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Melba Vazquez

Melba Vazquez

The first Latina and woman of color elected president of the American Psychological Association, Dr. Melba Vasquez surely possesses an above-average skill for leadership. But the oldest child of seven children points to being a member of a supportive family and Mexican American community as her sources of strength. Her parents, themselves unable to finish high school, encouraged Vasquez to excel in school. There, she found support, and mentorship from influential teachers.

Vasquez became the first person in her family to earn a college degree. After teaching middle school for a couple of years she went on to earn a master’s degree Despite her achievements, a Ph.D. seemed unreachable. However, with support of her community, she earned her doctorate degree in 1978.

Her Story
I had never considered a doctorate, and was a bit shy about my ability to assume the identity of someone who could. But the support of professors, students, family and funding from the American Psychological Association (APA) Minority Fellowship Program all combined to make a difference. Ultimately, I was encouraged to apply to the program by a professor who herself was a graduate of the Educational Psychology program at UT Austin.

My two dissertation advisors, Drs. Gary Hansen and Earl Koile, were amazingly supportive and instructive. Dr. Ira Iscoe, director of the University Counseling and Mental Health Center, was a mentor who continuously checked on me, and encouraged practicum and internship experiences at the UT Counseling Center. Dr. Lucia Gilbert was an inspiration in learning how to conduct research in areas like the psychology of women and ethnic minorities. And Dr. June Gallessich was a powerful role model.

Although there were very few minority faculty in the college at the time (none in counseling psychology), our professors were helpful in encouraging connections with minority faculty across the country.

When I did struggle with my studies, I remember thinking that I could not and would not let all those people down, so I persisted! I realize, in retrospect, how very important that solid identity of family and community has been. I didn’t feel that I had just one mentor; I felt “mentored” in various ways at various times by various people!

Why UT?
Dr. Colleen Conoley, my mentor at Texas State University, determined that the program would be a good fit for me, and that I would be a good fit for the profession. Fortunately, she was right! The program, at the time, was one of a few accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA)—a mark of quality and commitment to the field of psychology.

Life After UT
After graduation, I served as a psychologist at the university counseling center, directed the internship training program, and taught in the counseling psychology doctoral program at Colorado State University and later, the University of Texas. After 13 years, I embarked upon full-time independent practice while continuing active involvement in scholarship, mentoring, professional leadership and advocacy.

I fell in love with professional leadership activities, which culminated in my election as the first Latina and woman of color elected president of the APA in 2011. The APA is the largest psychological organization in the world, with a membership of over 130,000 people; it has a staff of almost 600 and a multimillion dollar budget. During my term as president, I supported three major initiatives that resulted in three different cutting-edge evidence-based reports on immigration, discrimination and diversity, and on educational disparities. In fact, one of the major themes of the 2011 APA convention was social justice. Service, advocacy and mentoring have always been tenets of my professional life, and I have been fortunate to receive over 40 awards for work in these important areas.

I have published and edited extensively. I co-authored three books: Ethics in Psychotherapy and Counseling (Pope & Vasquez, 5th edition in process), How to Survive and Thrive as a Therapist (Pope & Vasquez, 2005), and APA Ethics Code Commentary and Case Illustrations (2010, Campbell, Vasquez, Behnke & Kinscherff). I have published more than 80 journal articles and book chapters, and served on the editorial boards of 10 journals. I am currently writing a book on multicultural therapy for an APA Theories of Psychotherapy Monograph series.

I am very lucky to have a spouse, Jim Miller, who has been consistently supportive. He was an educator and school principal, and his second career was as a clinical social worker; we have been in practice together since 1991. I am also happy to report that my mother obtained a bachelor’s degree while I was in graduate school, and each of my six siblings have obtained a bachelor’s or associate’s degree.

Advice for Students
Find ways to be active in whatever aspects of your work for which you feel passion. Take risks, persist and allow for imperfections (everyone makes mistakes—learn from them!). Identify strengths and resilience in yourself and in those with whom you work. Understand that pain is sometimes a part of life. Have confidence, stand up for yourself, and have a stance of openness to those different from you. Behave ethically in all that you do. Articulate the value of diversity, engage in self-care, and support and connect with others. And remember to observe models and mentors.

Kimberley Gonzales

Kimberley Gonzales

The College of Education gave me a meaningful way to bridge my undergraduate degree in computer science with my passion for education. I learned so much from others in my graduate cohort because of their diverse backgrounds. There were students who came from instructional design companies, some that were teachers who had led the implementation of education technology at their schools or actively used technology to teach their subjects, and people like me who came straight from a university and had a background in technology or education. I also found diversity in the professors’ interests, and from each class I gained a new definition of what learning technology could mean.

