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Kimberly Gonzales, M.A.’12, is a rare Latina in tech. The Dallas native and digital content engineer for Texas Instruments earned her bachelor’s degree in computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before graduating from the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin with a master’s in learning technologies.

Kimberley Gonzales

“The rumors are true. MIT is very challenging,” she says with a laugh. But in addition to the challenge of content, “it can be hard to also face discrimination.” Working in assigned groups with males can be particularly tough, she explains. “The guys don’t let you code or gain access to the circuit boards. Instead, they want girls to do the presentations.”

But Gonzales didn’t let the challenge and discrimination deter her. “I joined a sorority with six to seven girls who were computer science majors, and we’d do group projects together,” she says. The support was just what she needed to successfully complete her studies.

When Gonzales graduated from MIT, she decided to pursue study in educational technology because she knew she wanted to work within the field of education in some way. “Diversity in any field is valuable. Diversity fuels innovation. In education technology, it should be diverse people working on the tech that will be in the hands of kids these days, because those kids themselves are diverse,” she says.

Kids and science

STEM photo booth at Mi Escuelita preschool in Dallas

Latinas comprise only 2 percent of the STEM industry, “but it’s such a great field and you learn a lot,” she says. “I think a lot of factors affect students’ desire or lack of desire to pursue these fields. Teachers should be aware of what they say to students that might discourage them or to watch for signs of students who self-select out of more challenging work. For example, watch to see if the minority female student offers to take notes when working in a group activity with male students and encourage her to take on a more challenging task.”

She adds, “It’s tough being such a small minority within the field, but in my case, it made me want to go home and do something to help change the numbers.”

After completing her master’s, she returned home to Dallas to take on the role of digital content engineer at Texas Instruments, managing the development of educational content for various platforms. In addition to her job, she’s also the community involvement chair for Texas Instruments’ Hispanic Employee Initiative.

“Being in a workplace where few people look like you can feel lonely and isolating,” she says. “The Hispanic Employee Initiative provides mentorship, networking with other leadership teams, and is a place where you can build community and feel safe to voice your opinions or just feel a little at home.”

latinasstem

Planning team at the Latinas in STEM 101 conference

Gonzales also volunteers on the Latinas in STEM Foundation’s board of directors as the director of marketing and public relations. Her involvement represents coming full circle for Gonzales. “My mother has worked as an executive assistant at Texas Instruments for many years. One day, she met a Latina engineer who’d graduated from MIT and co-founded the Latinas in STEM Foundation.” That meeting led Gonzales’ mom to push her daughter to apply to the college. “I wouldn’t have applied otherwise,” she says.

Her mother’s support of her education goals was crucial, and parental support is a component that is important for other Latinas considering STEM fields. “When I ran the Dallas Latinas in STEM 101 workshop for high school and middle school students and included their parents, I had my mom answer questions. A lot of the parents had never been to college and didn’t speak English. Hearing my mom’s perspective was very helpful to them.”

Gonzales is the eldest of three sisters, all who studied engineering. She and her family are doing their part to increase diversity in a field that needs them.

 

Former high school math teacher and current College of Education learning technologies Ph.D. student Anita Harvin reflects on how even underrepresented students who are highly proficient at math and science can still miss out on opportunities in STEM.

As an African-American female growing up in a small city in North Carolina, I was not surrounded by technology like the youth of today. Sure, I did have a Commodore 64 that I used for game playing, but that was the extent of my technology access. I took upper-level and AP math and science classes throughout K-12. I was even in Math Counts, a math club for junior high school students. However, looking back as an adult, I wonder why, despite my aptitude, I did not have access to mentors or opportunities in the science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) field.

As I observe and research initiatives geared to provide digital equity and digital literacy to youth from groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM, I wonder what it would have been like if I had exposure to STEM through some of these initiatives. What if 10-year-old me had participated in a computer programming class that used Scratch? Or what if I had access to videos and online discussion forums where I could learn from other like-minded individuals who owned Commodore 64 computers?

My current research interests are shaped by those “what if” questions.

