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Curriculum and Instruction Clinical Associate Professor Haydée Rodriguez takes a group of pre-service bilingual/bicultural education students on community walks near Zavala Elementary School in Austin each semester. The walks help the students learn about the various resources in the neighborhood as well as the history and people that exist in the communities in which their students live. Students visit the local panadería, the bakery, located in the home of a community member and taste various traditional Mexican pastries. They learn about the history of the homes, churches, and other community supports that dot the area.

The community walks give the pre-service teachers the chance to learn more about their students and incorporate their heritage and cultural experiences within the classroom. Research shows that educators’ respect for and incorporation of students’ heritage and background increases students’ engagement and academic motivation. Learn more by watching the video of one such community walk adventure.

Video by Jordan Steyer and Davey Newton, photography and videography interns for the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education.

Eight UT Austin undergraduates and their instructor are sitting in a circle in a classroom. Taryn, the day’s facilitator, introduces the guidelines: “Respect the talking piece, speak from the heart, listen from the heart, what happens in the circle stays in the circle, trust you will know what to say, say just enough.”

Students sitting in a circle with the woman in focus holding an objectShe placed each students’ values, like ‘courage,’ ‘trust,’ and ‘open-mindedness’ around the circle’s center-piece. She explains to the group that the talking piece, a stuffed animal, will signal who has the floor to speak. She chooses one of the values and explains why she honors it. She passes the talking piece to Sofia, who chooses the value of compassion, and on it goes before they start their next round.

The circle is an everyday part of the Restorative Practices in Education class that Assistant Professor of Practice Molly Trinh Wiebe teaches. It’s an education course within the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education, cross-listed with Steve Hicks School of Social Work, and open to any undergraduate and graduate on campus. The majority of students are education majors, but some, like Nicole and Norman, are majoring in subjects such as government and sociology.

According to Wiebe, the course highlights restorative practices’ roots and principles as they can be applied to schools and the larger community. The principles learned emphasize responsibility, accountability, respect, and restoration, and students learn how to facilitate restorative circles to build relationship and trust with youths, parents, peers, and the community.

Though Sofia had never heard of restorative practices or restorative circles before, she said she was encouraged to take the class by her aunt, who is a teacher in Austin. “I’d never really thought of something like this as an option in education,” she says.

D’Jon says the practices are similar to the circles he experienced as huddles on wrestling and basketball teams in high school, though they weren’t named as such. He later recognized similar practices when he was doing prison ministry. “We had 42 residents and six tables and we’d form a circle and get to know each other at the table and check in on each other. The practices teach us to value the whole person.”

The circle plays a comparable community-building role in this classroom. Says Wiebe, “When a student is absent, we all care to know that they are alright. We all know each other’s names and a bit of history about each other. We have built a relationship and trust among us. This is our community and we look out for each other.”

Restorative practices’ indigenous roots

According to Wiebe, restorative practices are rooted in indigenous traditions. Modern communities have used them in the criminal justice system to support individuals who have made the offense repair the harm that was done.A group of students sitting in a circle around a pile of school supplies

The practices also have been used to support those who were incarcerated reintegrate into society. Typically, those practices are called restorative justice. Within school systems they are called restorative practice so that students don’t feel penalized. “Restorative practice can play a role in disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline phenomenon, which zero-tolerance policies can serve to actively perpetuate,” says Wiebe. “Restorative practice is a humanizing approach toward education.”

Beyond classroom circles toward educational policy and practice

Joshua Childs, an assistant professor in Educational Leadership and Policy, adds that all spaces have the potential to be restorative spaces. “Beyond the classroom, the spaces students find as they walk to school and are out in the community can be restorative,” says Childs. He adds that such practices are a two-fold process. “Though it’s often focused on what’s happening with students, the adults or educators also have to be part of the restorative practice element. They should be considering how their practice as educators may be contributing to the school community and to trust.”

“Adults have to shift their practice so that they aren’t always leading with something punitive,” says Childs. “Schools can take into account what’s happening in students’ lives—such as their home life, their walk or commute to school, their physical and mental wellness—and look at how school policy adapts to that. When they institute nonpunitive dress codes and decriminalize attendance, they are using restorative practices rather than punitive, deficit practices,” says Childs. (For more on how school policy can interrupt cycles of chronic absenteeism, see Childs’ Discovery Minute.)

