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A University of Texas College of Education Ph.D. student reflects on summer internship at the U.S. Department of Education

Anthony LeClair

Photo by Christina S. Murrey

Educational Policy and Planning doctoral student Anthony Vincent LeClair spent part of this past summer in Washington, D.C. as an Archer Scholar. He describes the career-making experience as invaluable. Here are his reflections of his work.

I spent this past summer in the Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development (OPEPD) at the U.S. Department of Education. There, I became part of the research staff providing technical expertise and policy recommendations to presidential appointees, including the Secretary of Education. This office relies heavily on the rigorous academic research being conducted in our institutions of higher education and our not-for-profit policy and research centers. Research is employed daily to craft policy recommendations, respond to criticism, and to address the issues under the department’s authority.

The office moves quickly and everyone puts in 10 hours daily. A “high-boil ask” may need to be turned around in less than an hour. This includes vetting the Secretary or an Undersecretary’s speeches for factual accuracy, running quick data analyses, and providing technical assistance on the scope and practicality of new research findings. A “low-boil ask,” like drafting research background and justification for a large-scale department study to be vetted by The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), will need to be on your director’s desk in 10 days. This process, often contracted out, includes discussing pertinent issues with a purposive sample of schools and organizations, crafting survey instruments, calculating the full cost to all parties, and creating a compelling written case for its necessity. All projects occur simultaneously, and staff is held to the highest of standards. It can be chaotic, but there is nothing like knowing you are essential to the department’s short-term and long-term work.

Beyond the everyday quick-turnaround work, I carried two long-term projects this summer. The first required a fair amount of discretion, as it applied the department’s long-term understanding and future plans for school-level racial and economic integration. I was incredibly privileged to take lead on the presentation of research regarding integration and segregation in the United States. I provided a comprehensive look at the state of the field. The most consistent finding in relation to school racial composition shows black students are disproportionately negatively impacted by remaining in segregated schools. Widely circulated, this review will be an important document for the department moving forward.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan with Anthony LeClair

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan with Anthony LeClair

The second project, which will have a greater national impact on the research community, pertained to statutory and regulatory guidance for states reporting their “economically disadvantaged” student statistics. While most states, including Texas, use the highly convenient, though poor, proxy of Free and Reduced Price Lunch to determine disadvantage, the new Community Eligibility Provision has rendered this proxy effectively unreliable. States are currently grappling with this problem and are either looking for guidance from the department, or moving forward with direct certification of students whose families are enrolled in joint federal-state entitlement programs (SNAP, TANF, FDPIR). This second option, if used exclusively, will render all students who are legally ineligible for federal and state assistance (including children of undocumented immigrants and any child living in a residence where a convicted state drug felon resides) to be designated “economically advantaged.”

This change will have significant consequences for our students, as well as our states. Our working team’s recommendation addressed this very significant issue. The Department of Education is currently working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to draft regulations addressing which students shall not be left out of this calculation, while our staff is pushing statutory tweaks as the House and Senate confer on ECAA.

This internship was the most substantive and rewarding experience of my career. In the months that followed, I was heavily recruited by a handful of other offices and another agency. Each person I spoke with strongly encouraged me to apply for the Presidential Management Fellow program, which is the quickest path to being hired by a federal agency. I met, had intense and substantive conversations, and became friends with major allies of public education in D.C.

This experience allowed me to start my career in the most meaningful manner possible.

Former high school math teacher and current College of Education learning technologies Ph.D. student Anita Harvin reflects on how even underrepresented students who are highly proficient at math and science can still miss out on opportunities in STEM.

As an African-American female growing up in a small city in North Carolina, I was not surrounded by technology like the youth of today. Sure, I did have a Commodore 64 that I used for game playing, but that was the extent of my technology access. I took upper-level and AP math and science classes throughout K-12. I was even in Math Counts, a math club for junior high school students. However, looking back as an adult, I wonder why, despite my aptitude, I did not have access to mentors or opportunities in the science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) field.

As I observe and research initiatives geared to provide digital equity and digital literacy to youth from groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM, I wonder what it would have been like if I had exposure to STEM through some of these initiatives. What if 10-year-old me had participated in a computer programming class that used Scratch? Or what if I had access to videos and online discussion forums where I could learn from other like-minded individuals who owned Commodore 64 computers?