As a student in the learning technologies program, I have researched and discussed the impact of using technology in educational settings. I was drawn to this program because of my desire to use technology to engage students in learning. While taking courses outside of the learning technologies program, I made interdisciplinary connections that have also helped to shape my research interests.

As an African-American and a female, I am always interested in seeing myself reflected in the research. Courses such as Sociocultural Foundations and Introduction to Qualitative Research have enlightened me on how to add the voice of the “other” to the discourse around technology in education. My current research path here at UT studies issues of digital equity and documenting digital learning experiences of youth from groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM, such as females and African Americans. I am interested in understanding what types of digital learning experiences youth from underrepresented groups have in and out of school.

If youth are not able to construct the meaning and purpose of technology through their own experiences, then there will continue to be a disconnect about the affordances of technology. School is an important aspect of youths’ experiences, as they spend up to 8 hours a day, 5 days a week in school. Schools tend to use technology in structured ways influenced by the curriculum and preconceptions about what is appropriate technology use.

It is especially important that youth from groups underrepresented in STEM can envision themselves being successful in STEM activities.

Anita Harvin is a Ph.D. student in the Curriculum and Instruction Department of the College of Education. She currently works as an assessment specialist at an educational publishing company.

-Photo by Christina S. Murrey

Two UT College of Education professors offer research-based tips.

African Americans, Latinos, and women of all ethnicities are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers. That’s why educators and families want to increase these students’ engagement with technology at earlier ages. When students see themselves as great at math or a whiz at computer science when they’re young, they are more likely to study engineering or computer programming later.

But what will engage them and be helpful to them in school?

Research findings by the College of Education’s Professor Min Liu and Associate Professor Joan Hughes provide insights that may surprise you.

Aliens to the Rescue

Min LiuLiu’s research, “Designing Science Learning with Game-Based Approaches,” explores digital games as a tool for learning. Liu and a team of researchers and students launched Alien Rescue, a science-education game geared toward sixth-graders.

Their subsequent research examined these students’ science learning and motivation, and the relationship between the two. Their findings showed that all of the students improved their science knowledge after playing Alien Rescue, determined by comparing their pre-game test scores with post-game scores; but girls outperformed boys every time, scoring 2-3 points higher on their post-game tests.

The study also noted that girls made fewer negative comments about the game than boys and that the game’s theme of saving aliens resonated with girls more than boys.

Key Recommendations for Educators

  • Incorporate multimedia technology into the curriculum—audio, video, graphics, animation—for middle-schoolers because it provides an engaging, multi-sensory way to learn science.
  • Engage girls in particular; honor their mission-driven social interests. (See Jill Marshall’s One Big Question interview for more.)

Educators Should Look for Differences in Student Access to Technology at Home and School

Joan HughesSocial media, blogs, wikis, and video creation—these are among the activities that make up Web 2.0. Associate Professor Hughes wanted to investigate the variation in ways students access these tools at school and at home.

Her recently published paper, “Predicting Middle School Students’ Use of Web 2.0 Technologies Out of School Using Home and School Technological Variables,” explores whether students’ use of technology in class could predict their use outside school.

It turns out that student’s ethnicity, access to technologies they may—or may not—have at home, how they use technology in school, and the school a child attends, can indeed predict their use of Web 2.0 applications out of school. Hughes’ research highlighted the growing body of knowledge reflecting school inequality.

It’s important for educators to understand what children do with technology when they aren’t in the classroom and how those experiences vary. It allows them to be responsive to their students’ needs, previous knowledge, and experiences. That knowledge can help them close gaps and increase students’ motivation.

For example, in general, students’ Internet-based Web 2.0 technology activities are higher outside of school. When broken down by ethnicity, though, Hispanic students are at the biggest disadvantage, showing statistically lower participation in Web 2.0 activities out of school.

That participation gap means these students are missing opportunities to gain skills society increasingly demands.

Says Hughes, “Our research showed that ethnicity-based technology participation gaps existed in and out of school. Schools are not equal, and that has ramifications for what kids get from them.”

