Home / Posts Tagged "August 2015"

Classrooms at Houston Elementary in the Austin Independent School District (AISD) were brimming with eager third graders who were excited to read, write, and report about all things related to water. “The Austin area experienced major flooding over the Memorial Day holiday,” says The University of Texas at Austin College of Education Associate Professor Melissa Wetzel, who helps lead the Master Reading Teacher Institute with Professor Jim Hoffman. “The flood was a topic of interest and immediacy for the kids. They developed their own questions related to water and used a variety of materials—websites, books, videos, and maps—to find their own answers to the questions they formulated.”

The water-themed inquiry approach to teaching reading and writing is part of the Master Reading Teacher (MRT) program offered in cooperation with the Texas Reading Initiative. It prepares K-12 teachers to earn a Master Reading Teacher certificate. Teachers apply in spring, take courses taught by faculty, and engage in an onsite practicum at a local elementary school. The program’s goal is to improve the quality of reading instruction in the state of Texas.

The program benefits not just K-12 students. Program educators at various levels within the College of Education benefit, too. Doctoral students gain valuable experience teaching education theory to K-12 educators, and both groups evaluate the efficacy of knowledge learned in a real-time environment. For example, as the K-12 teachers learn reading methods and assessment, instructional planning, and goal setting, they put each into practice in an actual classroom with elementary school students.

Their efforts culminated in a first-ever exhibit exploration. The third-grade investigators presented what they’d learned via displays and demonstrations that covered topics such as water contamination, the effect of floods on people, tsunamis, and waterfalls.

Curriculum and Instruction graduate student Natalie Svrcek earned the MRT certificate eight years ago. As a graduate student now instructing teachers earning the credential, she is able to focus on observing teachers’ interaction with their students. “It’s a different experience than teaching just adults, and it’s different than teaching kids,” she says. “I am seeing the actual interaction happen, which is something you can’t get from a textbook. I name what I see and witness the teachers changing their plan of action based on my observations.”

It’s this experience that makes the MRT learning environment so rich. Says master’s student Jennifer McMillin, “It’s hard to wrap your head around some of the concepts of teaching reading and writing if you don’t see it in practice. In a program like this, we all get hands-on experience.”

Nicole Bueno, a first-grade teacher at AISD’s Cook Elementary, said the program gave her time to “reflect on my teaching and consider why I teach the different components I do. As a classroom teacher I am the bridge between theory and practice, and this program allowed me to model something I’d learned with students every day.”

Bueno added that she’d very likely use and modify the inquiry process for her classroom in the fall. The inquiry-based model was also a hit with third graders. Elementary student Abel, who chose to focus on marine biology, says, “This is different than how school normally is, because I’m the one who gets to give the problem and ask the questions.”

For more information, contact Professor Jim Hoffman at the Master Reading Teacher Institute.

-Photos by Christina S. Murrey

Assistant Professor Jessica Toste suggests five simple strategies—from apps to camps—to help students with disabilities avoid learning loss over the summer.

Assistant Professor North Cooc discusses how research, policy, and practice interrelate and can be bolstered to better support the learning of students with disabilities in the summer.

A former special education teacher and high school administrator, Assistant Professor Barbara Pazey shares thoughts about supporting the summer learning of students with disabilities while also serving the needs of schools.


One More River to Cross

Immigration and Language Barriers Could Not Deter This Education Champion

In April, College of Education bilingual education major Mayte De Paz was named a McNair Scholar recipient. The McNair is a prestigious award and the process is competitive. But Mayte has had years of practice beating seemingly insurmountable odds. She first began doing so when she was just six years old.

“When I was a child in Trojes, Mexico, I farmed with my mom and sisters. I learned how to work in the fields. We grew flowers and food, like corn and tomatoes, and raised animals,” explains De Paz.

Mayte De Paz

Mayte De Paz (Photo by: Christina S. Murrey)

The family farmed one side of a river and lived on the other. The river would rise during the day, making the return crossing laborious, even treacherous. “The walk home was wet and muddy, and each day we’d have to construct makeshift bridges by filling bags with dirt and bricks to try to make it across. Not everyone was successful making it across and would end up trapped for the night away from their homes.”

