Home / Posts Tagged "April 2015"

Schools are serving more students diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) than ever before. Early detection and interventions are proven paths to success, but programs designed to help students with ASD often concentrate on providing early intervention. By the time a young adult with ASD faces high school graduation, he or she may have gone years without interventions to prepare for transitioning into the job market or going to college.

Professor Colleen Reutebuch, director of the Reading Institute at the Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk at UT Austin’s College of Education, wanted to investigate the relationship between high school interventions and post-graduation success for students with ASD.  With colleagues from Vanderbilt and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Reutebuch recently published a study that did just that, titled Addressing the Needs of Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Considerations and Complexities for High School Interventions.

Students at a career fair.Working on behalf of The Center on Secondary Education for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (CSESA), Reutebuch and her team analyzed data from 28 focus groups across four states.

“This study was unique in that feedback from stakeholders was used to design and investigate a comprehensive school- and community-based treatment model for adolescents with ASD,” explained Reutebuch. That feedback offered jarring, though not surprising, results. Participants—a representative mix of stakeholders—underlined the inadequacy of current supports for students with autism. Participants agreed that reliable, replicable teaching methods and supports during high school could drastically improve education, employment, and quality of life outcomes after graduation.

But individualized attention is, on its own, not enough. The study also pinpointed a need for education professionals to work together, behind the scenes, as a unified team of well-trained advocates for students with ASD. “Misinformation about ASD and how to address the educational needs and supports for individuals on the spectrum need to be addressed,” notes Reutebuch. “For the project team, this was important because it indicated a need to disseminate information about ASD, and to incorporate capacity building into professional development for educators and staff.”

With support from educators, family, and the community throughout their school years, evidence points to the likelihood that students with ASD are more likely to attend college and pursue meaningful employment.

“High schools can and should play a more significant role in preparing adolescents with ASD for success in post-school settings,” remarked Reutebuch. “Education and services in high school contribute greatly to an individual’s quality of life and, based on our findings, it is clear that there is tremendous room for improvement.”

Louis Harrison & Martin Smith:

United by a love of sports and a drive to positively influence identity and diversity in the world of education, this team of two exudes a reciprocal energy that exemplifies the power of mentorship. A professor of cultural studies in education and physical education teacher education, Dr. Harrison notes that he gets just as much, if not more, out of his collaboration with Ph.D. student Martin Smith. Smith, who played basketball for UC-Berkeley and works with Harrison on the African American Male Research Initiative (AAMRI) at UT Austin, is a leader within the College of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction.

Allison Skerrett & Thea Williamson:

Ever since Thea Williamson first met with Dr. Skerrett, it has been clear to both women that they share a dedication to meaningful academic research and social justice. As leaders within the UTeach Urban Teachers program, both women work together to support a new generation of specially trained and culturally sensitive educators. But in addition to their scholarly pursuits, Williamson, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, and Skerret, an associate professor of language and literacy studies, cooperate on a higher level. As mentorship partners, they are able to explore the challenges and rewards of higher education together.

Mary Steinhart & Matt Lehrer:

Matt Lehrer, who will soon earn his Master of Science in Health Behavior and Health Education, values mentorship as a critical facet of his education. Lehrer knows that his mentor, Dr. Steinhart, has been teaching him critical lessons that go beyond her specialties in health science. As a mentor, Steinhart is able to give Lehrer an insider’s view into her field, where she specializes in the association between psychology and the body’s physical reactions and resilience. But Steinhart is quick to point out that dedication and leadership like Lehrer’s is hard to find, and that she is learning and growing thanks to their partnership.

If caring is the topsoil of mentorship, Richard Reddick has devoted his career to mining the subsurface for what it really takes to support minority students. One layer at a time, he continues to explore how the landscape of academia is influenced by impactful relationships between learners and the learned. To start, he had to pinpoint what makes those relationships unique.

A Student Returns to Teach

Though he excelled in high school and is now an award-winning researcher, Professor Richard Reddick once struggled as a freshman at UT Austin. “I was a high-achieving student in an urban, high minority, high-poverty school in Austin, and a first-generation collegian,” Reddick explains. “The experience was at once fascinating, enthralling, and closed. I felt like I was at a cocktail party wearing the wrong clothes.”

