congressman Lloyd Doggett from Texas in the fall.

In her internship, she fielded phone calls, took notes, “and went to briefings that interested me,” she says. “I met three presidential candidates, including Hillary Clinton, and shook President Obama’s hand.” Another highlight was helping LULAC high schoolers who visited from San Marcos and San Antonio. “I saw them take interest in this at a young age and I was able to be in a position that was meaningful and inspirational to them.”Hilary Clinton

Mermea says that the experience has been very valuable to her regarding her community-service goals. “Spending time getting constituents’ information through to their representative has given me an appreciation for what the city and community want and need. I recognize the issues and am learning how Congress works. Learning what our people really want has helped me learn how I can connect with my community.”

One of a cohort of 22 interns that included students with diverse interests, such as political science and law, Mermea says they’ll continue to use each other as a network in the future. And her interests have broadened to include her new knowledge. “Now that I’ve been here and see people who look like me, I’m interested in going to graduate school and working for the Department Education,” she says.

Alyssa MermeaMermea intends to leave Texas for the Midwest or Northeast and cites her love of travel as “part of what drives my passion for diversity and perspective of cultures and people all over the nation and the world. I am exploring how I can take this knowledge and translate what I’ve learned to those who may never have this experience in my community. I want people—especially those back home, my family, my community—to witness and experience that there is no limit to what we can do.”

Louis Harrison and Anthony Brown

Collecting Wisdom

Louis Harrison, professor, and Anthony Brown, associate professor have created and launched a first-ever repository for research into the education of black males. The Black Male Education Research Collection (BMERC) provides a comprehensive compilation of peer-reviewed scholarly articles that focuses on higher education and includes everything from mentoring and psychological health to sports and athletics. The research provides information for other academics, mentors, educators, and policy-makers that addresses root causes and overlooked factors regarding roadblocks to black male academic success.

-Photo by Christina S. Murrey

Photo of Keryn Pasch

Associate Professor Keryn E. Pasch

Kinesiology and Health Education Associate Professor Keryn Pasch knows how influential marketing to young people can be from over 10 years of research. “Behavior isn’t just about individual choices,” she explains. “It’s about a much bigger context. We need to think about the environment, about people within their context.” In 2003 she began looking at the environment in which young people and school-age children live, and how alcohol and food and drink companies were marketing to them in and around those spaces.

Pasch began documenting food and beverage advertisements, like those found on billboards, in convenience stores, restaurants, and fast food chains, within a half mile perimeter of 43 middle and high schools in the central Texas area. Many of these high schools had open campuses, meaning kids can leave campus for lunch. “A half mile is a feasible distance a kid would walk either for lunch or to and from school.”

What she found were about 150 ads per campus, thousands altogether, using words or photos of menu items, enticing people to eat or drink. “It isn’t the healthy choice being advertised,” says Pasch. “So the advertising skews kids’ perception of what is normal and healthy to eat. It normalizes unhealthy choices.”

Coupled with the ubiquitous ads around schools was the proximity of fast food restaurants and conveniences stores, providing easy access to unhealthy options. In addition, says Pasch, “Disparity exists. There are lots more food and beverage establishments and advertisements in low socioeconomic communities and in predominately Hispanic and African American communities.” Graduate student Ana Herrera’s research on these disparities is currently under review.

“We have to start asking why we allow companies to create advertising specifically for children,” says Pasch. “No one would say it was OK for alcohol and tobacco, so why is it OK for unhealthy foods and drinks?”

So far, attempts to limit outdoor advertising of unhealthy food and drinks to children have bumped up against the first amendment, which protects advertisers’ right to free speech. What’s needed, says Pasch, is policy change, but that can’t come about without consistent evidence. Pasch’s latest research, with Dr. Natalie Poulos who worked as a graduate student on the project, provides some of that evidence.

“Paid-for placement exists all over stores and around schools, targeting young people,” she says. Pasch believes there are things concerned parents and others can do to help counter that messaging:

  • Start a conversation with other parents
  • Talk to their kids about food and beverage advertising
  • Go to city council meetings and make your voice heard about food and beverage advertising around schools
  • Ask questions if your school sells chips, candy, and other unhealthy foods, and if healthier options are available
  • Ask questions about brand and product promotion in your school

Want to learn more to help youth live healthier lives? You can view a recent interview with Pasch about her research on the rising popularity of e-cigarettes among young people.

Photo by Christina S. Murrey