My current research interests are shaped by those “what if” questions.

As a student in the learning technologies program, I have researched and discussed the impact of using technology in educational settings. I was drawn to this program because of my desire to use technology to engage students in learning. While taking courses outside of the learning technologies program, I made interdisciplinary connections that have also helped to shape my research interests.

As an African-American and a female, I am always interested in seeing myself reflected in the research. Courses such as Sociocultural Foundations and Introduction to Qualitative Research have enlightened me on how to add the voice of the “other” to the discourse around technology in education. My current research path here at UT studies issues of digital equity and documenting digital learning experiences of youth from groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM, such as females and African Americans. I am interested in understanding what types of digital learning experiences youth from underrepresented groups have in and out of school.

If youth are not able to construct the meaning and purpose of technology through their own experiences, then there will continue to be a disconnect about the affordances of technology. School is an important aspect of youths’ experiences, as they spend up to 8 hours a day, 5 days a week in school. Schools tend to use technology in structured ways influenced by the curriculum and preconceptions about what is appropriate technology use.

It is especially important that youth from groups underrepresented in STEM can envision themselves being successful in STEM activities.

Anita Harvin is a Ph.D. student in the Curriculum and Instruction Department of the College of Education. She currently works as an assessment specialist at an educational publishing company.

-Photo by Christina S. Murrey

Two UT College of Education professors offer research-based tips.

African Americans, Latinos, and women of all ethnicities are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers. That’s why educators and families want to increase these students’ engagement with technology at earlier ages. When students see themselves as great at math or a whiz at computer science when they’re young, they are more likely to study engineering or computer programming later.

But what will engage them and be helpful to them in school?

Research findings by the College of Education’s Professor Min Liu and Associate Professor Joan Hughes provide insights that may surprise you.

Aliens to the Rescue

Min LiuLiu’s research, “Designing Science Learning with Game-Based Approaches,” explores digital games as a tool for learning. Liu and a team of researchers and students launched Alien Rescue, a science-education game geared toward sixth-graders.

Their subsequent research examined these students’ science learning and motivation, and the relationship between the two. Their findings showed that all of the students improved their science knowledge after playing Alien Rescue, determined by comparing their pre-game test scores with post-game scores; but girls outperformed boys every time, scoring 2-3 points higher on their post-game tests.

The study also noted that girls made fewer negative comments about the game than boys and that the game’s theme of saving aliens resonated with girls more than boys.

Key Recommendations for Educators

  • Incorporate multimedia technology into the curriculum—audio, video, graphics, animation—for middle-schoolers because it provides an engaging, multi-sensory way to learn science.
  • Engage girls in particular; honor their mission-driven social interests. (See Jill Marshall’s One Big Question interview for more.)

Educators Should Look for Differences in Student Access to Technology at Home and School

Joan HughesSocial media, blogs, wikis, and video creation—these are among the activities that make up Web 2.0. Associate Professor Hughes wanted to investigate the variation in ways students access these tools at school and at home.

Her recently published paper, “Predicting Middle School Students’ Use of Web 2.0 Technologies Out of School Using Home and School Technological Variables,” explores whether students’ use of technology in class could predict their use outside school.

It turns out that student’s ethnicity, access to technologies they may—or may not—have at home, how they use technology in school, and the school a child attends, can indeed predict their use of Web 2.0 applications out of school. Hughes’ research highlighted the growing body of knowledge reflecting school inequality.

It’s important for educators to understand what children do with technology when they aren’t in the classroom and how those experiences vary. It allows them to be responsive to their students’ needs, previous knowledge, and experiences. That knowledge can help them close gaps and increase students’ motivation.

For example, in general, students’ Internet-based Web 2.0 technology activities are higher outside of school. When broken down by ethnicity, though, Hispanic students are at the biggest disadvantage, showing statistically lower participation in Web 2.0 activities out of school.

That participation gap means these students are missing opportunities to gain skills society increasingly demands.

Says Hughes, “Our research showed that ethnicity-based technology participation gaps existed in and out of school. Schools are not equal, and that has ramifications for what kids get from them.”