When Mayte was 12, her family moved to El Potrero Nuevo León. It was the first time she had a chance to attend school on a regular basis. “There wasn’t time to go to school when we were farming, so I was 12 years old and did not know how to read or write.” The family lived in Monterrey for five years before immigrating to the United States when Mayte was 17. She and her sister enrolled in school in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas. Entrance exams placed Mayte and her younger sister in their freshman year of high school.

“I didn’t know any English,” she says. “I started watching TV, reading aloud. I got an English-Spanish dictionary.” Though she struggled with reading and writing, she excelled in sciences and math. “I liked biology because I could understand it. I stayed for tutoring and my teacher would tell us about the next class. I made an 85.”

Despite the language barrier, Mayte made the B honor roll her freshman year.

Single-minded Perseverance

“But I wanted more,” Mayte says. She spent many days after school watching other students play soccer. “I wanted to play, but I was too shy to ask. Finally, I asked the coach and I went to tryouts. I felt like a bird flying. I began to play on the team. I made it to varsity. I got a jacket. I joined student council and ROTC, and I became the company commander; I joined the multicultural club too. I wanted to be part of the National Honors Society, but you had to be in the top 10%, and I didn’t have the GPA and grades. I needed an 87.9.”

She didn’t let that challenge stop her either. “Each semester I would try harder. I’d go to my counselor and she’d say, ‘Not yet, Mayte, but keep trying.’ Then finally I made it.”

Mayte was accepted at UT Arlington, “but I didn’t go because my parents said no. My parents thought I was crazy to follow a different path. But I decided that if they didn’t allow me, I would keep going for myself.”

She enrolled in community college, where she tackled yet another barrier.

“I could not pass the writing class,” she says. “If you make three major errors on the writing test—things like subject/verb agreement or fragment errors, you can’t pass. I took the test nine times. I couldn’t take English, government or history until I passed that class.” But she excelled at math. The school began to notice her math ability and she earned a scholarship. “I was happy. I finally took the writing test the last time. Fifteen students took it and only four passed. When I found out that I passed I fell on the ground crying.”

Discovering her Passion, with a Little Help

Mayte always wanted to attend The University of Texas in Austin, but she thought that goal was out of reach. “I was in community college for six years. I thought UT was for rich, really smart people; but when I decided to try to get in, my professors didn’t hesitate to support me. I even got a letter of recommendation from the community college president.”

In 2014, the math and science whiz was accepted into the Cockrell School of Engineering, which humbled her. “It’s extremely difficult to get into the school of engineering at UT. I knew it was a big honor.” She spent her first semester trying to find out what she wanted to do, pursue and be. That’s when Mayte discovered something that troubled her: “I wanted to be involved more directly with making people’s lives better, but I didn’t see myself doing that by becoming an engineer.”

Mayte sought out professors, mentors and counselors to help with her dilemma. She realized that, though she excelled at math and science, her English language skills kept her from uncovering her true academic and career passion: education.

So Mayte changed her major to bilingual education. She credits Jessica Silva [academic advising coordinator in the College of Education] with encouraging her to continue on for her Ph.D. and to apply for the McNair Scholars program. The McNair Scholars program works to increase the number of students in doctoral degree programs who are low-income and first-generation undergraduates, or students who come from groups underrepresented in graduate education. Program participants must be committed to enrolling in graduate programs with an end goal of successfully completing a Ph.D.

The biggest challenge in earning the prestigious award? “I had to write an essay,” she says, proudly. “I wrote about how I want to help the community.”

Building a Stronger Bridge

Ph.D, Candidate’s White House Internship Further Supports First-Generation Latino Students

A native of the Texas Rio Grande Valley, current UT College of Education Ph.D. student Joanna Sanchez was a first-generation college student who remembers how difficult the transition to higher education was, especially without the support of family and community. Sanchez received a Gates Millennium Scholarship in its inaugural year, 1999. The scholarship, which provides financial assistance to outstanding minority students with significant financial need, was instrumental in helping Joanna earn a bachelor’s degree in geosciences from Trinity University. She went on to earn a master’s in geographic information science from the University of Denver.

Joanna Sanchez

Joanna Sanchez

Joanna then embarked on a successful career in geographic information systems (GIS), but volunteering with the Gates program led her to discover her true calling. “Part of my responsibility as a Gates Millennium Scholar was to speak to students in the community about the program and my experience,” says Joanna. Not only did she find that engagement fulfilling, she also saw a distinct void that needed to be filled. “As in my own experience, I saw a lack of family support for first-generation students to leave home and go off into the unknown world of college. I began to understand how important it is for the families of these students to become educated about the opportunities the college journey gives their young people.”