Students concentrating on something to the right of the imageNorman, a student in Wiebe’s restorative circle, agrees. “Whenever a student is doing something that is against school rules, it usually means something is preventing them from doing so. It’s possible that something happened in their family or they got into an accident. There’s always a reason why.”

He adds that restorative practices don’t have to be complex. There are simple things educators can do. “A teacher can allow two to three absences because they understand that life happens. They can give out tokens to use for deadline extensions or revise essays,” says Norman. “Restorative practices build flexibility.”

-Photos by Christina S. Murrey

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.

November 3, 2014

Rebecca CallahanEven though over 7.5 million potential voters between 18 and 24 were born abroad or in the U.S. to immigrant parents, very little research has been done on what affects the political and civic engagement of that large demographic. Do language barriers guide whether or not they register to vote? Do family opinions play a big part?

In their new book “Coming of Political Age: American Schools and the Civic Development of Immigrant Youth,” co-authors Rebecca Callahan and Chandra Muller argue that completion of high school social studies significantly influences immigrant students’ future voting habits.

Callahan is an assistant professor in the College of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction, and Muller is a professor in the College of Liberal Arts’ Department of Sociology.

According to the co-authors, the number of social studies credits completed in high school matters more for first- and second-generation immigrant children than for children of native-born parents when it comes to predicting voter participation. They also found that, although education affects who votes and registers to vote, it does not influence political party identification or the political perspective of immigrant youth.

Coming of Political Age by Rebecca Callahan“Previous research has focused on how immigrant parents and communities shape their children’s social and academic development,” said Callahan. “In this work, we focus on school as a critical location for understanding the political socialization processes of immigrant adolescents.”

Callahan and Muller used nationally representative high school student data, linked to future voting, as well as interviews with high school social studies teachers and their former Latino immigrant students, to show how schools can create a democratic citizenry.

The book notes that some efforts to increase English language proficiency by placing students in English language learning programs can result in fewer opportunities to take social science courses and less instruction in American political processes.

“Our study of adolescents’ civic socialization illustrates just how much schools shape immigrant youth’s political futures through the courses they take,” said Callahan. “This is a critical piece of the puzzle for anyone who’s interested in the youth vote. The future of American democracy is inextricably linked to the health of this country’s public schools.”

Spare time is a rare commodity in today’s increasingly busy world. With so many responsibilities vying for our attention, it can be difficult to make time for extracurricular activities such as volunteering in our communities and schools. One organization that has no trouble attracting help from all walks of life is The Autism Project (TAP).

An initiative within the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education, TAP provides a center of services, knowledge, and best practices related to living and working with children who have autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The program helps families obtain referrals to neurologists, generate ideas for meet-up groups, access movement-based programs and participate in outings such as the popular Candlelight Ranch camping excursions.

“In addition to seeking services, UT graduates return to TAP to volunteer their time at our camps as mentors.”

Pamela Buchanan, a kinesiology lecturer and co-founder and director of TAP, has inspired numerous students to give their time to the project both in and out of school.

“Former students typically return to volunteer once they are teaching or are parents themselves to ask about their children’s needs,” she said. “We have several alumni who now have children with autism. Now they seek the same services they once provided.”

“In addition to seeking services, UT graduates return to TAP to volunteer their time at our camps as mentors,” said Buchanan. “Some graduates become partners in programs with TAP and others continue to share their video editing and promotion talents. Most importantly, it is the UT alumni who return with financial support to TAP that enable us to continue providing services to children and their families.”

Liza Karseno, a school math instructional specialist, is one UT Austin alumnus whose passion for the program has lasted past graduation. Karseno started working with TAP because it was a requirement for a kinesiology class taught by Buchanan, but she quickly found that she gained not only personal but also professional growth from her involvement.

“In my first year of teaching I had a student with autism in my class,” she said. “I was able to use a lot of things I had learned from TAP to deal with a student with special needs in a general education classroom. That prompted me to go back and continue to volunteer with the program.”