Key Recommendations for Educators

  • Teachers often go into the classroom unprepared to think about how to use technology. They need assistance learning how to integrate technology into the class through teacher education or professional development.
  • Teachers should consider surveying their students at the beginning of the school year to assess how they use technology outside of school and use that knowledge to give them a chance to broaden and deepen their participatory Web 2.0 skills in the classroom.

“If the world is demanding these skills and we want to create a world where all kids have these opportunities,” says Hughes, “then we have to do better.”

High school teachers and students are learning to program side by side, thanks to a collaboration between the Center for STEM Education and STEMed Labs.

Suzette, a Manor New Technology High School freshman, hunches over her tiny breadboard, which is a base for prototyping electronics, and an LED strip. Both are connected to a keyboard, mouse, and monitor. She’s engrossed in her efforts to program circuits and control the small LED.

“If you program the LED to blink 60 times in the span of a minute, the blinks will be too quick for the eye to register,” says the STEMed Lab instructor. “Instead of appearing as a blinking light,” he explains, “it will simply appear dim.”

A student works on a circuit board while another looks on.The students take in this information and continue their work.

The 20 or so high schoolers in the STEMed Labs Pi Bytes class have invested four consecutive Saturday afternoons this semester to learn how to program on the Raspberry Pi platform from a team of engineers and computer scientists. Says Suzette, “I want to learn new things and see what I’m interested in and if I might want to do this as a career.”

The students come from public and private schools in the Austin and surrounding areas. Joining them in their studies are a handful of teachers from the region, each of them scattered about the room observing, taking notes, and asking questions.

The teachers are participating in the workshop thanks to Dr. Carol Fletcher, deputy director of the UT College of Education’s Center for STEM Education. Last year, Fletcher met Ripal Nathuji, co-founder and president of STEMed Labs, the nonprofit that created Pi Bytes. When she heard about the classes, she immediately recognized an ideal professional development opportunity for teachers who were interested in furthering their computer science teaching skills.

According to Fletcher, although teachers who participate in the STEM center’s TeachCS “boot camp” receive computer science training that helps them successfully earn certification in the area, “it is unusual for the teachers to have the chance to work directly with students during their training. Also, the investment we make in a student camp pays out exponentially when you include teachers who can scale up the number of students who can be reached far beyond the camp experience.”

One student helps another at a computerSays Nathuji, “This collaboration is a perfect intersection for creating opportunities for teachers and for our small organization to spread the knowledge and implementation of our program throughout schools.”

James Casselman graduated from the UTeach Natural Sciences program seven years ago after deciding to make a career change from hardware sales and marketing to something he found more meaningful. He now teaches life sciences at Taylor High School, about 35 miles northeast of Austin. “I teach anatomy and physiology and aquatic science, but I try to roll in raw html and Code.org’s one hour of code a week into my classes as well,” he says. Casselman participated in the workshop because he “wanted to learn how to do more. I want to teach my students not to just be consumers of technology, but creators. This is the industry.”

Similarly, Margarita Flores-Sicich, engineering teacher at St. Dominic Savio Catholic High School in Round Rock, wanted to learn more for the benefit of her students. “I’m familiar with some of this because I teach engineering,” she says, “but I’ll have to incorporate Raspberry Pi into my curriculum in two months. It’s really cool to have the chance to see how these experts teach it and to see the problems the students encounter. It will help me be more prepared.”

Flores-Sicich, who was a first-generation college student and worked as a chemical engineer before becoming a teacher, added that she has a passion for science and engineering that she wants to pass on to her students. “I loved science as a young student, but engineering wasn’t even a word that I’d been exposed to. Somehow I discovered the word that led to my career, and now I get to expose my students to this subject.” She says that her school currently offers two years of computer science classes and is aiming for four.

Says Fletcher, “The Center for STEM Education seeks to be the leader for computer science education in Texas and in the nation. Our partnership with STEMed Labs is one way that we provide relevant, real-time education for computer science teachers in Texas.”

To learn more about The Center for STEM Education, visit the center’s website.