Why UT?
As a native Texan, I always wanted to someday bleed burnt orange. I was so sure my choice was right that I didn’t apply to any other graduate programs. Dr. Min Liu, who’s in the College of Education’s Learning Technologies Program, reached out to me immediately upon my applying and asked me to become part of a group that works with her on an award-winning science education game called Alien Rescue. When I came to visit before officially enrolling, I immediately knew I’d made the right choice.

UT’s location was also attractive because of the number of technology companies located in Austin. I never imagined just how connected UT and its professors are to the greater Austin community and beyond. Education professors have research projects in collaboration with local K-12 schools, other UT departments, and even other universities.  Many major technology and education conferences come to Austin once a year, and sometimes conference speakers make pit stops in the learning technologies classes.

Life After UT
I’m currently a digital content engineer at Texas Instruments (TI) in Dallas. At TI, I manage the development of educational content for various platforms and facilitate the updating of content based on software changes. I use the skills I learned in the Learning Technologies Program to help students and teachers enjoy success with our TI technology’s educational content.

Advice for Students
One of the benefits of a small program like learning technologies at the College of Education’s is that you eventually get to know all students in your cohort very well. Collaborate with your peers as much as you can and learn from their experiences.


November 3, 2014

Libby Doggett

Libby Doggett

On October 25, Dr. Libby Doggett visited the College of Education and spoke on the topic of “Early Education in the Spotlight,” explaining challenges and opportunities that policy makers and local governments encounter as they work to improve services for pre-K children. Doggett is Assistant Deputy Secretary for Early Childhood Education in the U.S. Department of Education and a three-time UT Austin alumna.

During the event, early childhood education faculty members Jennifer Adair and Christopher Brown also announced the winners of the first-ever Early Childhood Education Awards. Susana Guzman-Ortega, a pre-K bilingual teacher at AISD’s Pickle Elementary, was honored with the Mitchoff Family Teaching Excellence in Early Childhood Education Award and Manuel Martinez, a second grade teacher at AISD’s Houston Elementary, won the Zezula Family Teaching Excellence in Early Childhood Education Award.

What is your connection to UT Austin’s College of Education?
I received a Ph.D. in special education there, and I often draw on what I learned during those years: the values, focus on innovation, the incredibly smart thinking.

Did you spend any time teaching?
I did. In fact, I taught a first grade bilingual class at Ortega Elementary here in Austin. Teaching at Ortega gave me a passion I still retain for helping children.

Why is early childhood education (ECE) getting so much more attention these days?
It’s because of the amount of great research that’s being done in that area. For example, a fairly recent study showed that children from upper income families have heard 30 million more words than children from lower income backgrounds. To address this problem, the White House developed a program called Bridging the Word Gap, which works with low income families to increase the amount and quality of communication parents and other caretakers have with children from birth.

How do you sell the argument that putting more money into ECE is a good idea?
It’s all about that great scientific research. Studies show that in states where it’s a priority to offer quality care and education to the youngest children, more children grow up with better reading and math skills, graduate high school, get and keep jobs, and form stable families. There is a proven connection. And 75 percent of Americans who were surveyed want Congress to invest more in early childhood education this year or next year.

At the federal level, what’s the main focus when it comes to addressing ECE?
In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama called on Congress to expand access to high-quality preschool to every child in America, from birth to five years of age. As part of that effort, the President has proposed a series of new investments that will establish a continuum of high quality early learning for each child. The President wants to invest resources in an area where we know there will be a return on that investment: our preschool learners. The benefits include savings reflected in improved educational outcomes, increased job productivity, and lower crime rates.

What’s the biggest challenge the U.S. faces when it comes to improving early childhood education?
It’s definitely funding. There are so many competing interests. Finding funds for reform is always difficult and, as you know, children don’t have lobbyists. They can’t go to the White House and make their needs known. They have to rely on adults who can act on their behalf. There are some bright spots, though. Health and Human Services has offered $500 million in grants to the states, and they’ve received 600 applications. There will be an announcement of the winners in December. Also, the Department of Education has $250 million available for preschool development grants, and that money will fund services in 12-15 states.

How does the level of funding for K-12 compare to funding for ECE?
There’s a huge disparity, with much more put into K-12. Imagine what pre-K would look like if we put the same kind of money into it.