Used to a diverse, working class community, Reddick felt isolated on a campus of majority white, affluent students. Unspoken rules began to emerge, and as a young Black man, Reddick began to be aware of what he now identifies as a “hidden curriculum.” To respect a teacher meant avoiding confrontation, but participation in college lectures required students to defend their arguments. Which was the right choice? Similar questions began adding up.

By chance, Reddick stumbled upon what he calls a “homeplace”: the Office of the Dean of Students. There, he met confident and successful students of color and academic leaders such as Brenda Burt, Sharon Justice, and Jim Vick, who valued his contributions. As he became more involved with the group, Reddick saw his confidence and his grades start to rise.Get Adobe Reader

As if to test this newfound assurance, Reddick missed an important lecture in a seminar on civil rights law. The professor, Dr. Ricardo Romo, happened to be a university administrator with an office in the main building on campus. Reddick decided to step outside his comfort zone and visit Dr. Romo one-on-one.

The elite professor welcomed young Reddick immediately. It was the start of an impactful, long-term mentoring relationship. “He asked me about my life and where I came from, and we discovered we had a lot in common,” says Reddick. Soon, the two men were swapping stories about their shared experiences as student leaders of color. Later, Reddick attended a barbeque at Dr. Romo’s house. Plunged into the electric discourse and debate of chattering graduate students, Reddick felt at once at ease and inspired. “I looked at Dr. Romo and thought, ‘Maybe I can do that one day.’ It was probably such an insignificant day to him, but it was huge for me.” Get Adobe Reader

The impact of mentorship continues to drive Professor Reddick. His work has garnered widespread acclaim as evidenced by alumni achievement awards from both the Harvard Graduate School of Education Get Adobe Reader and The University of Texas. His focus includes insightful explorations into psychosocial theories, best practices and practical methods Get Adobe Reader for cultivating meaningful, caring relationships – especially those between university faculty and students of color.

Defining Mentorship

To a person on the street, mentorship may at first seem like a straightforward concept. Reddick disagrees. “Mentoring isn’t just the one-on-one dyad that we see in popular culture,” he urges. The more precise definition Get Adobe Reader is that mentorship is a close relationship in which a more experienced person serves as a “guide, role model, teacher, and sponsor” of someone less experienced.

“Mentoring is being invested in someone else’s development and success in a meaningful way,” says Reddick, who describes two components of mentoring. “There is career and there is psychosocial advising, but they both have to be used in combination to create mentorship.”

Because, as Reddick’s research has revealed, shared knowledge about best practices in the workplace or in school may fall on deaf ears if an adviser is unaware of major influences in a young person’s life. “I can give advice to anybody, but without knowing the meaningful pieces of that person’s experience, it’s hard to make the advice meaningful as well.”

Disconnect between psychosocial and career aspects of mentoring happens with some regularity in academia. “But,” Reddick points out, “good mentors are never so distant from their experiences that they forget what it was like to be in the spot of their mentee.

Employing professional guidance with a healthy dose of empathy is a critical combination in mentorship. Just as critical is reciprocity. Get Adobe Reader Reddick’s research has identified that open communication between both parties is a necessity. “It’s not just one person dumping all this knowledge out of a bucket,” he says. “It’s a back and forth. Get Adobe Reader Both parties have to be honest, and feel safe telling each other what they really think or feel.”

Benefits for Both

Traditional beliefs about mentorship tend to focus on the experience of the mentee. Life-changing takeaways and course-altering encounters are benefits that dominate discussions, but they often revolve around receiving, rather than giving, guidance.

In a 2011 study, Reddick and two of his colleagues, Dr. Kimberly Griffin and Dr. Richard Cherwitz, describe new findings that prove the positive influence the act of mentoring has on a mentor. Their study, “Answering President Obama’s Call for Mentoring: It’s Not Just for Mentees Anymore,” Get Adobe Reader analyzed a pool of mentor reflections, coded those narratives, and developed themes based on recurring ideas within those narratives.

The study found that mentors tended to describe their relationships as being comprised of four benefits, including a deeper understanding of both themselves and their academic discipline, opportunities to develop advising and mentoring skills necessary for success in their future careers, and a heightened awareness of the reciprocal nature of developmental relationships.