-Slideshow by Christina S. Murrey

Keffrelyn and Anthony Brown

Two UT College of Education professors highlight three black education leaders’ ideas, providing a counternarrative to today’s challenges

Black Intellectual Thought in Education: The Missing Traditions of Anna Julia Cooper, Carter G. Woodson, and Alain LeRoy Locke was recently published by associate professors Keffrelyn Brown and Anthony Brown. The following is a Q&A with the authors.

Can you provide a brief overview of Anna Julia Cooper, Carter G. Woodson, and Alain Leroy Locke and the importance of their ideas?

During the early 20th century, science, theology, social science, and popular discourse regularly portrayed African Americans in dehumanizing ways. Each of the authors had a profound belief in affirming the humanity of Black Americans. Given the time-period, this was no small task.

  • Anna Julia Cooper: In seeking to redress the common discourse of this period, Cooper’s ideas focused on the intersection of race and gender in the context of African American women’s lives. She held fast to the promise of American democracy to live up to its highest ideals of being a truly egalitarian society. In her words, “The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a party or a class – it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity.” And from this standpoint, Cooper maintained that schools and curriculum were vital spaces for African Americans to reach their highest potential.
  • Carter G. Woodson: Woodson’s ideas focused the potential for knowledge to challenge the existing fallacies about Black life. He believed that a rich African American history must circumvent the pervasive effects of what he called “mis-education.” His project was multilayered and involved the reconceptualization of knowledge as a process that occurred in academic settings, K-12 classrooms, and in the life of the masses.
  • Alain Locke: Locke was a philosopher who promoted the idea that African American culture provided key insight about the human experience as valuable as European cultural forms. He also wrote extensively about cultural pluralism, particularly when it came to African Americans’ placement in American society, as well as on race, the arts, and valuation theory.

These three authors wrote during a time in which African Americans were struggling with a new set of social, economic, political, and racial injustices. They each wrote extensively about the contexts that shaped African Americans’ experience in the U.S., while also providing in-depth ideas about education, race, and history—ideas that could have theoretical application to our most pressing social and educational issues of the present.

What counternarrative do these scholars provide to the dominant discourse in education and critical social theory, and why is it necessary?

Cooper, Woodson, and Locke wrote about ideas concerning education, culture, race, and curriculum that predate some of the canonic texts and authors that are often cited in the foundational discourse of education. Their ideas powerfully illustrate the careful and thoughtful intellectual discourse tied to African Americans’ experiences.

This counternarrative is important because it challenges the veneration of an exclusive, selective tradition of critical social thought. This canon of scholarship is legitimized by and grounded in a Western, White-dominant worldview. The intent of this book, however, is not to replace one canon with another, but to show the diverse contexts from which ideas take form.

Black Intellectual Thought in Education has been adopted for use in the Curriculum and Instruction department of The College of Education at UT-Austin.

-Photo by Christina S. Murrey

New book explores what inhibits and promotes Latino male college success

Victor Saenz

Ensuring the Success of Latino Males in Higher Education: A National Imperative, a new book co-edited by Associate Professor and Executive Director of Project MALES Dr. Victor Saenz, shares new research from emerging scholars and seasoned practitioners that shines light on factors that inhibit or promote Latino male student success at four-year institutions, community colleges, and secondary institutions. The book both informs policy and practice across the education continuum and provides a call to action.

The question of why Latino males are losing ground in accessing higher education, relative to their peers, is an important and complex one, and it lies at the heart of the book. There are several broad themes highlighted, along with the four dimensions of policy, theory, research, and practice.

“Our new book comes at a time when national, state, and local conversations are expanding the definition of males of color to include Latino males and other historically marginalized groups of male students,” says Saenz, who teaches in the Department of Educational Administration in the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin, and who holds a faculty appointment with the UT Center for Mexican American Studies. “The chapters within this book collectively represent a timely and necessary contribution to these emerging conversations.”

Co-edited by Saenz, Dr. Luis Ponjuan and Dr. Julie L. Figueroa with a foreword by Dr. William Serrata, the book is designed as a primer for policy makers at all levels as well as scholars in higher education.