“It’s scary for students to leave the Valley, with no support. And their families are afraid that if their children leave, they won’t come back,” she explains. “But I get to show them not only that it is possible for their kids to do well, but that, like me, they can and do come back.”

Joanna channelled her passion for supporting students and their families into a nonprofit organization that she founded in the Rio Grande Valley called Odisea. Odisea’s mission is to work with local high school students and parents to try to make the transition from high school to moving away from home for college easier. Her nonprofit work proved so inspiring that she made it her career. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in educational policy and planning. Her research interests include college access, minority first-generation college students and school/family/community partnerships. Joanna was named a 2014-2016 Barbara L. Jackson Scholar and, this summer, the third-year doctoral student was named an Archer Fellow.

It was the Archer Fellowship that opened the door to the White House. The program was established by The University of Texas System and former U.S. Representative Bill Archer to bring students to Washington, D.C., to participate in internships and attend classes focusing on policy, history and advocacy. Joanna took classes in D.C. this summer and found an internship in a White House program that is applicable to her research and career goals. “There are five White House initiatives on educational excellence. Each one focuses on studying educational policies and programs within a particular minority or underrepresented group. My work this summer focuses on the Hispanic community. It’s a great fit with my work at Odisea and my research. There can be a huge disconnect between local and federal efforts in the field, and I want to work on building that connection.”



Gaining pre-service practicum experience during the sun-drenched summer months is a challenge for students pursuing teaching certification. But this summer, The University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education teamed up with the nonprofit Breakthrough Austin, forging a relationship that gives our students a chance to gain valuable teaching experience and professional development hours needed for certification.

“Each day, the students blew us away with the knowledge they brought into the classroom along with their desire to remain committed to an academic program during their precious summer vacation,” says Dhara Lad, a UTeach Urban Teachers (UTUT) junior. “The greatest moments at Breakthrough involved seeing students have their very own breakthroughs, whether that be in finding books enjoyable, overcoming a math strategy, identifying college as a priority, or breaking out of their shell and stepping into positions of leadership and public speaking roles.”

Lad, who is majoring in International Relations and Global Studies and Asian Cultures and Languages, taught 7th graders African American Civil Rights and Make It Up as You Go, an improvisation class. When asked about the summer experience, she admits it was exhausting but worth it: “The program allowed us to tweak existing curriculum while also giving us the complete freedom to design and execute our own lessons and unit plans, incorporating material relevant to the lives of our students like gentrification, immigration, gay marriage and racism.”

Breakthrough Austin is part of a national nonprofit system that provides out-of-school learning and academic case management to students from low-income communities who will be the first in their families to graduate from college. The service lasts from middle school through college. During the summer break, middle school students take academic classes. They also spend time learning skills and receiving counseling that will help them succeed academically and navigate a world that is new to them and their families. Though the Breakthrough summer program has taken place at UT for more than a decade, this is the first year College of Education students have taken part as instructors.

“Finding meaningful summer placements where our students gain professional development hours is a struggle,” explains Thea Williamson, a doctoral student in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and instructional coach for the Breakthrough project. “Earlier in the year, Cinthia Salinas (Curriculum and Instruction chair and professor) reached out to Breakthrough to offer the services of UTeach Urban Teachers students as summer school academic instructors. It was a win-win,” she says.

UTeach Urban Teachers prepares English and Social Studies educators to thrive in the context of urban schools. UTUT students took two classes this semester: Literacy Across the Disciplines, taught by College of Education graduate student Alina Pruitt, and Sociocultural Influences on Learning, taught by graduate student Kevin Magill. The courses gave UTUT students theoretical knowledge pertinent to teaching students with diverse cultural backgrounds, like those at Breakthrough.

Says Magill, “The partnership gave our students a unique, supportive community environment to develop their skills through first-hand experience. They were able to develop fairly dynamic insights into many elements of teaching in a short time. As a cohort they came together in support of each other and their students, having developed confidence in the classroom, in the community, and working with parents. They now understand what creative, interesting lesson plans look like and how to implement them. They are quite prepared for their intern teaching experience this fall.”

Michael Griffith, executive director of Breakthrough Austin, says he’s excited about the new relationship between the college and his organization. “The College of Education at UT is one of the best colleges of education in the country. It’s remarkable that our students get to benefit from that. I’m very humbled by it.”