Every year Karseno takes one of her own students on the Candlelight Ranch camping excursion and participates in any additional program events she can make the time for.

“Some of the things that I’ve learned with TAP have proven to be very beneficial as I work with special needs,” she said. “Because of that I feel like a continuing student who learns from Ms. Buchanan and [TAP co-founder and kinesiology professor] Dr. Jensen whenever I go back and spend time with them.”

Arturo Cisneros is a Youth and Community Studies major who will be graduating this May. Like Karseno, he was first exposed to TAP through one of Buchanan’s kinesiology courses. After his first volunteer weekend at Candlelight Ranch he was hooked.

“At the end of it I was amazed by the amount of growth I saw in these kids in just one weekend,” said Cisneros. “After that I said, ‘If I can be an agent for that much change in one weekend, I want to keep doing this.’ That is what kept me going back.”

Despite taking a heavy 22-hour class load, Cisneros continues to volunteer his time to TAP with no plans of stopping after graduation.

“Right now we’re just a small Austin-based organization,” he said. “I want to be part of the reason it grows. I want to make it so more kids can get involved.”

Arturo CisnerosArturo Cisneros

Youth and Community Studies Major
Class of 2014

What inspired you to volunteer your time?

“When I first started it was through a kinesiology course that I was taking. There were requirements for volunteering for at least one event. I went to an overnight camping event at Candlelight Ranch. It was a tough weekend but I learned a lot. As difficult a time as I had, at the end of it I was amazed by the amount of growth that I saw. After that I said, ‘If I can be an agent for that much change in one weekend I want to keep doing this.’ That is what kept me going back.”

Liza KarsenoLiza Karseno

Youth and Community Studies Major
Current AISD math instructional specialist
Class of 2006

Why do you give back to your alma mater?

“I volunteered when I was a student, but after graduation, during my first year of teaching, I had a student with autism in my class. I found I was able to use a lot of the things I had learned from my time with TAP that I could apply to my classroom. That prompted me to return and continue to volunteer with the program. Some of the things that I’ve learned proved to be very beneficial to working with students with special needs in the general education classroom.”

Find out more about TAP here.

Education professor Luis Urrieta, Jr., was among 10 community leaders nationwide to receive a Champions of Change honor from the White House for embodying the spirit of César Chávez ’s legacy.  The event was held on March 31, Chávez ’s birthday.

The Champions of Change initiative was created to spotlight community members nationwide who are doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire others.

The son of Mexican immigrants from rural Michoacán, Urrieta has devoted his academic career to raising public awareness and knowledge about Hispanic immigrant families. His scholarship has focused on how to build and support strong ethnic and linguistic identities in Hispanic children and youth while also facilitating high academic achievement.

In addition to serving as associate professor in the College of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Urrieta also is program director for the department’s Cultural Studies in Education area and coordinator for Austin’s Culture in Action/Cultura en Acción after-school program.

Outside the university classroom, Urrieta’s advocacy efforts have included mentoring and cultivating leadership among community youth, teaching bilingual middle school classes, and working with university students through community workshops, internships, and exchange programs with Mexico and Guatemala.

As coordinator of the after-school program, Urrieta, works with elementary school students to build a sense of academic-, self-, and community-empowerment as well as leadership skills. To prepare them for future success, he also helps them become more adept with technology.

Below is a statement from Urrieta that appears on the White House Champions of Change website. It describes why he has devoted his life to helping immigrant families and what he has done to fulfill that personal mission.


Community Service Honors Those Who Have Come Before Us and Helps to Prepare the Path for Those Who Will Come After Us

By Luis Urrieta

Service to communities is not a choice for some, but an indispensable part of the fabric of daily life. When there are communities that we are committed to, then service and advocacy makes sense.

To me, service means contributing to a larger mission for social justice and educational equity. Service adds to a larger collective struggle to work toward fulfilling the promises and ideals of this great nation.