How are cities and states helping?
States and cities are stepping up, with more than 30 states increasing funding for preschools. North Carolina, Alabama and Oklahoma, for example, already are putting in extra money and operating some of the highest-quality preschool programs in the nation. As far as cities, San Antonio has done a wonderful job. They implemented a one-eighth of a cent sales tax and, with the extra money, were able to open four very beautiful new early childhood centers, which I recently visited.

How well is Texas serving its youngest learners?
Texas is offering services to 52 percent of our four-year-olds, which is actually very good compared to the rest of the nation. About a third of the states are serving only around 10 percent of their four-year-olds. In Texas, spending per child is low, however, and although there’s access to services, the quality of care often is quite poor.

What does high quality preschool care and education look like?
High quality standards include having a child-to-staff ratio of no more than 10:1 and a class size of no more than 20 students. A high quality program has early childhood teachers who are certified to teach, have training in ECE, and who are paid the same as K-12 certified teachers. Services include care for children with disabilities, and instruction is developmentally appropriate as well as culturally and linguistically relevant. Instruction is regularly evaluated, data are collected and assessed, and there’s continuous quality improvement. There is also a high level of family engagement, as well as intensive parenting skills education, home visits, and evidence-based health and safety standards.

-Photo by Christina S. Murrey

Great education professionals have an enviable skill set – the ability to lead, be empathetic, inspire, motivate, communicate, strengthen, and ignite curiosity. Meet six of our alumni who rise to the challenge, bringing heart, soul, mind, and an indefatigable sense of mission to their work with students.


Alex Olivares

UTeach, B.J., ‘08
Crockett High School

I got out of UTeach and thought, “Wow, none of that stuff’s ever going to work in the real world. It’s great and dandy if you have a special school with magnet and high level students, but in a normal environment it’s not going to apply.” As I taught for more and more years, I realized that it’s simply the way to teach. Slowly I incorporated the UTeach strategies more and more, and at this point almost all of my classes are problem- and inquiry-based. I understand the benefits of teaching this way, that it yields long-term learning benefits for the students.



Educational Psychology, B.S. ’03, M.Ed. ‘08
Bowie High School

I think the fact that my students are part of the post-9/11 generation has made them more resilient and better equipped to handle adversity when it inevitably comes along, and they seem to share this innate desire to better their communities. I learn from them every single day, and I actually feel privileged when they come to me for guidance – they seem so much better equipped, emotionally, than I was at that age.




Kinesiology and Health Education, B.S. ‘08
Wooldridge Elementary School

I am passionate about what I do and where I teach because I know that I can have a huge effect on the lives of all of my students. I am at a low-income, overcrowded school. I know that teaching these kids is not always the easiest thing, but this work is so important and being there to give them a smile every day makes each day worth it.




Special Education, B.S. ‘13
Hill Country Middle School

I’ve always had a unique compassion and place in my heart for individuals with disabilities. I love the underdog. I love looking at a person whom the world has categorized, judged, or dismissed and seeing the power and potential within them. I get to help draw out and develop the treasures inside each individual – those things that even their loved ones, may not see. Educators have been given the gift of eyes to see beauty in brokenness and strength in weakness, and there’s nothing I enjoy more than watching a student grow in confidence, resilience, and self–esteem, and seeing how that impacts families and entire communities.






Curriculum and Instruction, B.S. ‘11
Hill Elementary School

When I was in middle school, I visited and stayed at an orphanage with my church group in Querétaro, Mexico, to help improve the existing school grounds and living quarters. During my time there the orphanage needed a substitute teacher for the kindergarteners, so a friend and I volunteered. I didn’t know much Spanish at the time but was amazed at how we were still able to communicate and build meaningful relationships with those precious little ones. While sitting on the dirt floor, reading a picture book in Spanish to a little girl, I knew that I had to work with children for the rest of my life – it felt like I was made for teaching.




Educational Administration, M.Ed. ‘99
Stony Point High School

Being a school principal is a little like being a CEO because you have to build sustainable leadership and create systems that foster success. The goal of any business is profit – the goal of my school is student success. We study what our practices are and, like a successful business, we maximize those that lead to success and cease what leads to failure.

Melissa Chavez, Ph.D. in Special Education, 2013, M.Ed. in Educational Administration, 2004, and B.S. in Applied Learning and Development, 1997

Melissa Chavez

Melissa Chavez

Melissa Chavez is associate vice president and executive director for UT Elementary School and the UT University Charter Schools. She began teaching in Austin public schools in 1997, rapidly rose to the position of assistant to the superintendent, and soon was recruited to help open UT Elementary School in 2003. She started at UT Elementary as an assistant principal and created the school’s special education and reading programs. Chavez was promoted to principal in 2006, helping the school win numerous exemplary awards, and in 2009 became superintendent. As executive director, she not only has excelled at academic and operational management and leadership of the school, but also oversaw the development and construction of Phase I of UT Elementary’s permanent school building, which opened in August 2012.