Baker HarrellBaker Harrell is more than an award-winning entrepreneur. He is a force for change. This year, Harrell’s Austin-based nonprofit, It’s Time Texas (ITT), will improve the health of more than 5 million Texans in over 550 communities by empowering people to work together to become healthier. The nonprofit is quickly gaining ground across the state, with more than 50 partners and 2,500 participating schools and organizations.

So what led an already successful champion of social change back to the College of Education to earn a doctorate? Harrell explains that the choice, while proving a true challenge, was integral to his continued success.

His Story

As CEO of It’s Time Texas, I work in the public health field, which is a very scientific sector. While it is certainly not required to have an advanced degree to be successful in this field, I believed that pursuing a Ph.D. would allow me to more deeply understand and better address the complex challenges that we are tackling at ITT. In many ways, ITT is my master’s and Ph.D. work come to life.

My doctoral research focused on social change approaches to improve population health. My dissertation tracked major societal shifts in the U.S. that have likely contributed to the “obesogenic” social environment in which most Americans now live. I compared and contrasted social marketing and social movements as potential approaches to address this issue.

By attending the College of Education, I became more proficient as a lifelong learner and deepened my understanding of who I am as a person (especially my many limitations) through the process. Earning my Ph.D. was the dying wish of my grandfather, for whom I am named, and that was definitely the most special aspect of crossing the finish line.

Why UT?

After completing my master’s degree in health education at UT Austin, I wandered the university as a “homeless” Ph.D. student for nearly two years, taking classes in a variety of departments. When I could not find a department that would allow me to pursue the interdisciplinary course of study that interested me, I decided that I would discontinue my studies. Around this time, I ran into Dr. Jan Todd, with whom I had bonded early in my master’s work. When I told her about my situation, she informed me that she had recently created an interdisciplinary Ph.D. track in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education for “unconventional” students like me. If not for Dr. Todd, my journey would have been cut short.

Baker HarrellPresentingI think the breadth of disciplines that are housed within the College of Education makes it uniquely fertile ground for students who, like me, are interested in the new knowledge and innovations that can only be generated within the intersection of disparate fields, theories, and disciplines. More specifically, I so enjoyed and benefited from the opportunity to work with and learn from many talented professionals within the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education, and I am forever grateful to Dr. Todd for giving me the freedom, encouragement, and support to pursue my rather circuitous academic journey.

Because I was working full-time while pursuing my master’s and Ph.D. at UT, I would say that my ability to constantly apply what I was learning in school in the professional sphere was incredibly helpful. I was fortunate to have wonderful professors who helped shape me professionally and academically. In addition to Dr. Todd, Drs. Bartholomew, Hunt, Kohl, Lambdin, Loukas, Stanforth, Steinhardt, and Vandewater were all hugely influential in making my experience at UT a transformative one.

Life After UT

In my role as CEO of ITT, I am blessed to serve alongside an amazing team of change agents who work each day to make it easier for Texans to lead healthier lives and build healthier communities.

Shortly after graduation this past May, my wife, Lisa, and I found out that she is pregnant with our first child—a girl. She is due in January. We are equal parts freaked-out and overjoyed. I will continue to wake up each day seeking to be the best husband, leader, friend, human, and soon-to-be-father that I can. The rest will take care of itself.

Advice for Students

For a prospective doctoral student, I suggest that you fully understand your personal and professional objectives for pursuing a Ph.D. and design your course of study (and your curriculum/dissertation committees) to precisely align with and advance those objectives. I encountered fellow students throughout my doctoral studies who reported feeling led by rather than leading their courses of study. Pursuing a Ph.D. is likely one of the most significant investments you will ever make; as such, you should be unapologetic in making that investment work for you.

For current students, I strongly advise you against leading an organization while pursuing your studies. It can be done, but it hurts. A lot. But if you’re in the middle of it and it’s your passion, do not quit. I lost count of the number of times I came close to quitting. Develop and nurture (and constantly thank) your support team—you will need them. And stay closely connected to the reasons you decided to pursue your Ph.D. in the first place—those reasons are your “north star,” so make sure they continue to shine bright in your mind.

Hook ‘em!