I first learned about César Chávez and his struggle in 1990 when a group of fellow Chicano students dumped a large bowl of grapes that were being served to us in the dorm cafeteria in the trash. This action was part of a symbolic protest in solidarity with Chávez and the United Farm Workers. At the time, I was an entering freshman in college and Chávez, along with my parents and extended family became an inspiration to me for a life of service. I realized that my work in life would revolve around giving back to Latina/o communities, especially immigrant communities, and raising awareness about Latina/o issues with a wider audience.

My professional, academic, and community service work in education has been dedicated to raising awareness and valuing Latina/o immigrant family and community knowledge. I have focused much of my energies on the importance of nourishing and supporting strong ethnic and linguistic identities in Latina/o children and youth, while promoting and creating the conditions for high academic achievement. My service has been primarily centered on mentoring, teaching, and cultivating leadership in Latina/o children and youth.

As a former bilingual middle school teacher in Los Angeles I was dedicated to working with immigrant and first generation students. Through critical pedagogy and extensive family and community involvement, many of my students became very personally and academically successful, and were able to navigate the higher education system despite their undocumented status. This was not due to me, but to larger collaborative efforts between the students, teachers, family, and community that I was then a part of. Collectively we subsequently published some of the undocumented student testimonios to help raise educators’ awareness about their status and to disrupt the negative perceptions of undocumented youth.

For the past ten years, my work with teachers as a teacher educator has also focused on engaging in conversations and dialogue about Latino/a students, both our long and recent history in the U.S., the issues we face, including our diversity as a community, and the assets we bring. With undergraduate students I instill and encourage a need for service learning projects, volunteering, tutoring, mentoring, and engagement with Latina/o families and communities.

I have done this by creating opportunities for local Latina/o community involvement including work with community centers, non-profits, churches, and through workshops, internships, and exchange programs abroad in Mexico and Guatemala, with strong service learning components. My goal is to instill in young adults the motivation not only to achieve professionally, but to also align those professional goals and commitments to communities, especially communities in need.

For the last two years, along with university student volunteers/interns, I have also coordinated a collaborative after school program, Cultura en Acción—Culture in Action, for upper elementary school students. This program creates a space for Latina/o ethnic and cultural awareness by centering family and community knowledge while promoting high academic achievement and 21st century skills and technology. This program enjoys success due to the level of engagement and commitment of university student volunteers, interns, and the children in the program and their families.

The legacy of community service honors those who came before us, and it is not a lone endeavor, but a collective project of hope, love, and cooperation. The legacy of service also helps prepare the way for those who will come after. Service, to me, remains fundamental to the mission of social justice and the public good.

The associate dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies, Larry Abraham, was selected to receive the esteemed 2013 Civitatis Award in recognition of his outstanding service to the university. Established in 1997, the award, which will be presented at an event this spring, recognizes dedicated service to the university in teaching, research and writing.

The award’s name derives from the Latin motto that appears on the university’s seal – Disciplina Praesidium Civitatis – taken from the words of Mirabeau B. Lamar, former president of the Republic of Texas, meaning “Cultivated mind is the guardian of democracy.”

“I am very surprised and appreciative to have been nominated and selected to receive this award,” said Abraham. “I am happy to have been able to help develop and support innovative initiatives and cross-disciplinary efforts that provide exciting new opportunities to students and faculty, as the University continues to evolve and provide leadership for Texas, the nation, and the world. These include new interdisciplinary courses and programs, creative new applications for technology and the transformation of the undergraduate core curriculum.”

Abraham, a professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education (KHE), has held many leadership roles at the university. His first foray into administrative work was as the KHE departmental undergraduate program director from 1989-91, during which time the bachelor of science degree in kinesiology was created.

Abraham served as associate dean of the College of Education from 1998 to 2002 and was chairman of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction from 2000 to 2008. He has been co-director of UTeach Natural Sciences since 2003. He was a member of the Task Force on Curricular Reform, which led to the creation of the School of Undergraduate Studies. He became associate dean of Undergraduate Studies in 2009.

Abraham’s research interests include motor skill performance and learning, human motor coordination and innovative uses of instructional technology. He teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in motor learning, neuromotor control, and biomechanics.