By being exposed to the rewards of mentoring, the research suggests that those people are socialized to use their capabilities for the good of others. In other words, when someone “pays it forward”, he or she experiences such positive emotions that they are inspired to repeat the experience.

The fourth benefit uncovered by the study related to the fact that those mentors interviewed were graduate students working with undergrads interested in pursuing graduate school in a similar field. Mentors felt that they could contribute to the diversity of their field by mentoring a scholar from an underrepresented population. Which raises questions about the disproportionality of students versus professors of color.

This disparity directly affected Reddick as a student and continues to motivate his research today. His work has shown that, while there is definitive need to increase the number of professors of color in academia, an integral part of achieving that increase is for White professors to share the responsibility of intentionally mentoring minority students.

Cross-race Mentoring

In their paper in press at the Journal of the Professoriate, “’I Don’t Want to Work in a World of Whiteness’: White Faculty and Their Developmental Relationships with Black Students,” Reddick and co-author Dr. Katie Pritchett tackle the problem of recruiting Black scholars into the pedagogical echelons of higher education. Hurdles include the fact that students simply aren’t exposed to many Black or minority professors. “It helps to see people in positions that you aspire to,” explains Reddick. “One of the most impactful things for me as a student at UT and at Harvard was learning from professors of color.”

One may jump to placing all the onus of role modeling and mentorship on minority professors. After all, if young people of color need examples of success, shouldn’t it be up to those who’ve “made it?” Reddick’s research proves that is not only an unrealistic approach – it can be downright harmful.

The pressure to go above and beyond weighs heavily on professors of color who are often called upon to bridge the gap between a majority White faculty roster and a school’s minority student population. This “cultural taxation” can be exhausting and, in the end, is an unrealistic and unfair expectation. As A World of Whiteness shows, it is imperative for White faculty to realize and embrace their potential as effective mentors for minority students.

A similar realization is critical for students. “Anyone with an identity outside of the majority – you’re not going to easily find people who think exactly like you or share your identity,” Reddick states bluntly. “You have to say, ‘Okay, I have to find people who can help me get to where I’m going and from whom I can learn.’ And remember, those people will not always think congruently to you. That’s hard.”

A congruence of how a mentor and mentee approach racial issues and identity is critical to the success of cross-racial mentoring. Get Adobe Reader “If you have two people who are race-avoidant,” Reddick explains, “they’re going to get along fine. The same goes for two people who are race-conscious. It’s when you have a mismatch – when one person is candid about issues of racial identity but the other person is not – that trust breaks down.”

The conclusion of Reddick and Pritchett’s study underlines exactly how White faculty can find common ground with Black students. By drawing on their own histories for experiences of discrimination or feelings of “otherness,” White mentors can “create an empathetic frame of reference to better understand microaggressons and marginalization.” While those experiences cannot be presumed to be equivalent to those of minority students, they still serve to afford White faculty a healthy perspective.

Similarly, the study shows that effective White faculty mentors “formed identities that involved knowledge and education of issues pertaining to social justice,” meaning they were primed to be receptive to topics sensitive to minority populations. And, as is true for anyone considering their qualifications as a strong mentor, “White faculty need not assume that their own lives and experiences fail to provide a strong foundation of mentoring wisdom across race.”

“A good mentor will know their strengths and limitations,” Reddick explains. “A lot of mentoring is empathy, and showing that you’ve been to hard places and that you want someone to know more than you did.”

In the end, there is no evidence to suggest that differences in race, gender, or any other identity are definitive predictors of mentoring success. What Reddick and other researchers have proven is that the most important element of mentoring is intent.

–Photos by Christina S. Murrey 

How Mentoring Strengthens Latino Communities and Classrooms

Statistics indicate that, of all student subgroups, Hispanic males are least likely to stay in school.

In 2009, more than 61 percent of all associate’s or bachelor’s degrees earned by Hispanics were earned by females, and the percentage of those who attained a bachelor’s degree doubled from 8.4 percent in 1995 to 15 percent in 2010. That’s not the story for males, according to Victor Saenz, associate professor in the Department of Educational Administration. In fact, he said, many have described Hispanic males’ diminishing presence in the education system as a “crisis.”

At the College of Education, a network of dedicated researchers, mentors and students are working to fix that — and have been — for five years.