By Lisa Jasinski, Ph.D. Student, Program in Higher Education Leadership

As a mid-career professional beginning my second year of doctoral study, I no longer think of my summers as “vacations.” For nearly a decade, I have worked year-round as an academic administrator. Gone are the days of part-time jobs, a steady uniform of tank tops, and getting lost in paperbacks at the beach. After I turned in my final papers this spring, I felt a sense of anxious anticipation. What would my first summer as a doctoral student be like?


COE students Coreen Davis, Genevieve Countryman, Lisa Jasinski, and Dr. Pat Somers travel to Brazil.

As I looked at my calendar, my first realization came quickly—the academic year never really ends. My summer brimmed with courses, international field research, conference presentations, lots of writing and just enough rest to rejuvenate me for the year to come. In May, I traveled with my academic advisor, Dr. Pat Somers, and other UT students to present original research at the Latin American Studies Association Conference in Puerto Rico. This was my first international presentation as a UT student, and it was especially gratifying to engage with colleagues from all over the world. As I find my footing as a researcher, this was a valuable reminder that scholarly work has real implications.

Then, in June, I took an intensive course about comparative international higher education. We examined case studies from Mexico, India, China, Finland, Germany, South Korea and Brazil. The class allowed me to rethink my assumptions about the roles that universities play in society, weigh strategies of reducing the cost of attendance while maintaining educational quality, and see how other countries have increased college attendance and graduation among students from historically underrepresented groups.

The highlight of this summer was two weeks of field research in Porto Alegre, a coastal city of more than a million people in southern Brazil. I traveled with Dr. Somers and two other College of Education graduate students, Cory Davis and Genevieve Countryman. Upon arrival, we were greeted with the warm gaucho hospitality for which the region is famous. Everyone we met was so eager to talk to us, shower us in presents and introduce us to new foods, phrases and customs. They even gave us an affectionate nickname, the “doctorinas,” which in turn inspired the social media hashtag we used to post updates from the trip (check us out at #somersdoctorinas).

Brazil Photo 2

“Hook’em” selfie with high school students in Viamao, Brazil.

To the higher education scholar, Brazil presents a fascinating case study. As one of the most diverse countries in the world, it is the ideal place to consider the impact of a decade-old national affirmative action policy to expand college access for black, mixed-race, indigenous and low-income students. Faculty at Brazilian universities are under pressure to adopt new technologies, think across disciplinary boundaries and prepare a new generation of students to live, work and thrive in an increasingly interconnected world.

We learned that there is a burnt orange pipeline that runs between Austin and Porto Alegre. Several of our local hosts studied at UT-Austin under many auspices. We met former fellows of the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies (LLILAS), exchange students, Fulbright scholars and past short-term visiting researchers.

One of the most powerful lessons I have learned while traveling is that no matter how big it may seem, the world is actually a very small place. On my second day in Porto Alegre, I found myself engrossed in a dual-language conversation with our hosts over café zinho—Brazil’s deliciously strong black coffee (and one of the few things I can order confidently in Portuguese). Within minutes, we discovered a shared interest in using “design thinking” to reform higher education. Several years ago, I first encountered design thinking methodology from the field of product engineering when I visited the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University. Ever since then, I’ve been smitten—using strategies like radical collaboration, empathic listening and the continual tweaking of iterative “prototypes” to bring about creative and innovative solutions in my work with faculty at Trinity University.

I was truly honored when my new colleagues at the Pontificia Universidade Catolica do Rio Grande do Sul (PUCRS) invited me to present my experiences and research about using design thinking to foster campus change. A patient Brazilian graduate student helped translate my PowerPoint slides into Portuguese, and I shared some lessons learned (in English). Almost immediately, it was as if all cultural, linguistic and national borders melted away—I had found a community of practice, and maybe even stumbled into a dissertation topic! Business cards were exchanged, and ideas are already percolating for future collaborative presentations and partnerships.

One of the highlights of my time in Brazil was visiting with high school students in the nearby town of Viamão. The students were just as eager to practice their English as we were to improve our fledgling Portuguese. Dressed in traditional dresses and headscarves, the students performed local dances and taught us a few moves. Just before leaving the school, we taught them a little about our culture, and soon all of the students were doing the “hook’em horns” sign and mugging for the camera. I know that I’m likely to remember my new Brazilian friends and first summer as a doctoral student for a long time to come.

Lisa Jasinski is a second-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Educational Administration’s Program in Higher Education Leadership (PHEL). She currently works at Trinity University in San Antonio, TX. Contact her at ljasinski@utexas.edu.