“While there are a great many people who have provided exemplary service to The University of Texas, Larry Abraham is among the most dedicated and hardest working professors,” said Dr. John Bartholomew, professor and interim chair of KHE. “Not only is he a vital member of the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education and the College of Education, but his impact has been felt throughout the University. His work on UTeach alone will leave a lasting legacy and that is only one aspect of his contributions. I am so happy that the efforts are being publicly recognized.”

Abraham joined the UT Austin faculty in 1975, teaching courses in biomechanics and neural control of movement in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education. He received his bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio; his master of science degree from Kansas State Teachers College in Emporia, Kansas; and his doctorate in education from Columbia University.

For Men of Color, High Academic Motivation Does Not Bring Academic Success

The National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) has announced that UTeach, an award-winning secondary STEM teacher preparation program created by UT Austin’s Colleges of Education and Natural Sciences, is expanding to five research universities. The expansion was made possible by a $22.5 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).

With the spread of UTeach to these universities and five more in the fall of 2015, the program will be at 45 universities nationwide. It is expected to produce more than 9,000 math and science teachers by 2020.

“By increasing access to the proven UTeach model, we’re helping create a STEM pipeline of highly-skilled teachers,” said Sara Martinez Tucker, CEO of the NMSI.

Beginning in the fall of 2014, the UTeach program will be available to students at Drexel University, Florida International University, Oklahoma State University, University of Alabama at Birmingham and University of Maryland, College Park.

The UTeach science program, which was created in 1997 at The University of Texas Austin, recruits and prepares mathematics, science and computer science students for secondary education careers. The students are able to earn a degree in their major as well as teacher certification without adding time or expense to their four-year degree program.

The UTeach Institute projects that UTeach graduates will have impacted 4.8 million secondary STEM students nationwide by 2020. The Institute, which is a division of the UTeach program, assists other universities with implementation of the program.

“We must take steps toward change to replenish this country’s star teachers, teachers who can move students to explore and love math and science,” said Robert Tjian, HHMI president. “That’s why HHMI is taking this critical step to help expand UTeach, one of the nation’s best training programs aimed at preparing science and math majors to become teachers.”

The NMSI is a non-profit organization launched in 2007 by top business, education and science leaders to transform education in the United States. It is committed to bringing proven programs, like UTeach and NMSI’s College Readiness program, to scale. The HHMI plays a significant role in supporting scientific research and education in the U.S. and, since its creation in 1988, has awarded more than $870 million to 274 colleges and universities to support science education.

“The UTeach program is successful because it combines aggressive recruiting of talented STEM majors, extensive field experience for the future teachers and a streamlined but intensive series of seven professional development courses that focus on teaching STEM subjects,” said Dr. Lawrence D. Abraham, UTeach co-director and a professor in the College of Education’s Department of Kinesiology and Health Education. “These features are resource-intensive and can only be sustained by having committed faculty and staff, the necessary financial support, and a strategic and strong collaboration between the colleges that house STEM content specialists and STEM teaching experts. The generous support of our program sponsors has helped us develop this great program and continues to help dozens of other institutions do the same.”

Dr. Gregory J. Vincent, a professor in the College of Education’s Department of Educational Administration and UT Austin’s vice president for diversity and community, joined President Barack Obama on Feb. 27 at the White House for the introduction of the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative.

Gregory J. Vincent, Ph.D.

Gregory J. Vincent, Ph.D.

Education, public sector and philanthropic leaders, including General Colin Powell, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Honorable Michael Bloomburg, also were on hand for the rollout.

The initiative will use proven tools that already are helping young men and boys of color in select communities reach their full potential and replicate those successful practices and programs on a large scale. To make this happen, the initiative has engaged the support of private philanthropies, governors, mayors, businesses, faith leaders and non-profit organizations. The President also has signed a presidential memorandum to create a federal government task force that will evaluate the efficacy of various intervention strategies so that all partners in the initiative will have a set of best practices to follow.

At UT Austin, Dr. Vincent has played a key role in establishing mentoring programs nationwide for young Black males through the work of the national fraternity Sigma Pi Phi and has been a leader in Communities in Schools’ X-Y Zone. X-Y Zone is a leadership development and peer support program that builds beneficial life skills in high school-age males of color.