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For three days this June, more than 600 STEM educators and supporters came together to share and network at the Texas Regional Collaboratives for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching’s 21st annual meeting. This year’s three-day event united participants under the theme “Sharing Our Story,” which educators enthusiastically embraced, sharing lessons, programs, and successes. The event demonstrates why Texas Regional Collaboratives (TRC) is a unique resource for pre-K—12-grade math and science educators across the state. Though all states receive federal funding to improve K-12 science and math education, TRC is unique in its broad reach. There are 9,000 TRC teachers in the state of Texas, with one in every county.

TRC Event Photo 1A luncheon on a Tuesday kicked off more than 83 presentations and 50 exhibits. Festivities highlighted the talent, passion, and imagination of the educators themselves, who manned booths that showcased their interpretation of the event’s theme. From a storytelling booth to one decorated to resemble the movie Raiders of the Lost Arc, each exhibit featured interactive lessons and examples of student work.

Sharing ideas and successful lessons is a big part of what TRC helps educators do. Launched in 1991 through the tireless efforts of Dr. Kamil A. Jbeily, agencies, and educators across Texas, the goal of TRC was to create regional partnerships built on intellectual and cost-sharing strategies that provide science teachers with relevant, sustained, and high-intensity professional development. In 1996 the Texas Education Agency, a program sponsor, partnered with UT and moved TRC to campus. College of Education Professor James P. Barufaldi, the Ruben E. Hinojosa Regents Professor and director of the Science and Mathematics Education Center, became the organization’s principal investigator. Barufaldi, affectionately referred to as “the Godfather of STEM,” was honored at this year’s event, as colleagues celebrated his retirement and years of outstanding service.

The collaboratives themselves are made up of project leaders, mentor teachers, and cadre teachers who participate in professional development to learn strategies that better teach math and science. The educators work with each other, share ideas back at their home schools and districts, and become leaders in their field.

Educator Tera Collins started her career teaching 1st grade in Rusk ISD, a small district, with no mentor teacher. She eventually moved to 8th-grade physics and geology, though her science knowledge was lacking. She returned to school at UT-Tyler, where she became involved in a collaborative. There, she learned new teaching strategies and strengthened her knowledge base. Within one year, her students’ standardized test scores rose 17 points, from 71 percent to 88 percent, which was 13 points above the state average. Collins became a science specialist at Service Region 7 and is now a project director, presenting her knowledge and strategies to educators nationally.

TRC Event Photo 2In her moving keynote speech, Brenda Williams illustrated the power of the collaboratives. Four years ago, Williams was asked to resign from her position as a 4th grade teacher because of statewide budget cuts. She was offered a 5th grade science position in a neighboring district where she would be the only science teacher. This was not necessarily a welcome offer. Williams says, “In college, I’d always struggled with math and science.” Her fear of being responsible for teaching science to others led her to the University of North Texas Collaborative.

“My knowledge increased tenfold. I became more of a facilitator in my classroom. I made changes in how I taught. I forged bonds with other teachers across districts. High school and middle school teachers helped me learn higher concepts.” In 2013 her principal noticed. She was named Teacher of the Year at Argyle Elementary and then for the district. That was followed by nomination for State Teacher of the Year.

Williams says the greatest achievement came when she found out her students earned a 98 percent pass rate on the STAAR exam. “Three years of monthly classes, workshops, and meet-ups—I am living my philosophy of education.”

Dr. Jbeily, founder and director of the TRC, closed the annual meeting with remarks to the gathered educators. “Helping teachers teach from the mind and the heart is exactly what the TRC is about,” he said. “We want to treat you with honor and respect and give you opportunities to grow.”


Former University of Texas and NFL running back Priest Holmes’s list of accomplishments is long. In 1992, before joining the Longhorns, he led San Antonio’s John Marshall High School football team to the Texas State Championship game. In 1997, he earned a Super Bowl ring with the Baltimore Ravens. Later, with the Kansas City Chiefs, he became the NFL’s leading rusher and went on to break Marshall Faulk’s NFL record for total touchdowns in a season.  Holmes racked up one athletic win after another before retiring from the NFL in 2007.

But there stood one goal that he had yet to achieve: earning his bachelor’s degree. On Friday, May 22, 2015, Holmes met that challenge too, adding a degree in youth and community studies from UT’s College of Education to his list of accomplishments.

“Even though playing professionally in the NFL was one of my long-term goals, not completing my degree was still weighing on me. Philanthropic work has been a huge part of my mission and purpose, but I knew I could only evolve so much until I could go back and finish it. I knew doing so would not only benefit my philanthropic goals but also my family, hopefully inspiring my kids and other individuals to stay motivated to learn everything about their field of interest and not just settle on what they have at the moment. I wanted to be able to inspire young athletes who may be in similar situations to not give up on their educational goals, even if life takes them in new directions.”