“You can teach just about anything with salt, baking soda and vinegar,” says Dr. Barufaldi, grinning at the cart loaded with teaching supplies just outside his office in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education. The 43-year veteran of higher education at UT Austin exudes a spritely joviality unmatched by some of his much younger colleagues and eschews coat and tie in favor of more casual, Texas-appropriate attire. Barufaldi has just wrapped up his last-ever college-level class at UT: undergraduate elementary science methods, and seems far from mournful. It’s clear there are plenty of to-dos keeping him occupied, and one can’t help but pick up on a subtle buzz of excited energy.

His energy is legendary in the college. Over the entirety of his professional career in higher education, the Ruben E. Hinojosa Regents Professor, director of the Center for STEM Education and principal investigator for the Texas Regional Collaborative for Excellence in Science Teaching (TRC) has helped drive the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin to become one of the leading institutions of math and science teacher education in the country. Barufaldi, affectionately nicknamed the Godfather of STEM by peers and students, also has produced an impressive library of scholarship, including books, articles, chapters, reviews, papers and seminars delivered to audiences around the globe. In 2003, he was selected for membership in the Academy of Distinguished Teachers at UT Austin and was named a Minnie Stevens Piper Professor in 2002 for “dedication to the teaching profession.” The list of awards and works extends well beyond these pinnacle achievements, but Barufaldi keeps things in perspective. “Research, teaching and service – in that order,” he insists.

IMG_5779As a champion of education research, Barufaldi finds great pride in the work being done by the Center for STEM Education and the TRC. Those engines of innovation have not always run smoothly, as Barufaldi recalls. “One of the major highlights of my career was when Dean Manuel Justiz first arrived at the College of Education. UT was looking to move the STEM Center to a different college, so I wrote Dean Justiz a long letter explaining why I thought we should fight to keep it here. It belongs in education because, like our graduate programs, it’s a very integrated operation. We work with engineers, scientists, mathematicians and educators. Dean Justiz told me recently he still has a copy of that letter.”

Institutional support came in a variety of forms over the years, including constant support from the Dean’s office. “It’s great when you have support from people like Dean Justiz and Dr. Marilyn Kameen [Senior Associate Dean], who have removed a lot of barriers,” says Barufaldi. “It’s easy to operate within a system that supports you, and that includes the Advisory Council, too.”

Specializing in areas like professional development, curriculum design, instructional strategies and science teacher education, Barufaldi strove to connect teachers and learners to the best tools and information available. Most recently, his research has focused on the process of building successful, high-intensity collaboration in the science education community. Through the TRC, Barufaldi and his colleagues have spent the past 23 years changing the landscape of Texas classrooms for the better. “That has been our major contribution to education in the state of Texas and throughout the country,” says Barufaldi of bringing the TRC to the College of Education.

“My favorite part of teaching is connecting with people,” he says. “It’s so refreshing to see 19 year olds going into education and being so enthusiastic about teaching and working with young people.” When asked if his students seem to have changed over the years, Barufaldi pauses to consider, then shakes his head resolutely. “No, they haven’t changed, but the environment has. Social media, the Internet, technology in general – those things have changed.”

And what about his environment? “Everyone here is fun to work with,” he says, smiling. “When I hear professors at other institutions talk about how cutthroat their school is, I feel so lucky. There’s no one-upmanship here. It’s not ‘Look at me! I got three publications!’ it’s ‘How can I help? What can we collaborate on?’ The College of Education is very professional across all five departments. I think maybe that’s in our genes, as educators.”

It should come as no surprise, then, that Barufaldi does not consider his retirement the end of his career. In fact, the next chapter seems to align best with his third element of professorial success: service. “I’m retiring from UT but not from work,” he says, assuredly, listing a packed itinerary of lectures and stints abroad as a visiting scholar. Still, it sounds like his priorities for the future, while just as ambitious as always, are aligned under a primary objective: fun. As a graduation present for his granddaughter, Barufaldi and his wife are treating their family to a trip to the Galapagos.

“Fun is number one,” says Barufaldi, once again beaming as he doles out sound advice. “If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, it’s all for naught. I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve had fun here.”

So have we. Thank you, Dr. Barufaldi, for your research, your teaching and your service. Here’s to having fun while changing the world.



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.