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Medical schools have a long history of using race-conscious admissions practices as a starting point in addressing racial health inequities that are present in the United States. When compared to their white peers, racially and ethnically diverse medical school students are more likely to go on to serve in communities of color or be sought out by patients of color, thus improving access to and quality of medical care for underrepresented populations. For example, a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that black males received more effective care when they were treated by a black doctor.

However, race-conscious admissions policies have recently come under fire, leading to policymakers banning them in eight states – including Texas from 1996 to 2003.

Liliana Garces

Liliana Garces

Liliana Garces, an associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy, has researched how these bans are diminishing the proportion of students of color who are enrolling in medical schools.

In this study, Garces and her co-author examine whether the enrollment drop can be attributed to a decline in the proportion of applications received or a drop in the admission rates of students of color.

The study, Addressing Racial Health Inequities: Understanding the Impact of Affirmative Action Bans on Applications and Admissions in Medical Schools, found that the enrollment drop was driven by admissions, not applications, showing that the bans influenced changes in behavior on an institutional level, not the student level.

Admission rates of underrepresented students of color faced a larger rate of decline than the proportion of applications received from these students, showing that the changes in behavior were on an institutional level, not the student level.

“Prohibiting race-conscious admissions hurts efforts in the field of medicine to become more racially and ethnically diverse and that, in turn, has very negative consequences for the field of medicine’s ability to address health disparities in our society, to improve quality of care, to provide better treatment, and to have healthier populations,” says Garces.

While some universities have attempted to minimize the effects of these bans by expanding outreach efforts for students of color, Garces explains that medical schools could increase consideration of race-related factors such as socioeconomic status or demonstrations that a student has overcome adversity. They could also decrease emphasis on factors that don’t fully predict academic success, such as MCAT scores, to counteract the impact of these bans.

Liliana Garces’s extensive work related to race-conscious admissions policies also includes an op-ed in Science Magazine, a co-authored amicus curiae brief supporting Harvard University’s use of race-conscious admissions, a co-authored report on the recent challenges to affirmative action policies, and co-authoring of an article that examines policy guidance given from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights during the Obama Administration.

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 

Over the past couple of decades, UT Austin’s College of Education has become a national leader in preparing STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) teachers who can motivate and ignite learning in a wide array of students, including groups that traditionally have avoided or done poorly in STEM courses.

One of the most successful efforts has been STEM education expert Anthony Petrosino’s Beyond Blackboards project, which he developed in partnership with Rich Crawford in UT’s Cockrell School of Engineering and Chandra Muller in the College of Liberal Arts.

Students participate in robotics competitions.

Students participate in robotics competitions.

To boost middle school students’ understanding of all sorts of complex math and science concepts, the National Science Foundation-funded project focuses on something that appeals to a lot of kids: putting together robotic contraptions that look like really cool toys and then seeing if those contraptions work.

A considerable body of research shows that when students are given a chance to be active participants in their learning, do hands-on projects, solve problems on their own or in a group, and work on activities that are clearly tied to real life and seem relevant, they learn more.

Another perk to this teaching approach, which is called project-based or inquiry-based instruction, is that it has been particularly effective with student populations that traditionally have struggled academically, especially in math and science courses.

“Right now, the national dropout rate for Hispanics stands at around 40 percent,” said Petrosino, an associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and co-founder of the nationally acclaimed UTeach program. “Many of these students may not perform well on tests, but they have skill sets that allow them to do well in engineering design. The confidence and expertise they gain while they engage in something like engineering design can be a really effective starting point for understanding core math and science subject material.”

According to Petrosino, inquiry-based projects tend to tap into students’ natural motivation and facilitate mastery of advanced scientific concepts like rules of evidence, investigation, and prediction.

“We’re using engineering-based design and robotics competitions and projects to create a context for math and science learning,” said Petrosino. “The high-level skills these projects are building can prepare students for jobs as engineers, certainly, but those same skills can also open the door to a career in medicine, software design, or architecture.”

Students participate in robotics competitions.

Students participate in robotics competitions.

To encourage more students to pursue STEM college majors and career fields, Beyond Blackboards takes a four-pronged approach that includes research-based materials and training for all major stakeholders: students, teachers, school administrators, and parents.

During after-school programs, such as robotics clubs, and at intensive summer camps, students spend lots of time on inquiry-based, open-ended, hands-on learning activities. At the same time, they’re introduced to a wide selection of STEM college options and careers.

Teachers participate in professional development that boosts their engineering knowledge and the level of comfort they have using technology in their classrooms. They’re also taught how to introduce students to engineering, which can include pointing out basic, everyday examples of engineering in real life. This helps students take the topic from the realm of abstract concepts into familiar contexts.