Teachable Moment

But according to the 41 year old, who founded the Priest Holmes Foundation in 2005 to help young students maximize their potential, getting to his goal was a challenge he initially found “intimidating. ” Returning to school “quickly became a very humbling experience because I felt very out of my element,” he explained. “From registering for classes, which used to be done sitting with a counselor, to submitting papers, quizzes and exams online, and sitting in class while being the only person without a laptop who was taking notes by hand—I knew I needed to adjust. I wasn’t used to feeling as if everything was foreign.”

Not one to back away from a challenge, however, Holmes began to reflect on the idea that his experience of discomfort could be a teachable moment for people he intends to serve. “I knew I could really turn this experience into support for any person who came to me for advice,” he said. “Coming back and being a little older, with a family and a business, and commuting every Wednesday and Thursday from San Antonio, I realized that I could really support a completely new generation, and that is a major part of my mission.”

Located in San Antonio, the Priest Holmes Foundation helps lay the groundwork to encourage education, enhance the lives of children and empower young people through comprehensive programs and scholarships. One of the foundation’s programs, Fundamentals in Training, is an afterschool program that promotes health and wellness, physical fitness and healthy choices, all activities Holmes is intimately familiar with.

The UT Experience

Priest HolmesFueled in part by his desire to earn his UT-T-Ring [a class  ring for graduating student athletes], Holmes said that a highlight of his return to school was “returning to UT itself—“the campus, friends, classes and professors. I firmly believe that if I had to finish my degree anywhere else, my experience wouldn’t have been as enjoyable.” And though he said all of his professors stood out in unique ways because of how their personal experience enhanced their ability to provide a quality classroom experience, he mentioned Adjunct Associate Professor James Patton, who teaches ALD 322: Individual Differences, as someone particularly valuable to his education. “Dr. Patton seems to have genuine compassion for working with individuals with disabilities,” said Priest. “He’s not only given me inspiration, but has been able to captivate the entire class into focusing on the overall purpose of choosing that field in particular. He’s a solid role model and an ambassador for the special needs. I look up to him and respect him tremendously.”

Another First

Reflecting on his latest achievement, Holmes was reminded of words from former Kansas City Chiefs coach, Dick Vermeil: “Coach Vermeil would ask the team the morning after each game, ‘When was the last time you did something for the first time?’ I’ve accomplished many first-time moments with the Chiefs—touchdown records, offensive records and individual records. And no matter how rewarding those accomplishments have been, there really is nothing like experiencing something for the first time. This Friday, I will experience another first, as I walk across the stage at The University of Texas.”


UT Special Education Professors Awarded $11 Million for Research

Spring and summer 2015 saw tremendous support for special education research at the College of Education. Four research projects within the Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk (MCPER) were awarded federal grants totaling more than $11 million. Professor Mark O’Reilly, chair of the Department of Special Education, says, “I am delighted with the recent and continued success of our faculty to attract highly competitive research funding. These outstanding achievements further affirm the top-ranked status of the department.”

The awards demonstrate national recognition and support for ideas and research that have the potential to improve practices in math and literacy as well as learning disabilities for students at risk.

Sarah Powell: Helping kids with math difficulty solve word problems

The U.S. Department of Education awarded a four-year, $3 million grant to Sarah Powell, assistant professor in the Department of Special Education, to study ways to help students better solve word-problems in math. Powell’s colleague, Professor Marcia Barnes, will assist with the grant-funded research.

Being proficient at solving word problems is necessary for successful math performance, but many students are not adequately prepared. That is especially true for students who find mathematics to be difficult. These students demonstrate significantly lower word-problem performance and make significantly more errors when solving word problems than peers without difficulty in math. Powell’s study will assess the effectiveness of word-problem equation-solving tutoring on improving performance in these students.

Each year, the researchers will recruit 150 Austin-area third-graders who have difficulty in math and assign them to one of two math-tutoring programs or keep them in their usual school environment. These conditions will allow Powell and her team to isolate the effects of equation-solving instruction within word-problem instruction and compare the results with traditional classroom teaching. Over a three-year period, 450 students will participate in the study.

Elizabeth Swanson: Discovering the impact of teacher professional development on fourth grade vocabulary, comprehension

Senior Research Associate Elizabeth Swanson will lead a new $3.5 million, four-year federal grant to gauge the effectiveness of different professional development models aimed at vocabulary and reading comprehension instruction in fourth-grade content area classes. UT Meadows Center Executive Director Sharon Vaughn and Associate Director Greg Roberts will be co-principal investigators. Funding is through the National Center for Education Research.

