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Louis Harrison & Martin Smith:

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

Allison Skerrett & Thea Williamson:

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

Mary Steinhart & Matt Lehrer:

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

When UT Austin’s College of Education and College of Natural Sciences created the teacher preparation program UTeach, they never dreamed that the President of the United States would be applauding it as one of the best ways to help students excel in math and science.

Since its launch in 1997, the award-winning UTeach program has graduated 878 of the brightest secondary science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) teachers, enjoyed commendations for its successful public-private partnerships, and been adopted at 39 universities nationwide (with five more slated to begin replication before the end of the year).

“One major strength of UTeach is that we make sure our students have an exceptionally strong grasp of the content they’ll be teaching,” said Larry Abraham, UTeach co-director and professor in the College of Education’s Department of Kinesiology and Health Education. “Our students are required to actually earn a degree in the subject they’ll be teaching, whether it’s math, science, or engineering. They’re sitting in the same classes, mastering the same challenging material as students who will become biomedical engineers, physicians, or chief technology officers.”

When UTeach students graduate, Abraham said, they’re fully prepared to take on a variety of challenging careers, from medicine to NASA research, or to pursue graduate school.

Despite a wealth of choices, about 90 percent of UTeach students elect to enter teaching, and five years after entering the field, 80 percent of UTeach graduates are still teaching.

In addition to being seriously well prepared in STEM content areas, UTeach students complete a carefully designed sequence of classroom experiences that immerse them in “real life” teaching. Before they enter a classroom, clinical faculty with years of teaching experience help prepare the students for their in-school field experiences. While in the classroom, they’re able to work closely with seasoned mentor teachers who model best pedagogical practices.

“What makes UTeach different, and in a good way, is that we place students in secondary school classrooms from the very first course they take and give them a chance to teach lessons from the outset,” said Abraham. “Their first two semesters of the program are funded through scholarships, in fact, and are meant to let them see, at no cost to them, if the career is a good fit. If it’s not, they simply leave UTeach and continue to work on their degree.”

Although UTeach instructors don’t require students to adopt a particular teaching strategy, they give them ample opportunities to observe and practice an approach called project-/inquiry-based instruction.

With inquiry-based learning, students are given a problem to solve and, in order to do that they must discover and incorporate any number of key math and science concepts like speed, aerodynamics, fractions, or trajectory. They are freed to pursue answers through independent research, discussion, and hands-on activities.

Another motivator for students is that the problem is placed in a narrative context or scenario that’s likely to be relevant and naturally interesting to them, so the learning feels less like work and more like an adventure.

This method of instruction is demonstrated to UTeach students by some of the best area middle and high school STEM teachers, as well as UTeach professors.

“UTeach was one of the first programs of its kind in the nation to have a course specifically designed around project-based learning,” said Abraham, “and we were very early adopters when it came to integrating math, science, and technology, rather than using a silo approach that prepares STEM teachers for only one discipline.”

To foster that integration, UTeach math and science students take the same teacher preparation courses. Everyone learns physics; everyone learns biology; and everyone learns algebra.

“Just think about it, in middle and high school science classes, a lot of the problems that students run into have to do with math,” said Abraham. “Sometimes they’re just not up to speed. If the science teacher has studied how people learn math, though, he or she can spot when a child is having a problem and more effectively provide support.

“With math teachers, if they learn about teaching several different areas of science, their teaching becomes richer because they have an endless supply of real-world problems and scenarios to use in their lessons. This can help students understand bigger math concepts and grasp that learning is about more than one right answer.”

Having UTeach students work in multi-disciplinary teams has seeded an interest in them to interact across disciplines once they become teachers.

In addition to engaging excellent instructors, one of the most significant benefits of the UTeach program is that it’s streamlined and efficient. Despite adding UTeach coursework to their regular STEM degree requirements, students’ degree completion time is not extended. It’s also appealing because, in addition to welcoming undergraduates, UTeach admits qualified professionals with existing degrees who are returning to school. They can take the UTeach coursework and, if they pass, become certified as STEM teachers in around three semesters.

Since it began, UTeach has expanded its resources and services to include professional development for graduates, an elementary teacher preparation program called Hands-On Science, a national alumni network, scholarships and internships, and a community outreach program.

The program itself has been replicated by UT Austin’s College of Liberal Arts, and the College of Education recently formed UTeach Urban Teachers, which is the newest UTeach option. It’s specifically designed for educators passionate about social justice in diverse urban classrooms.

“Our students leave UTeach with a rock-solid degree and many options,” said Abraham. “Fortunately, most of them choose to teach, to do something that makes them feel good and has meaning. You hear a lot about ‘transformational programs’ – some are and some aren’t. UTeach has turned out to be one that truly is.”

-Photos by Mark Tway

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

Great education professionals have an enviable skill set – the ability to lead, be empathetic, inspire, motivate, communicate, strengthen, and ignite curiosity. Meet six of our alumni who rise to the challenge, bringing heart, soul, mind, and an indefatigable sense of mission to their work with students.


Alex Olivares

UTeach, B.J., ‘08
Crockett High School

I got out of UTeach and thought, “Wow, none of that stuff’s ever going to work in the real world. It’s great and dandy if you have a special school with magnet and high level students, but in a normal environment it’s not going to apply.” As I taught for more and more years, I realized that it’s simply the way to teach. Slowly I incorporated the UTeach strategies more and more, and at this point almost all of my classes are problem- and inquiry-based. I understand the benefits of teaching this way, that it yields long-term learning benefits for the students.