Her Story

While I was in the College of Education’s principalship program and obtaining my master’s degree, I was selected to intern for an associate superintendent in Austin ISD. Although it was a very demanding position for me at the time – I was a full time graduate student and pregnant – I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything in the world. I got to work with 15 very talented principals in Austin ISD. I learned so much from them about managing schools, working with parents, training teachers, collecting and using school data, understanding school law and school policy, and working with budgets. That experience was invaluable.

Why UT?

I had such positive experiences with the professors and instructors in the College of Education during my master’s program and I felt very successful as a student. I also felt that the instructors cared about me. For those reasons, when I decided to get my Ph.D. in special education I knew UT Austin was the place for me. As far as faculty who were particularly influential, Dr. Norma Cantu, Dr. Martha Ovando, and Dr. Terry Falcomata definitely stand out. Dr. Cantu’s passion for civil rights through the public education lens made me appreciate the job I do every day. Like Dr. Cantu, I believe high quality education for all children is important and that this goal deserves our complete attention. Dr. Ovando taught me how to be an instructional leader by modeling the instruction I wanted to see for my teachers, and modeling how respectfully children and parents should be treated. Dr. Falcomata taught me how to make meaningful, data-driven observations of students and how to use that information to implement behavioral or instructional interventions. I loved that class!

Life After UT

My story is pretty straightforward – I have simply continued to do what I love, which is work in public education. In addition to being a school administrator, I have done some guest lectures, committee work, served on dissertation committees, and written some articles about UT Elementary School.

Advice For Students

First, build strong relationships. The education you get at The University of Texas at Austin is of the highest quality, but it’s the relationships you build with your peers and professors that are crucial in order for you to thrive in the real world. Your peers become your colleagues and your professors become your mentors. Second, create opportunities to learn more and gain new experiences. Volunteer to guest lecture in a class you love, tutor a student in an elementary school, or volunteer to support a research project. Once you leave the Forty Acres, it ends up being your experiences, along with your degree, that help you do well! And, finally, never stop learning. Learning shouldn’t cease once you leave school. I still learn something new almost every day.

Jane GrayPsychologist Jane Gray is Director of Behavioral Health at the Texas Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Obesity, Director of Psychology Training at the College of Education’s Texas Child Study Center, and a clinical assistant professor in the college’s Department of Educational Psychology. Gray’s positive experiences with faculty, research, and coursework in the College of Education compelled her to maintain strong connections to the college even after graduation and into her career.

Your Story

The educational psychology doctoral program was excellent training for a career in clinical work, training, and research. It prepared me very well for my internship at a pediatric hospital, postdoctoral work on clinical research projects, and my current position at the Texas Child Study Center. As a student I was a research assistant for various research projects, including Dr. Kevin Stark’s ACTION project. Working with the ACTION project allowed me to fine-tune my skills in cognitive behavioral therapy and offered an opportunity for program development and supervision of peers. I then went on to explore research interests of my own in the areas of internalizing disorders and the dissemination of evidence-based practices. Additionally, my work with the college’s Texas Autism Project rounded out my assessment and therapy skills and helped me develop an integrated perspective on the patient’s identified problems.

Why UT?

I applied to graduate programs during my last year as an undergraduate and, although I was fairly sure of my interests, I cast a wide net and applied to a variety of clinical and school psychology programs. I was drawn to UT in particular because it had a great reputation as a strong, highly ranked school psychology program that integrated a child clinical perspective, and there was a match between my interests and the faculty’s areas of research. The quality of the training and faculty was immediately apparent when I met with faculty and current students. In addition to being active in research, faculty members were licensed psychologists in their own practices, and they were involved in professional organizations like the American Psychological Association. The students reported feeling well-supported in their training, and I could sense the camaraderie among students, which was very important to me.

Life After UT

I did postdoctoral work at Harvard Medical School’s Judge Baker Children’s Center, and that was invaluable in helping me refine my research skills and become better at training and supervision. During that time I also was an instructor for an undergraduate course in development across the lifespan. When I returned to Austin, I was one of the first psychologist hires at the College of Education’s Texas Child Study Center. I began to develop an obesity program for Dell Children’s Medical Center, became director for the psychology training program for the Texas Child Study Center, and created a new psychology internship program. Being part of the obesity program has allowed me to become involved in national initiatives to develop best practices in the assessment and treatment of youth with obesity. I’ve been part of a national focus group of 25 pediatric obesity programs and I serve on the American Psychological Association’s obesity panel to create clinical practice guidelines for professionals.