Key Recommendations for Educators

  • Teachers often go into the classroom unprepared to think about how to use technology. They need assistance learning how to integrate technology into the class through teacher education or professional development.
  • Teachers should consider surveying their students at the beginning of the school year to assess how they use technology outside of school and use that knowledge to give them a chance to broaden and deepen their participatory Web 2.0 skills in the classroom.

“If the world is demanding these skills and we want to create a world where all kids have these opportunities,” says Hughes, “then we have to do better.”

High school teachers and students are learning to program side by side, thanks to a collaboration between the Center for STEM Education and STEMed Labs.

Suzette, a Manor New Technology High School freshman, hunches over her tiny breadboard, which is a base for prototyping electronics, and an LED strip. Both are connected to a keyboard, mouse, and monitor. She’s engrossed in her efforts to program circuits and control the small LED.

“If you program the LED to blink 60 times in the span of a minute, the blinks will be too quick for the eye to register,” says the STEMed Lab instructor. “Instead of appearing as a blinking light,” he explains, “it will simply appear dim.”

A student works on a circuit board while another looks on.The students take in this information and continue their work.

The 20 or so high schoolers in the STEMed Labs Pi Bytes class have invested four consecutive Saturday afternoons this semester to learn how to program on the Raspberry Pi platform from a team of engineers and computer scientists. Says Suzette, “I want to learn new things and see what I’m interested in and if I might want to do this as a career.”

The students come from public and private schools in the Austin and surrounding areas. Joining them in their studies are a handful of teachers from the region, each of them scattered about the room observing, taking notes, and asking questions.

The teachers are participating in the workshop thanks to Dr. Carol Fletcher, deputy director of the UT College of Education’s Center for STEM Education. Last year, Fletcher met Ripal Nathuji, co-founder and president of STEMed Labs, the nonprofit that created Pi Bytes. When she heard about the classes, she immediately recognized an ideal professional development opportunity for teachers who were interested in furthering their computer science teaching skills.

According to Fletcher, although teachers who participate in the STEM center’s TeachCS “boot camp” receive computer science training that helps them successfully earn certification in the area, “it is unusual for the teachers to have the chance to work directly with students during their training. Also, the investment we make in a student camp pays out exponentially when you include teachers who can scale up the number of students who can be reached far beyond the camp experience.”

One student helps another at a computerSays Nathuji, “This collaboration is a perfect intersection for creating opportunities for teachers and for our small organization to spread the knowledge and implementation of our program throughout schools.”

James Casselman graduated from the UTeach Natural Sciences program seven years ago after deciding to make a career change from hardware sales and marketing to something he found more meaningful. He now teaches life sciences at Taylor High School, about 35 miles northeast of Austin. “I teach anatomy and physiology and aquatic science, but I try to roll in raw html and Code.org’s one hour of code a week into my classes as well,” he says. Casselman participated in the workshop because he “wanted to learn how to do more. I want to teach my students not to just be consumers of technology, but creators. This is the industry.”

Similarly, Margarita Flores-Sicich, engineering teacher at St. Dominic Savio Catholic High School in Round Rock, wanted to learn more for the benefit of her students. “I’m familiar with some of this because I teach engineering,” she says, “but I’ll have to incorporate Raspberry Pi into my curriculum in two months. It’s really cool to have the chance to see how these experts teach it and to see the problems the students encounter. It will help me be more prepared.”

Flores-Sicich, who was a first-generation college student and worked as a chemical engineer before becoming a teacher, added that she has a passion for science and engineering that she wants to pass on to her students. “I loved science as a young student, but engineering wasn’t even a word that I’d been exposed to. Somehow I discovered the word that led to my career, and now I get to expose my students to this subject.” She says that her school currently offers two years of computer science classes and is aiming for four.

Says Fletcher, “The Center for STEM Education seeks to be the leader for computer science education in Texas and in the nation. Our partnership with STEMed Labs is one way that we provide relevant, real-time education for computer science teachers in Texas.”

To learn more about The Center for STEM Education, visit the center’s website.

-Slideshow by Christina S. Murrey

Keffrelyn and Anthony Brown

Two UT College of Education professors highlight three black education leaders’ ideas, providing a counternarrative to today’s challenges

Black Intellectual Thought in Education: The Missing Traditions of Anna Julia Cooper, Carter G. Woodson, and Alain LeRoy Locke was recently published by associate professors Keffrelyn Brown and Anthony Brown. The following is a Q&A with the authors.