Victor Saenz

Victor B. Sáenz, Ph.D.

Their solution is called Project M.A.L.E.S. (Mentoring to Achieve Latino Educational Success). The brainchild of Saenz and his colleagues Luis Ponjuan and William Serrata, Project M.A.L.E.S. is a research-informed network of undergraduate males who mentor Hispanic high school males, as well as graduate Hispanic males who mentor undergraduate males. The program promotes and shares research on the educational experiences of men of color. Research, including that of Saenz, shows that mentoring programs like this improve the odds that students will stay in the education pipeline.

“They just need information, emotional support and someone to guide them on what’s really a very complicated path. They need mentors,” said Saenz, who also founded The University of Texas at Austin’s Texas Education Consortium for Male Students of Color.

And mentorship is exactly what Project M.A.L.E.S. provides.

“Latino males have many unique challenges when it comes to pursuing an education — in trying to fulfill what it means to be a ‘man’ in Latino culture, many of them quit school as soon as they’re able to work,” said Mike Gutierrez, the program’s mentoring coordinator and an adviser at Austin Community College. “If they don’t know what it takes to get in college, for example, they may be really hesitant to ask questions … These are cultural factors that not just everybody understands.”

This cultural influence is something Gutierrez understands first-hand. Growing up, he experienced a lot of the same things M.A.L.E.S mentees face, and was a mentor himself before becoming the mentor coordinator for the program.

Now, Gutierrez is working on his second master’s degree.

“I couldn’t have done it without a lot of great people who thought I was worth the trouble and worth helping,” he said.

This premise of having a supporter, encourager and mentor is what has made the greatest impact on the individuals involved, especially past mentors who share similar experiences with their mentees.

“When it comes to Dr. Saenz’s scholarship, I am the research. I’ve faced the challenges, and I can tell you from experience that the kind of work Project M.A.L.E.S does is desperately needed,” said Jorge Segovia, a former mentor and now the curriculum and community engagement coordinator for the program. “The current U.S. school system isn’t designed to support African American and Hispanic student success. To make it through, these groups need good mentors … Lots of caring people stepped in and helped me, and I feel a strong obligation to return the favor.”

That feeling of paying it forward has paid off. In the past five years, Project M.A.L.E.S. has gained national attention and multiple invitations to Saenz from the White House, as well as several state and local honors.

Luis Urrieta

Luis Urrieta, Jr., Ph.D.

This year, the program obtained approval for a service-learning course through the College of Liberal Arts that anchors undergraduate mentors’ training in a formal academic class. The new course, titled “Instructing Males Through Peer Advising College Tracks,” launched this past fall. It gives students an opportunity to learn about public service, and to work with Central Texas community leaders. Students also receive mentor training, explore literature on the unique challenges that men of color face, and put their mentoring skills to the test in Austin area schools.

“We were the first and are the most prominent university-based, research-informed program that focuses on the mentoring and study of Latino males,” said Saenz, “and we take that responsibility very seriously. Mentoring is in our organization’s name and it’s what we’re about.”

Like Saenz, College of Education Associate Professor Luis Urrieta is also passionate about using mentoring to help Latino youth. His focus is on teaching young Latinos about the benefits of their social and cultural knowledge, and how it can be the key to their success.

“In the U.S. education system, we too often dismiss the fact that learning includes all of a child’s environments and multiple ways of knowing and being, not just the structured, limited activities that occur in a classroom,” said Urrieta, himself the son of Mexican immigrants from rural Michoacán. “I want to transform current education practices by figuring out how these cultural practices and traditions can complement formal Western education.”

The program, called Cultura en Acción, was created in Austin two years ago. UT student volunteers spend one afternoon each week with third, fourth and fifth graders at Austin area schools.

For a lot of the mentors, the experience becomes more than just a volunteer opportunity, with the benefits of the program expanding beyond Austin. Urrieta captured national attention for his work by receiving a Cesar E. Chavez Champions of Change award from the White House last year.

“Dr. Urrieta really stresses that you’re not there to fulfill an obligation or gain an experience that you can just put on your resume,” said Ana Isabel Fernandez De Alb, a former mentor in the program and a graduate student in Mexican American Studies. “As a mentor, you develop rapport with the children that allows them to talk freely about crossing the border and visiting their families in Mexico, for example, and that’s something that they may not share with almost anyone else.”