Beyond Blackboards builds support from school counselors and administrators by providing professional development and field trips to local businesses and organizations that offer many kinds of jobs in STEM fields. Teachers outside math and science – career instructors and art teachers, for example – have access to this training as well.

The program also reaches out to parents and caregivers, targeting historically under-represented groups, like African Americans and Hispanics, in order to build understanding about the career options open to students who have math and science skills.

At UT Austin, Beyond Blackboards engages engineering and UTeach students to serve as mentors for middle school students in the program, offering academic support and helping students look ahead to college and beyond.

“Support from multiple sources increases the likelihood of success,” said Petrosino. “University partners like DTEACH are very involved, as well as corporate partners like Skillpoint Alliance, a Central Texas education and workforce agency, and members of communities around the participating schools.

“Research shows that middle school is a critical decision-making time for students, and Beyond Blackboards focuses on engaging people who are in a position to positively influence those students. Really focusing on historically underserved populations, we’re tapping into a large group with a wealth of talent that may previously have gone unnoticed.”

Like robotics, science video games are an innovative, research-proven way to pique middle school students’ interest in science – one that learning technologies expert Min Liu has perfected in the guise of “Alien Rescue.”

It’s hard to deny the power of a good space adventure video game to motivate middle-schoolers,” said Liu, a professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction. “What 10- or 11-year old wouldn’t get into traveling through outer space and rescuing aliens?”

Created for sixth grade science students by Liu and her Learning Technologies Program graduate students, the video game “Alien Rescue” places tweens in the role of space scientist.

Children learn to use the scientific procedures that real scientists use, ask the tough questions scientists ask, and research answers to those questions.

As with any good inquiry-based lesson, Alien Rescue is story-driven and tasks students with finding suitable homes in the solar system for six alien species who have lost their home planets and are broadcasting a desperate plea for help to Earth. Each species has very different habitat requirements; if those requirements aren’t met, each student group’s alien will perish.

Watch teachers, students and developers talk about Alien Rescue benefits in the classroom.

The 3D online immersive learning environment combines the fantasy element of aliens with the realism of being a young investigator, which research has shown to be a great match for middle school students. Through a discovery approach, the students learn from their mistakes as they play the game, self-correct their errors, and are supported by various tools that are built into the program.

“Alien Rescue is an excellent example of inquiry-based learning,” Liu said, “and the game has been very successful as a teaching and learning tool for all groups, from gifted and talented to at-risk students. According to teachers, students are highly motivated to participate and quickly get into the role of space scientist.”

Since the game feels more like play than schoolwork, it may seed positive attitudes about science that remain through high school and college.

Alien Rescue has become so popular that it’s now part of the science curriculum in 30 states as well as Australia, China, Canada, and South Korea. In the past year alone, Liu has received requests from 23 more schools in 10 states and Canada, Cyprus, and New Zealand to implement the program. In the Austin area, it’s part of the school science curriculum in Round Rock, Leander, and Killeen.

Even though the addictive game is intended for sixth-graders (it’s aligned with the sixth grade Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills test), teachers in fifth through ninth grade classrooms have used it and proven that, with modifications, it’s an equally superb tool for a broader audience.

Students use the Alien Rescue video game in school.

Students use the Alien Rescue video game in school.

That broader audience includes the dozens of graduate students over the past 10 years who have refined and improved the game – adding new features, incorporating new technologies, fleshing out the characters, and updating the science content.

“When I agreed to develop this game, I never anticipated it would entice so many top-notch students, ones who jump at the chance to use it as a learning tool and research platform,” said Liu. “Alien Rescue meets their needs, whether they’re wanting to develop technical, design, or research talents. Our team has included grad students from backgrounds as diverse as learning technology, video production, teaching, astronomy, content development, and computer science.”

As part of the project, Liu’s graduate students have had opportunities to present papers about Alien Rescue at major learning technology and education research conferences. In addition to several other honors, the game has won the Interactive Learning Award from the National Association for Educational Communications and Technology, while those who’ve worked on the game have been honored with an Outstanding Research Paper Award from the World Conference on Educational Media and Technology.

“The thing that makes this project so special,” said Jina Kang, a doctoral student on Liu’s team, “is that every new group of graduate students brings new talents to the table and the game improves every single year. It’s never static. This is one major reason we’re getting so much positive attention.

“For example, right now we’re building a dashboard that teachers can use to follow, in real time, what students are doing in the game. And we’re working to integrate more math content into the program so math teachers can use it in their classes. We gained three new graduate students who have been middle school math teachers, so we’re able to develop multimedia-based math concepts and make Alien Rescue interdisciplinary. It’s all kind of amazing.”

Like robotics, high quality educational video games are igniting learning in students who never thought they could master complex math and science material.