Can you provide a brief overview of Anna Julia Cooper, Carter G. Woodson, and Alain Leroy Locke and the importance of their ideas?

During the early 20th century, science, theology, social science, and popular discourse regularly portrayed African Americans in dehumanizing ways. Each of the authors had a profound belief in affirming the humanity of Black Americans. Given the time-period, this was no small task.

  • Anna Julia Cooper: In seeking to redress the common discourse of this period, Cooper’s ideas focused on the intersection of race and gender in the context of African American women’s lives. She held fast to the promise of American democracy to live up to its highest ideals of being a truly egalitarian society. In her words, “The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a party or a class – it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity.” And from this standpoint, Cooper maintained that schools and curriculum were vital spaces for African Americans to reach their highest potential.
  • Carter G. Woodson: Woodson’s ideas focused the potential for knowledge to challenge the existing fallacies about Black life. He believed that a rich African American history must circumvent the pervasive effects of what he called “mis-education.” His project was multilayered and involved the reconceptualization of knowledge as a process that occurred in academic settings, K-12 classrooms, and in the life of the masses.
  • Alain Locke: Locke was a philosopher who promoted the idea that African American culture provided key insight about the human experience as valuable as European cultural forms. He also wrote extensively about cultural pluralism, particularly when it came to African Americans’ placement in American society, as well as on race, the arts, and valuation theory.

These three authors wrote during a time in which African Americans were struggling with a new set of social, economic, political, and racial injustices. They each wrote extensively about the contexts that shaped African Americans’ experience in the U.S., while also providing in-depth ideas about education, race, and history—ideas that could have theoretical application to our most pressing social and educational issues of the present.

What counternarrative do these scholars provide to the dominant discourse in education and critical social theory, and why is it necessary?

Cooper, Woodson, and Locke wrote about ideas concerning education, culture, race, and curriculum that predate some of the canonic texts and authors that are often cited in the foundational discourse of education. Their ideas powerfully illustrate the careful and thoughtful intellectual discourse tied to African Americans’ experiences.

This counternarrative is important because it challenges the veneration of an exclusive, selective tradition of critical social thought. This canon of scholarship is legitimized by and grounded in a Western, White-dominant worldview. The intent of this book, however, is not to replace one canon with another, but to show the diverse contexts from which ideas take form.

Black Intellectual Thought in Education has been adopted for use in the Curriculum and Instruction department of The College of Education at UT-Austin.

-Photo by Christina S. Murrey

New book explores what inhibits and promotes Latino male college success

Victor Saenz

Ensuring the Success of Latino Males in Higher Education: A National Imperative, a new book co-edited by Associate Professor and Executive Director of Project MALES Dr. Victor Saenz, shares new research from emerging scholars and seasoned practitioners that shines light on factors that inhibit or promote Latino male student success at four-year institutions, community colleges, and secondary institutions. The book both informs policy and practice across the education continuum and provides a call to action.

The question of why Latino males are losing ground in accessing higher education, relative to their peers, is an important and complex one, and it lies at the heart of the book. There are several broad themes highlighted, along with the four dimensions of policy, theory, research, and practice.

“Our new book comes at a time when national, state, and local conversations are expanding the definition of males of color to include Latino males and other historically marginalized groups of male students,” says Saenz, who teaches in the Department of Educational Administration in the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin, and who holds a faculty appointment with the UT Center for Mexican American Studies. “The chapters within this book collectively represent a timely and necessary contribution to these emerging conversations.”

Co-edited by Saenz, Dr. Luis Ponjuan and Dr. Julie L. Figueroa with a foreword by Dr. William Serrata, the book is designed as a primer for policy makers at all levels as well as scholars in higher education.

According to the professors, anyone who wants to better understand the various issues related to Latino male higher education access and degree attainment and also wants to work toward addressing a growing gender gap can benefit from the lessons in their book.

Says Saenz, “The book is beneficial to community leaders and activists who want a comprehensive discussion about the challenges Latino male students face in schools and how they can work proactively to overcome those challenges. The shifting demographic reality represented by the growth of the Latina/o community also gives our focus on Latino males a singular urgency.”

Visit Amazon to order a copy of the book, which was published in January by Stylus Publishing.

 

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.”