Educational Psychology, B.S. ’03, M.Ed. ‘08
Bowie High School

I think the fact that my students are part of the post-9/11 generation has made them more resilient and better equipped to handle adversity when it inevitably comes along, and they seem to share this innate desire to better their communities. I learn from them every single day, and I actually feel privileged when they come to me for guidance – they seem so much better equipped, emotionally, than I was at that age.




Kinesiology and Health Education, B.S. ‘08
Wooldridge Elementary School

I am passionate about what I do and where I teach because I know that I can have a huge effect on the lives of all of my students. I am at a low-income, overcrowded school. I know that teaching these kids is not always the easiest thing, but this work is so important and being there to give them a smile every day makes each day worth it.




Special Education, B.S. ‘13
Hill Country Middle School

I’ve always had a unique compassion and place in my heart for individuals with disabilities. I love the underdog. I love looking at a person whom the world has categorized, judged, or dismissed and seeing the power and potential within them. I get to help draw out and develop the treasures inside each individual – those things that even their loved ones, may not see. Educators have been given the gift of eyes to see beauty in brokenness and strength in weakness, and there’s nothing I enjoy more than watching a student grow in confidence, resilience, and self–esteem, and seeing how that impacts families and entire communities.






Curriculum and Instruction, B.S. ‘11
Hill Elementary School

When I was in middle school, I visited and stayed at an orphanage with my church group in Querétaro, Mexico, to help improve the existing school grounds and living quarters. During my time there the orphanage needed a substitute teacher for the kindergarteners, so a friend and I volunteered. I didn’t know much Spanish at the time but was amazed at how we were still able to communicate and build meaningful relationships with those precious little ones. While sitting on the dirt floor, reading a picture book in Spanish to a little girl, I knew that I had to work with children for the rest of my life – it felt like I was made for teaching.




Educational Administration, M.Ed. ‘99
Stony Point High School

Being a school principal is a little like being a CEO because you have to build sustainable leadership and create systems that foster success. The goal of any business is profit – the goal of my school is student success. We study what our practices are and, like a successful business, we maximize those that lead to success and cease what leads to failure.

Kim Nelson

Kim Nelson – UT Urban Teachers graduate student

On entering a teacher preparation program, one quickly acquires a new language: familiar terms and phrases like “my kids” and “planning” take on strange and special meanings, while once foreign acronyms—STAAR, ESL, LEP, ADHD—begin to trip effortlessly off one’s tongue. Beyond vocabulary, one also begins to understand the importance of tone and tenor when discussing teaching and learning—especially regarding urban schools.

As a pre-service English Language Arts teacher and a graduate student in language and literacy, I’ve spent quite a bit of time meditating on the beyond-the-surface meaning and sociocultural significance of the language we use to describe urban education. All too often it is a language of desperation and deficit. A language of “high stakes” and “low performance.” A language of “benchmarking,” “accountability,” and “AYP.” Not, in other words, a language that invites or elucidates.

And yet, there is a counter-language we can use to discuss urban education. It is a language of hope and anticipation, of expectation and diligence, of possibility. This is the language spoken by the faculty, program directors, and students in the UTeach Urban Teachers (UTUT) program. This language infiltrates every course, assignment, class discussion, and teaching placement, and it is this language that makes the UTeach Urban Teachers program unique.

I came to the program from a job in higher education, ready to make a difference at an earlier point in students’ educational lives. When I entered the program, I wasn’t focused on urban education per se, but instead on gaining a marketable teaching credential from a top program. One year in, I’m convinced that UTUT’s urban education focus has been absolutely critical in preparing me to become a frontline advocate for one of the most pressing issues in this country.

From the faculty and administrators to fellow students in my program cohort, everyone involved in the UTUT program is committed to the belief that all students deserve an excellent education and a fair chance in life. In seminar-style classes with nationally recognized scholars, we investigate issues spanning special education; language learning; race, class, culture, sexual orientation, and diversity; literacy; and technology in the classroom.. During these discussions we gain fluency in the language we will need to make our belief a reality.

There are certainly less time- and effort-intensive ways to become a teacher in Texas. But UTUT’s melding of scholarship with real-world teaching practice in Austin area schools makes it particularly effective at addressing the critical needs of today’s urban teachers and students. Every day I feel as though I’m not just part of a program but also of a movement that seeks to speak about urban education in a new language.

I’m excited to see the changes our words and actions will make as we progress through the program – and beyond it.



Not only are College of Education faculty and students nationally recognized for their landmark research on topics like racial inequality in schools, but also for pioneering programs like Uteach and the Kinesiology and Health Education Department’s rigorous athletic training program. Check out this sample of media coverage our top-ranked college has received from MSNBC, KUT, Alcalde and KNOW.

Julian Vasquez Heilig
“What’s causing racial segregation in schools”

“Demography determines destiny … those schools that are triple segregated are more likely to be low performing and this is a really big issue.”


Richard Reddick
“Why Do Black Students Get More Suspensions?”

“‘So often, schools require students to leave their culture, leave their heritage at the door and convert to what we have, instead of saying, ‘We embrace what you have,” Reddick says. “‘And that doesn’t happen unless you have a clear understanding of what the community does.'”


“UT’s Award-Winning Teacher Education Program Goes (Even More) National

“The U.S. faces a shortage of 283,000 science and math teachers by 2015. Increasingly, educators are agreeing that one of the best ways to bridge that gap is a program that started on the Forty Acres.”


Athletic Training Program
“Open Up and Say ‘Hook’em'”

“Students in the university’s undergraduate athletic training degree program in the College of Education help provide support to athletic training and sports medicine staff, providing care to UT’s hundreds of student-athletes. They have to be jacks-of-all-trades, working on everything from setting up fields and courts for practices and games to providing first-aid treatment to assisting in rehabilitation for injured athletes.”


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.”