Catch the Next’s Ascender 2019 Spring Seminar took place March 7th-8th at the Frank Fickett Center in Austin. The two-day event focused on a variety of topics and goals that included: strategies for student engagement, mathematics, developing better writing skills, culturally relevant curriculum, student recruitment and retention as well as team building. This Spring’s Seminar began with a welcome and introduction from CTN CEO, Dr. Maria Martha Chavez. Following the introduction, Director of Professional Development, Allegra Villarreal, introduced a parking lot activity where participants discussed and posted what they wanted to see covered during this training sessions.

After lunch, Allegra led a team building activity where participants reflected on their approaches and discussed the best strategies for strengthening their campus teams and cohorts in the classroom. Allegra continued the seminar with a writing practice presentation entitled, “Making Content Relevant: Sustainable Pedagogy for a Changing World.” Here participants explored how “sustainable assignments” can help make content relevant while also fostering a love of learning in the classroom. Math was another major subject of interest throughout the seminar as Frank Savina, Course Program Specialist, Mathematics Higher Education Services at the UT-Dana Center, gave a presentation called, “The Right Math at the Right Time,” in which faculty, advisors, and administrators explored key considerations related to implementing appropriate math pathways and co-requisite courses.

After a short break, participants were introduced to an engaging discussion on “Recruitment, Retention, and Reporting: An Advising Panel,” by Ariel Flores, Advisor; Antonio Martinez, Advocate, Special Populations; Stacy Ybarra, CTN Director of Student Engagement and Anna Alaniz, CTN Fellow. In this discussion, participants heard from advisers about their practices for student recruitment, retention, and tracking for the first year and beyond.

Finally, Frank, Allegra, Anna, and Stacy led a small group discussion, “Discipline Team Time,” in which participants teamed up by discipline to discuss current issues in their field and share resources and tips.

The day culminated with a lively dinner reception with performances from Latin Reggae, Funk, and Cumbia group, Roleros Cosmicos. Dinner guests were treated to a special reading performance by award-winning author Oscar Casares. Our keynote speaker, Dr. Birgit Siceloff was the keynote speaker for the night.

The second day of the Ascender Seminar began with a presentation by Allegra, entitled, “Exploring Educator Identities: A Jigsaw Approach.” Here, participants read and discussed a variety of texts on the practices, pitfalls, and joys of teaching. Following a short break, participants attended various breakout sessions. Antonio Garza, English Faculty Instructor at Palo Alto College, presented, “Using Visual Arts to Create Culturally Relevant Curriculum.” Participants explored strategies of incorporating student home communities into classroom assignments and activities. The next presentation, “Dream a Bigger Dream: Addressing Careers and Majors in the Program,” by Anna Alaniz, Learning Frameworks/INRW Faculty, South Texas College, allowed participants to look at a thematic unit across English and Learning Frameworks that addresses the issue of goal-setting, career planning and major selection. Next, Debra McBeath, CTN Director of Communications, presented “Writing the World: Family/Community History in the English Classroom,” where participants looked at the ways interview assignments can be used in the classroom to help develop key writing skills (summary, quotations, paraphrasing) while also empowering students to tackle difficult issues in their communities. This session will also address journalism opportunities available for Ascender students. Participants also explored ways just-in-time instruction (JITT), experiential activities, and “flipped” classroom approaches can be used to address the needs of diverse students in “Approaching Activity-Based Group Work in the Math Classroom,” presented by Pedro Merced, Math Faculty Instructor at Austin Community College.

After lunch, Eileen Galvez, Assistant Dean, Yale College, and Director of La Casa Cultural gave a presentation named, “I’m Not Supposed to be Here: Addressing Imposter Syndrome.” Participants explored the concept of “imposter syndrome” and how this phenomenon may impact classroom climate for both teachers and students. Jon Herrin, CTN Co-Director or Research and Evaluation, gave a presentation entitled, “Student Engagement by the Numbers: A Look at Effective Practice,” where participants looked at the findings of a study which pinpointed what strategies were most likely to yield positive student outcomes.

After a short intermission, participants divided into campus teams and reflected on what could be improved for the implementation of the program in 2019-2020 in a session called, “Planning for the Year Ahead: Lessons Learned and New Approaches.” This was then followed by an official adjournment of the spring seminar.

This 2019 Spring Seminar was sponsored by the Greater Texas Foundation, the Meadows Foundation, The Raul Tijerina Jr. Foundation, The University of Texas Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, The University of Texas Dana Center, and the Yale College Dean’s Office.

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