For both Project M.A.L.E.S. and Cultura en Acción, students, researchers, faculty members and volunteers at the College of Education are dedicated to making a difference – one mentoring relationship at a time.

Credit: Kay Randall for research and collaboration on this article.

Preservice undergraduate teachers are paired with practicing mentors enrolled in the Teacher Mentoring, School Leadership & Professional Development program. Both are teachers, both are students, and both practice C.A.R.E. – a model of Critical, Appreciative, Reflective, and Experiential learning.


What is C.A.R.E?

Traditional models of teacher education often overlook two transformative powers: mentorship and experience. Without a mentor, new teachers might be left to flounder in their first years on the job, unable to access tools their seasoned peers take for granted. Similarly, teachers who lack a transitional, guided experience may be unprepared for the realities of leading a classroom.

This is why the College of Education is committed to supporting both preservice and current educators. Undergraduates preparing to enter the teaching workforce participate in a preservice preparation program that pairs them with a mentor teacher. That mentor is also enrolled as a student, and is seeking a master’s degree in Teacher Leadership, Mentoring and Professional Development.

Together, each pair of educators employs the C.A.R.E. model of learning which stands for “critical, appreciative, reflective, and experiential”.

The critical element is all about disrupting traditional power relationships. For example, a mentor teacher may wield his or her experience as an indicator of superiority, leaving a preservice teacher unable to interact as an equal. By engaging in problems of practice, a mentor teacher can instead offer evaluative feedback without disrupting a power balance.

Appreciative elements of the mentorship relationship focus on leading conversations with positives. Mentor teachers will point out what went well and seemed to work in the classroom, and ask the preservice teacher for input about what could have gone better. This leads to a reflective element. Both teachers are encouraged to discuss the reasoning behind their decision-making both during and after times of instruction.

The most powerful of these elements is experience. As with mentorship, learning by doing is the key to equipping new teachers with the tools they need to thrive as educators in their first years and beyond. By practicing the elements of successful mentorship, master’s students learn best practices for a career as an education leader.

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.

Anna Drake & Dean Justiz

Anna Drake and Dean Justiz

What is a mentor?

Academic literature tells us that a mentor is an experienced individual who provides ongoing upward support and mobility to a protégé’s career (Hunt & Michael, 1983; Kram, 1983; Ragins & Cotton, 1999). But doesn’t that sound a little sterile? I think personal experience paints a clearer picture, and I’m honored to share mine.

At the beginning of 2013, I was knee-deep in the graduate school decision process. I’d applied to a dozen Ph.D. programs and visited almost all of them. In late February, thinking I had my decision made, I took one final trip to see The University of Texas at Austin. After meeting with a few faculty members, I landed in a conversation with the dean of the college. We talked about my professional aspirations in higher education leadership and my academic interest in management and policy. He told me about his background in Washington, D.C. and his 20-plus year tenure building the college to national status. I left Austin with an offer to work with Dr. Manuel Justiz as his research fellow, shadowing him in college governance and researching higher education policy issues. In 48 hours, the decision I thought I’d reached no longer seemed so certain. I changed direction and moved to Texas.

When I look back, that offer of a graduate research assistantship was more than a way to fund my doctoral program. It was an invitation to be a mentee: to learn from a dean who had led his college for close to 25 years, who had worked in Washington politics, and who had come to Texas to launch UT’s College of Education into the national spotlight. Yes, Austin is great and UT is an academic powerhouse – but it was his personal commitment to making this the most comprehensive learning experience, and the right place for me, that really brought me to Texas. Of all the schools I’d visited, all the opportunities I’d received, not one of them promised such confidence and investment in my potential.

Over the past year and a half, Dean Justiz has exposed me to the inner workings of a robust academic organization and the political dynamics of a major capitol city. He has shown me how he leads the college, how he manages his team, and how he advocates for our critical educational mission in Texas. This is the content I hoped to learn alongside my program’s coursework, and my experience has confirmed that I made the right decision. What’s more: Dean Justiz has taught me what it means to be a mentor. This, too, is something I will carry throughout my career. Here’s what I’ve learned.