In each research year of the new project, Examining the Efficacy of Differential Levels of Professional Development for Teaching Content Area Reading Strategies, 60 Austin ISD fourth-grade teachers and their students will participate. Teachers will attend an annual conference at UT Austin where they will learn the vocabulary and comprehension components to use in their classrooms over the course of the school year.

The project will measure and compare the effectiveness of professional development versus a control condition in the first year, then compare different types of professional development in subsequent years.

“These efficacy grants are exceedingly competitive. These young scholars are amazing assets to the Meadows Center, the Department of Special Education and The University of Texas at Austin. I look forward to learning more about how the findings from their research influence our knowledge and practice in schools,” Vaughn says.

Sharon Vaughn: Improving literacy, engagement and school completion among at-risk English learners

Vaughn will be the principal investigator for a $3.5 Institute for Education Science Goal (IES) 3 grant to launch a four-year project to improve literacy, increase engagement and prevent dropout among at-risk high school English learners. The project, Preventing Dropout Among At-Risk Youth: A Study of Project GOAL With English Learners, will provide small-group reading instruction and a dropout prevention program to high school English learners who are struggling readers and are at risk of dropping out of school.

Says Vaughn, “This study aims to investigate the efficacy of a reading and dropout prevention program separately and in combination on the reading and school retention outcomes of students with significant reading problems.”

The interventions will be provided to students in their 9th- and 10th-grade years, and follow-up measures of cognitive and behavioral outcomes will be collected during their 11th- and 12th-grade years.

Diane Pedrotty Bryant: Training doctoral students in learning disabilities and behavioral disorders

UT Mathematics Institute Director Diane Pedrotty Bryant will be the principal investigator on a new project to train doctoral students in learning disabilities and behavior disorders. Meadows Center Executive Director Sharon Vaughn will be a co-principal investigator on the project. The two received a $1.2 million, five-year grant from the Office of Special Education Programs within the U.S. Department of Education.

The purpose of the project is to prepare five highly qualified doctoral graduates to bridge the gap between research and practice by becoming leaders who are well-trained in multitiered systems of support for students with learning disabilities and behavior disorders. The project will use a research-to-practice leadership model that engages the collaborative efforts of faculty in the UT College of Education’s Department of Special Education, professional development and policy leaders at the Meadows Center and the Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts, and Texas school district leaders.



From faculty research and expertise to exciting programs and exhibits, The University of Texas College of Education was well represented in wide-ranging media outlets this summer. Check out a few highlights.


Washington Times

Jan and Terry Todd
“Nazi exhibit brings back memories for ex-Longhorn swimmer”

The Stark Center’s exhibit featuring the Holocaust Museum’s 1936 Olympics received a great deal of coverage in multiple local and national outlets. The Washington Times reposted an article written by Cedric Golden that first appeared in the Austin American Statesman. The article highlighted the perspective of legendary Olympic swimmer and Longhorn Adolf Kiefer.

Sports Illustrated

Matt Bowers
“Brain on Sports Podcast: Can we develop creativity through sports?”

Bowers was featured on Sports Illustrated’s new podcast discussing what makes for a creative athlete, featuring his research into the connection between youth sports and creativity.

Houston Chronicle

Aaron Rochlen
“Rochlen: Changing tables, shifting roles for dads”

Aaron Rochlen’s opinion piece about modern fathers’ increasing engagement in childcare decisions, teacher meetings, active play, bedtime routines and more was featured in the Houston Chronicle and additional statewide newspapers on Father’s Day, June 21.


Walter Stroup
“KLRU News Briefs: Black-Owned Businesses See Opportunity in Pflugerville, and Combating Summer Learning Loss”


Walter Stroup was featured in an interview about how to stave off learning loss for kids over the summer. Stroup asserts that educators need to reignite students’ interest in learning with interesting and engaging approaches and assignments.

NBC 25

Ricardo Ainslie
“What the escape of ‘El Chapo’ means for Mexico and the U.S.”

Ainslie was interviewed about the escape of high-profile prisoner Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman from Atiplano prison in Mexico this summer. According to Ainslie, “This kind of an event, in which some level of corruption and collusion is absolutely undeniable, affects the reputation of Mexican officials in profound ways.”

Detroit News

Emily Sparvero
“Preview Center Touts New Arena and Illitch’s Epic Plan”

Professor Emily Sparvero was interviewed for a story about Detroit’s new stadium and luxury suites. Sparvero, who studies the economic impact of professional sports arenas, explained that luxury suites are often the reason new stadiums are built because “corporate suites provide a steady predictable source of revenue for a sports team.”

USA Today

 Keisha Bentley-Edwards
“Slavery records will soon be easily searchable online”

Bentley-Edwards commented about the soon-to-be available records, which she believes may increase confidence among African-Americans searching for information about their family history. “When you are able to look at your own family and see the triumphs that may have occurred in your family both as result of and despite of slavery, I think it will be a very empowering experience,” she said.