Advice For Students

My recommendation to students would be to carefully assess your skills and interests, then determine where to focus your academic energy based on your goals and objectives, not based on where your peers are focusing their energies. Graduate school is a time to take opportunities that are available and challenge yourself, but it should be a focused effort. Take advantage of professional development opportunities and definitely use mentors to learn how to be an effective professional because even the most skilled clinician or researcher may experience trouble finding a job because of deficits in the area of professional behavior. It’s also a good idea to stay in touch with those mentors even after you graduate.

Matt Camarillo

Matt Camarillo

Matt Camarillo now holds an M.D. from the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, thanks to a strong start in the College of Education’s Department of Kinesiology and Health Education. He points to his time at The University of Texas at Austin as the ideal launch for his medical studies.

“Everything I learned I was able to carry over to medical school and orthopedic residency,” he said. “My undergraduate experiences gave me a great foundation for my future career.”

Your story

As a freshman I had the opportunity to serve as a student athletic trainer in the College of Education’s Department of Kinesiology and Health Education. It was the perfect situation since I’d always really wanted to be involved in a combination of sports and medicine. Thanks to the guidance of Allen Hardin and Brian Farr I took on that role while mainlining my academic schedule, all the while working toward the goal of going to medical school. They also gave me the opportunity to major in chemistry as well so I could complete the prerequisites for medical school.

Why UT?

I visited a couple of campuses, but when they gave me the opportunity to work as a student athletic trainer at UT it was a no brainer at that point. My family all graduated from UT and I love the whole atmosphere of Austin. The fact that the university and college gave me so much help in completing my education was also really the driving factor.

Life After UT

After graduation I went to the University of Texas Medical School at Houston. During my fourth year Gov. Rick Perry appointed me student regent for the UT System Board of Regents. When I completed that program in 2008, I did my orthopedic residency at the University of Houston trauma center. This was an intensive five-year program that focused on the treatment of musculoskeletal disorders. I finished there in 2013. Currently I’m at the University of Kentucky doing a sports medicine fellowship, which is a dedicated year of training in sports medicine, specifically for knee and shoulder injuries. Next year I’m returning to University of Houston as a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery.

Advice for Students

Follow your goals. Take advantage of all the opportunities you have as an undergrad. Take advantage of the professors and everything available to you. Explore. Don’t be too set on one thing. Keep your mind open to the new and different because things may pop up during your education that may actually change your life and change your career path.


Helen MaloneYour story
I entered the doctoral program in 2002 after working as an in-home behavior specialist and teacher at the California School for the Blind, where I taught students with severe and profound intellectual and developmental disabilities. I constantly struggled with the idea that I wasn’t able to impact the lives of as many people with disabilities as I had hoped, and I felt somewhat isolated in my practice. I believed that entering a doctoral program would teach me how to reach a broader audience, and as a result positively impact more students with significant disabilities.

Why UT?
The special education program at UT Texas offered such a vast array of opportunities to me. I was given opportunities to work with students with various disabilities and hone in on the population of students I most enjoy working with; those with severe and profound intellectual and developmental disabilities. In addition to other world class faculty in the program, I was able to work closely with Mark O’Reilly and Jeff Sigafoos, developing my skills as a teacher and researcher. Through them, I learned to critically analyze the problems surrounding students with disabilities and develop solid research studies that would have positive impacts for the students while also adding to the field.

Life After UT
When I graduated I moved to Columbus, Ohio, and joined the faculty in special education at The Ohio State University, where I continue to conduct research with students with severe and profound intellectual and developmental disabilities and teach courses in applied behavior analysis and those related to severe and profound disabilities. I am in regular contact with my advisers and colleagues from the program, and use them as resources. The relationships I built at UT — both personally and professionally — have been some of the best.

Advice for Students
I would advise students to be open to new ideas and perspectives on the problems faced in special education. Rather than relying on any one perspective alone, I would encourage students to be open to the possibility of viewing the problems they are researching from different perspectives in order to find other, potentially better, solutions. A willingness to accept other views will also increase the potential of collaborating with others who see the same problems differently.

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

Program Area: Language and Literacy Studies

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

Photos by Melissa Cooperman

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