A mentor makes connections. He or she connects you to people, opportunities and information. A mentor helps you figure out what you need in order to get where you want to go. He picks up the phone for you, makes an introduction and presents you as the version of yourself that you most want to be. This trust and confidence mean you have to deliver, so you do. You grow into the shoes set out for you.

A mentor asks big questions. These are the hard questions, the right ones, the ones he or she knows because of experience. By asking, he encourages your reflection and personal growth. With such a mentor, you are better prepared to navigate your career path because you have the benefit of what someone wishes they had known when they were where you are. You listen, you challenge your assumptions and you consider perspectives you wouldn’t bring on your own.

A mentor is candid. I like to think of it as “truth talk.” Perhaps your mentor has a job you might like. A mentor will be candid about what that life is like and what you need to know about pursuing such a path. Because of their experience, they can help you understand if it’s right for you. It’s not just about a mentor who wants to see you do what they do; it’s about someone who wants to help you make the most informed decision about your skill set, passion and potential. Truth talk is critical when a mentor sees you veering off course in a way you might not realize. It’s essential in the form of encouragement, affirmation and recognition when you succeed. A mentor makes a genuine investment and delivers honest, constructive and regular feedback.

Thanks to Dean Justiz, I’m learning that a doctorate is not just about academic content. Pursuing a Ph.D. is about apprenticing with scholars and leaders who have learned how to succeed in the field. I came here because of the opportunity to be a mentee, and it has made all the difference. I am grateful beyond measure that I took the opportunity to work with a mentor who understands that you can’t learn everything from a book – even a book on mentoring.


Kram, K. E. (1983). Phases of the mentor relationship. Academy of Management Journal, 26, 608-625.

Hunt, D. M., & Michael, C. (1983). Mentorship: A career training and development tool. Academy of Management Review, 8, 475-485.

Ragins, B. R., & Cotton, J. L. (1999). Mentor functions and outcomes: A comparison of men and women in formal and informal mentoring relationships. Journal of Applied Psychology, 84(4), 529-550.

POST TAGS:

AUSTIN, Texas — Since September 2005, the city of Austin has enforced an ordinance that prohibits smoking indoors at most public businesses and places of work. Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have determined the ban correlates with an appreciable decrease in cigarette usage by UT students.

Dr. Jessica Duncan Cance, Assistant Professor of Health Behavior and Health Education, is lead author of the study published this month in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research. Data was collected via internet-based surveys across six years, and asked students to record how often and how many cigarettes they consumed during the previous three months. Both smoking frequency and cigarette quantity decreased after the ban was enacted. Students were also asked to submit information on drinking habits, but a lack of significant change suggest they were unaffected by the smoking ban.

“This research adds to our understanding of the public health impact of smoke-free ordinances because no other study to date has looked at how indoor smoking bans relate to the behaviors of emerging adults, whose smoking habits have yet to be solidified,” explained Cance. “What is clear is that the city-wide ban influenced our students, and that the change was a positive one for their health.”

Contact: Sibyl Kaufman, Marketing Coordinator, College of Education, 512-232-3396, sibyl.kaufman@austin.utexas.edu; or Dr. Jessica Duncan Cance, Assistant Professor of Health Behavior and Health Education in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education, College of Education, UT Austin, jdcance@austin.utexas.edu

February 11, 2015

Teachers are leaving their jobs in record numbers. To find out why, studies have focused on how structural factors, like the type of school in which a teacher works, contribute to job dissatisfaction. But University of Texas at Austin educational psychologist Christopher McCarthy recently conducted a survey of elementary school teachers’ psychological responses to the resources and demands of their jobs.

“This is something we can measure and isolate. Teacher appraisals offer early warning signs that they’re perceiving job demands as overwhelming. Schools can act to slow the revolving door in a profession where 30 to 40 percent of new employees leave after the first five years. We can’t let it continue that way.”

A 2012 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being poll found that teachers were second only to physicians in reporting they feel stress at work, and over half of them said they felt significant stress several days per week.

