CTN Hosts Ascender Fall 2023 Seminar in Austin

Catch The Next’s Ascender Fall Seminar convened on October 27th and 28th in Austin, Texas at Double Tree by Hilton Hotel in the Austin-University Area. CTN brought together an array of esteemed attendees, including educators, advisors, counselors, and CTN Leadership Fellows addressing from diverse regions across the state. The event served as a platform for in-depth deliberations on the progress and challenges inherent to the program, fostering the exchange of invaluable pedagogical insights. With a primary emphasis on team building, the seminar effectively addressed the unique requirements of different academic disciplines through a series of interactive breakout sessions. Notably, the program’s agenda remained highly responsive to the specific needs of the current cohort, ensuring a tailored and enriching experience for all participants.

On the first day October 27th, after a welcome from Anna B. Alaniz, CTN Director of Professional Development and Maria Martha Chavez, CTN Chief Executive Officer, participants heard from Dr. Sonya Armstrong, Texas State University, Associate Dean for Student Success for the College of Education and Professor in the Graduate Program in Developmental Education, in her session titled “Honoring Learner Literacies: Breaking the Toxic Tradition of Tacit Literacy Expectations.” Participants gained an understanding of the tacit literacy expectations that students face as they transition to higher education and were able to identify strategies for making these more explicit for students. Participants as well gained an understanding of disciplinary and other contextual variations in literacy practices and identified strategies for honoring and extending the literacy assets that students bring.

Next Jonathan Bell, South Texas College Ascender Mathematics Instructor & Dr. Anna B. Alaniz, CTN Director of Professional Development provided a session titled “Interwoven Insight: Bridging Argumentative Essays and Mathematical Problem Solving.” Their presentation included the comparison on strengths and perceived weaknesses between English and Mathematics. Additionally, participants analyzed how innovative curricula based on English and Mathematics have similar teaching processes. Following Mr. Bell and Dr. Alaniz presentation; Dr. Stella Flores, College of Education, UT-Austin the topic delivered was “Navigating Educational Policy: Advocacy and Next Steps.” Participants gained a deeper understanding of the current educational policy landscape, how to hone their advocacy skills, and identified opportunities and innovations to face policy changes. Furthermore, Dr. Flores provided innovative strategies on how to be better equipped to navigate policy changes and advocating for education.

After lunch, Dr. Anna B. Alaniz, CTN Director of Professional Development presented on “Understanding Corequisites Models in Education: Navigating the Benefits and Challenges of Corequisites in the Ascender Model.” Attendees gained insights into the impact of corequisite models on student success, accelerated learning and targeted support. Vidal Almanza, Austin Community College Ascender Advisor led a presentation titled, “Educational Pathways: Exploring Pathways Innovations and Advising Advocacy.” This presentation was a comprehensive of understanding of the latest innovations in Pathways and the crucial role of student-centered advising in promoting educational success. Participants were empowered with practical strategies and insights to enhance advising practices and contribute to the effective implementation of Pathways at their institutions.

The rest of the afternoon was filled with breakout sessions. The mathematics session titled, “Mathematics in the Ascender Framework” was led by Jonathan Bell; Mathematics Ascender Professor, South Texas College; Mario Morin, Mathematics Department Chair, Mathematics Instructor, South Texas College; CEO, EnLearn. The English session titled, “Re-Engaging Reading: Micro and Macro Classroom Strategies” was led by Dr. Sonya L. Armstrong, Texas State University, Associate Dean for Student Success for the College of Education and Professor in the Graduate Program in Developmental Education. Gave participants the opportunity to identify practical micro-level strategies and mini-lessons reading appropriate for their teaching context(s). Participants as well identified practical macro-level strategies (curricular adjustments and longer-term approaches) appropriate for their teaching context(s). The learning frameworks session, “Familia: Creating Community Inside and Outside of the Classroom” was presented by Amber Sarker, Austin Community College, Associate Professor of Learning Frameworks. She led the participants to engage in several learning activities to help create a classroom community in postsecondary settings. She as well allowed for a variety of volunteer opportunities that were an interesting addition to course curricula. The audience viewed a variety of self-care and mental health strategies that could be incorporated as in-class activities or reflections. Lastly, participants, brainstormed on how to add a classroom community or self-care activity into one or more of their courses. The fourth breakout session was in advising, “Student Retention as a Team Effort” led by Vidal Almanza, CTN Fellow and Specialist, Area of Study Master Advising, Austin Community College. In this breakout session, participants learned different strategies and best practices on how to retain students beyond the first year.

The session ended with participants writing reflections and an ofrenda which were shared and discussed the following day. The celebrations continued at the reception were a cohort of CTN Ascender participants graduated after participating in a sequel of three semester session seminars.

On the second and final day October 28th, in the morning participants reflections were shared by the CTN Team. Following reflections, Dr. Laura Rendon UTSA Professor Emeritus, Researcher led a session titled, “Elevating Excellence: Unveiling the Impact of the Ascender Program’s Professional Development in Dallas.” This session gave participants valuable insights into the impact of the Ascender Program’s professional development initiatives on professors in Dallas. Participants were as well equipped with evidence-based knowledge to inform future professional development sessions, enhance teaching practices, and ultimately contribute to improve student success within their own educational institutions.

Dr. Anna B. Alaniz, presented on “Missed Mentoring Meeting” where participants learned about research-based findings on mentorship with an emphasis on the Ascender Program. After Dr. Alaniz presented campus team time was allocated to give participants the opportunity to go to a breakout room to discuss concerns, questions, and resources available to their campuses, these sessions were led by CTN staff and college coordinators.

After lunch, Dr. Kevin A. Christian, D.A. Director – Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity at the American Association of Community Colleges, spoke on “The Heart of Community Colleges: Insights and Strategies.” Participants gained a comprehensive understanding of the speaker’s role in community colleges and insights from the AACC’s initiatives. In continuation, Yvette Regalado, CTN Director of Curriculum & Instruction conducted a team building to have participants internalize what they had learned while reminding participants that teamwork’s leads to success. Maria Martha Chavez, CTN Chief Executive Officer; Professor; Anna B. Alaniz, CTN Director of Professional Development and Leadership Fellows presented on “Holistic Engagement Troubleshooting: Navigating Challenges with Students, Parents, and the Community/Familia.” This presentation opened dialogue to address challenges and share solutions encountered while implementing Ascender activities, including Noche de Familia, University Tours, Ascender Club, survey administration, and other key initiatives aimed at fostering a sense of belonging and active engagement within their educational communities.

The day ended with an Ofrenda Sharing which was led by Maria Martha Chavez, CTN Chief Executive Officer; Professor; Anna B. Alaniz, CTN Director of Professional Development; where participants shared one piece of their writing from the two-day presentation as an ofrenda to the rest of the group.

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