According to the professors, anyone who wants to better understand the various issues related to Latino male higher education access and degree attainment and also wants to work toward addressing a growing gender gap can benefit from the lessons in their book.

Says Saenz, “The book is beneficial to community leaders and activists who want a comprehensive discussion about the challenges Latino male students face in schools and how they can work proactively to overcome those challenges. The shifting demographic reality represented by the growth of the Latina/o community also gives our focus on Latino males a singular urgency.”

Visit Amazon to order a copy of the book, which was published in January by Stylus Publishing.

 

WeTeachCS Mixer

On Feb. 3, 2016, the Center for STEM Education played host to over 120 computer science (CS) educators at the Google Fiber Space in downtown Austin. Held during Texas Computer Education Association’s Annual Convention and Exposition, the WeTeachCS Mixer provided an opportunity for CS educators from across Texas to network, share ideas, and begin building a statewide professional learning community. This opportunity to connect with the larger CS education community is vital because there are relatively few CS teachers compared to other STEM fields.

For more information about the event, visit the Center for STEM Education website.

 

Inaugural Building Bridges Event Links Researchers and K-12 Teachers

On Jan. 20, 2016, the Center for STEM Education hosted its first specialized networking event, Building Bridges: Creating Partnerships and Closing the Gap Between Research and Practice, funded by a grant from the 100Kin10 organization. The meeting’s goal was to begin bridging the gap between UT Austin STEM faculty and researchers, and local K-12 educators. With both communities excited about this new initiative, over 60 researchers and educators attended the early morning event.

“We are focusing on more collaboration within the College of Education and across the university, with the goal of functioning like a hub,” explained Associate Professor Victor Sampson, the center’s new director. “We are looking out into the community and sitting down with them from the outset in order to collaborate around problems and provide research that is more inclusive and responsive to them.”

For more information about the event, visit the College of Education website.

 

CoE Professor Angela Valenzuela Nominated for ‘Si, Se Puede’ Award

Angela Valenzuela, professor of educational policy and planning and cultural studies in education programs, has been nominated to receive the Cesar E. Chavez – “Si, Se Puede” Award from the People Organized in Defense of Earth and her Resources (PODER). The distinction is given to individuals who demonstrate community leadership and whose work honors the legacy of Chavez’ civil rights and labor activism.

PODER, a grassroots organization devoted to addressing environmental issues, seeks to frame those issues as matters of social and economic justice. The organization is specifically focused on increasing participation of communities of color in corporate and government decision-making.

A reception in honor of the award and its recipients will be held Saturday, March 26, at the Emma Barrientos Mexican American Culture Center in Austin.

CoE Alumnus Ryan Miller, Ph.D., Receives National Award from NASPA

Ryan A. Miller, director for inclusion and equity at The University of Texas at Austin and a graduate of the College of Education, is the winner of the 2016 Melvene D. Hardee Dissertation of the Year Award. The recognition is given by NASPA, the national organization for student affairs administrators in higher education.

This award recognizes outstanding dissertation research conducted by doctoral degree recipients presently in or intending to enter the student affairs profession. Miller earned his Ph.D. in educational administration.

Miller received the honor for his dissertation, “Intersections of Disability, Gender, and Sexuality in Higher Education: Exploring Students’ Social Identities and Campus Experiences.”

CoE Alumnus Jason Rosenblum Commended for 2015 Dissertation

Jason Rosenblum, a 2015 Ph.D. graduate from the Learning Technologies program in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, has been chosen as a Highly Commended Award winner of the 2015 Emerald/HETL (Higher Education Teaching and Learning Association) Education Outstanding Doctoral Research Award for his doctoral dissertation entitled, “What is it like to experience sound while playing educational computer games?” In his innovative dissertation study, Dr. Rosenblum drew upon music, game development, and education to conduct an interdisciplinary, qualitative phenomenological investigation to explore the gameplay experiences of six participants.

Rosenblum is an assistant professor of visual studies at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. His research interests include frameworks for game sound research, game sound as a facet of learner motivation in games, and digital and analog game-based approaches to support engaged learning.

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