To understand the relationship between a teacher’s psychological state, job satisfaction and occupational commitment, McCarthy and his colleagues, University of North Carolina’s Richard Lambert and Paul Fitchett, developed a measure called the Classroom Appraisal of Resources and Demands (CARD). The tool is used to assess teachers’ perceptions of demands, like classroom management challenges, and sufficiency of resources, such as administrator support. By examining teachers’ perceptions of both demands and resources, the CARD can identify which teachers experience high demand levels relative to their classroom resources.

“We found that two teachers who have the same kinds of students, level of administrative support, classroom materials, pay and so forth can view their circumstances very differently,” said McCarthy. “What one defines as stressful and dissatisfactory can be quite manageable for another, so you can’t simply assume that factors such as class size cause teacher stress and dissatisfaction.”

McCarthy also determined that a teacher’s decision to leave the job is usually the result of an accumulation of several factors rather than a single trigger.

“This means there are probably numerous opportunities for schools to gather feedback from teachers, then offer relevant intervention if the instructors seem at risk for burnout,” said McCarthy, the Maxine Foreman Zarrow Endowed Faculty Fellow in Education in the College of Education’s Department of Educational Psychology.

“Everyone’s speculated about reasons for the teacher shortage,” said McCarthy. “My study suggests that it’s – at least in part – due to job stress.

– Kay Randall

February 5, 2015

To address a critical shortage of K-12 computer science teachers, students and courses, the Texas Regional Collaboratives for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching (TRC) hosted a workshop in Austin that brought together computer science researchers, educators and technology industry representatives.

Jason Turnbull

Jason Turnbull of Fort Worth ISD explores an interactive display board at the TACC Vizualization Lab during the TRC CS Network Training.

The TRC, which is part of the College of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction, offers award-winning, high quality, research-based STEM professional development to teachers statewide.

“In case anyone still needs convincing,” said Carol Fletcher, the TRC’s associate director and event organizer, “there’s a wealth of data showing a dire problem in computer science education. Last year, only 15,000 students in the entire state of Texas took computer science I, II or AP classes, and only 90 new teachers passed the certification exam to teach the subject.”

“Even though 20 percent of the jobs in Austin are in technology, and statistics show that by 2020 the U.S. is going to need at least a million more programmers, the number of new computer science degree holders is steadily falling. The TRC is committed to reversing this trend.”

According to Fletcher, the Texas high school teachers who are part of the TRC’s computer science network and who attended the workshop will be among the leaders who transform computer science education around the state.

To create a strong Texas computer science pipeline, workshop participants examined solutions that included:

  • investing in a statewide, systemic program to train and certify skilled computer science teachers
  • incentivizing districts to offer computer science through weighted funding
  • increasing the number of high-level, project-based computer education courses
  • developing online and volunteer resources that connect high schools with interesting, accomplished professionals in computer science fields
  • aggressively recruiting females and minorities with messages and activities specifically targeted to them
  • marketing the variety and scope of possible careers

Kim Garcia

Kim Garcia of Georgetown ISD

Lorilyn Owens, director of Oracle Academy North America, outlined her company’s involvement. “The TRC model helps foster a strong and supportive community of practice, and offers additional support for educators at the regional and state levels.  We are honored to collaborate with an inspirational leader like Carol Fletcher in order sustain and grow Texas’ commitment to computer science education and educators.”

Among the state and national stakeholders who spoke at the workshop were Owen Astrachan, a computer science professor at Duke University; Hal Speed and Jake Baskin with Code.org; Tricia Berry, director of UT Austin’s Women in Engineering Program and the Texas Girls Collaborative Project; Tyra Crockett, senior marketing manager with Oracle Academy; Lien Diaz, the College Board’s senior director of curriculum and content development; and Rosalia Gomez with UT Austin’s Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC). IBM, Oracle Academy, TCEA, Dell and the TACC sponsored the event.

“You know, people don’t say, ‘I’m not a reading person,’ but every time you turn around you hear someone say, ‘I’m not a math person,’” said Berry. “It’s crucial that we work on dispelling negative stereotypes and incorrect information about STEM fields and subjects. It’s about creativity as much as the arts are, and it’s about problem solving, exploring and designing. If we can give STEM an image overhaul, more individuals will realize they really are science and math people.”

To learn more about how the TRC is training and supporting a new generation of computer science teachers, visit the TRC’s Computer Science Resources website or contact Carol Fletcher at carol.fletcher@austin.utexas.edu.