“Over the past several decades science has shown us so much more about how the brain works, especially young, developing brains,” said Petrosino. “We know more about how children learn. Using this new information, we’re coming up with fresh ways of increasing students’ knowledge.”

-Video by Mengwen Cao from the Alien Rescue team

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.”

Victor Saenz

Victor Saenz

Two University of Texas at Austin College of Education research groups have been included in a response to a task force report on the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, a project established by President Obama. My Brother’s Keeper has a goal of bringing together private sector and philanthropic organizations to improve life outcomes for boys and young men of color.

The response addresses a recently-released task force report Get Adobe Reader about the initiative and is a joint effort of seven university-based research centers:

  • Project MALES and the Texas Education Consortium for Male Students of Color (UT Austin)
  • The Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education (University of Pennsylvania)
  • Minority Male Community College Collaboration (San Diego State University)
  • Morehouse Research Institute (Morehouse College)
  • Todd Anthony Bell National Resource Center on the African American Male (The Ohio State University)
  • UCLA Black Male Institute (University of California, Los Angeles)
  • Wisconsin’s Equity and Inclusion Laboratory (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

The centers focus on the study of factors that help and limit educational, social, and occupational opportunities for boys and young men of color.

Dr. Victor Saenz, an associate professor in the UT Austin College of Education’s Department of Educational Administration, is co-founder and executive director of Project MALES as well as the Texas Education Consortium for Male Students of Color.

Below is the task force report that was issued:

As Black and Latino male professors and research center directors, we salute President Obama as well as the many philanthropic and private sector funders for their commitment to improving the conditions of our nation’s boys and young men of color.

The task force report offers a commendable articulation of challenges and opportunities for young men of color and various agents who play some role in their life outcomes. Recommendations offered therein are appropriately informed by research from a range of academic disciplines.

As our nation prepares to enact recommendations from the task force, we call for programs, policies, and services that are guided by research and documented effectiveness. We caution, for example, against the widespread replication of mentoring programs that haphazardly match young men with adults, as evidence concerning the outcomes of such programs is mixed. Moreover, we believe interventions should focus on better understanding and remedying systemic inequities in policies, schooling and social practices, and structures that persistently undermine the success of boys and men of color. More significant investment in the dissemination of existing research on what works, as well as funding new studies on promising policies and practices, would help ensure the success of My Brother’s Keeper and the Americans it aims to effectively serve.

We urge private foundations, federal funding agencies (i.e., the Institute of Education Sciences, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health), and other entities that invest in projects associated with My Brother’s Keeper to take seriously the evidence base of initiatives that are proposed, as well as rigorous evaluations of newly funded projects. Funds are needed to facilitate productive collaborations among research centers such as ours, and to connect researchers with agents who lead organizations and initiatives for young men of color across our nation. The success of My Brother’s Keeper depends heavily on the quality of research produced about its effectiveness. Ultimately, strong cultures of evidence and efficacy should guide all programs, services, and interventions associated with the initiative.

My Brother’s Keeper affords our country an important opportunity to reframe hopeless, deficit-oriented narratives about boys and young men of color, schools that educate them, and communities in which they live. We are hopeful that the initiative will produce replicable models of success, but doing so requires more investment in studies of what works. To ensure the success of My Brother’s Keeper, our research centers stand ready to serve as resources to its funders and the Obama Administration.

Kevin Cokley

Kevin Cokley

Cokley Named Director of UT’s Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis

Kevin Cokley, a professor in the College of Education’s Department of Educational Psychology, has been named the new director of the Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis (IUPRA). He replaces King Davis, who has been director for the past three years.

In addition to his affiliation with the College of Education, Cokley also has been a core faculty member in the Department of African and African Diaspora Studies since its inception.

Cokley is editor-in-chief of the Journal of Black Psychology and past chair of the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Committee on Ethnic Minority Affairs. His research and teaching center on African American psychology, with a focus on:

  • psychological and environmental factors that impact African American student achievement
  • the influence of racial and ethnic identity
  • the correlates of mental health, including perceived discrimination, religiosity, and spirituality
  • the “imposter phenomenon”

He has received recognition for being one of the most prolific authors on ethnic minority psychology and among the top contributors to the Journal of Counseling Psychology. Additionally, he was elected a Fellow in the APA for his contributions to ethnic minority psychology and counseling psychology.

Cokley has also garnered the Charles and Shirley Thomas Award from the Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues for mentoring ethnic minority students, the “10 Rising Stars of the Academy” award from Diverse Issues in Higher Education, and the Association of Black Psychologists’ Scholarship Award.

The IUPRA, which was created in 2011, was a joint effort of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, John Warfield Center for African and African American Studies, and UT Austin’s College of Liberal Arts. The aim of the institute has been to advocate, through applied policy research, for equal access, opportunity, and choice for populations of color.

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.