CTN’s Spring Seminar was held on March 30th and 31st at Palo Alto College in San Antonio. The ASCENDER Spring Seminar brought together scholar mentors, educators, advisors, counselors, and trainers from across the state to discuss progress and challenges in the program and to share best practices in the classroom. The third and final seminar for cohort 2022-23, the series focused on components of the ASCENDER Framework for Student and Faculty Advancement. The seminar focused on the retention of students for the upcoming fall term and the recruitment of new first-year students for the next academic year while also addressing the needs of various disciplines through breakout sessions.

The seminar began with a welcome and ice breaker presented by Dr. Maria Martha Chavez, CTN Chief Executive Officer and Dr. Anna B. Alaniz, Director of Professional Development (STC).

Sonia Nazario, Pulitzer Prize Award Winning Author, was the presenter for the first session titled “Enrique’s Journey: Traumas Immigrant Students Bring to the Classroom and How Educators Can Help.”  Nazario discussed an immigrant’s experience, her own experience, and specific actions educators can take to help immigrant children get past these traumas so they can learn. One seminar participant said, “Thank you for opening with Sonia Nazario and her experiences working with and on behalf of migrants/immigrants. Admittedly, at times her talk was very difficult to listen to, but necessary. It never occurred to me that some of my students may have experienced harrowing journeys to be in the U.S. I will look at them differently on Monday.”

Her session was followed by “Project Males: Guiding Male Students to Successfully Navigate Higher Education” presented by Dr. Victor Saenz, Acting Associate Dean for Equity and Inclusive Excellence at UT. Participants learned mentoring components and strategies of how to support males in higher education to assist them in completing and reaching their goals.     

In the next session “Catching Students Before They Fall: Retention is Key to Student Success,” led by Dr. Alaniz, participants reflected on the challenges students face that can hinder retention and persistence, and then discussed ways to help support students and ensure their persistence to completion and transfer to a university. Dr. Alaniz shared with them the Ascender program’s formula for success: Validation Theory + Asset-Based Approach + Culturally Relevant Pedagogy=85-100 % Retention. She also discussed the difference between equality and equity.

“Unleashing Students’ Potential Through Culturally Relevant Mathematics” was presented next by Elsa Cantu from the University of Texas- San Antonio. She shared with participants ways to help support students and ensure their persistence to completion in mathematics courses. Dr. Cantu told participants, “Teaching is an important, personal endeavor. A teacher’s job is to make students want to learn and that is where culturally relevant material comes in.”

Break-out sessions by departments were next. These were led primarily by CTN Leadership Fellows: English- Laurie Coleman, SAC; Mathematics- Elsa Cantu, University of Texas- San Antonio and Mario Morin, STC; Learning Frameworks -Yolanda Reyna and Daniel Rodriguez, PAC; Advising- Vidal Almanza, ACC; Administration -Martha Chavez and Joan Jaimes, SAC.

In the final session of the day titled “Place Based Writing Assignment: The Power of Observation,” participants explored connections between place, personal experience, and literacy as a powerful and inspiring tool for teaching writing. This session was led by Debra McBeath, CTN Director of Communications.

A reception with refreshments, music, a raffle, silent auction, and cohort graduation ended the day. CTN PAC Leadership Fellow, Ron Perez, introduced PAC President, Robert Garza, who welcomed guests and said “Catch the Next is the key to unlock the door of possibilities. It’s about education; but more importantly, it’s about people.” The keynote speaker was Dr. Elena Foulis, Assistant Professor at Texas A&M San Antonio. She encouraged participants “to make their classrooms intimate spaces where they can be vulnerable, sharing with students how they sometimes fall short, just like their students do, which is important for students to hear.                                   

The first session of day two titled “Guiding Generation C to Focus on their Career Aspirations Despite Obstacles They Encounter” was presented by PAC CTN Leadership Fellows, Dr. Rodriguez and Dr. Reyna. Participants explored what motivates and how to support Gen C. They also listened to a panel of Gen C- Ascender students, Lauren Flores, Keren Morin, and Dominique Robledo, who shared their perspectives and uses of technology. Rodriguez and Reyna gave participants information about Gen C including that they are “digital natives” who have integrated technology into every aspect of their daily routine.

After a short break, Darrial Reynolds, STC Leadership Fellow and Armando Sanchez, Ascender Alumni presented “Developing Student Leadership through Political Science” Participants learned how to develop leadership skills in their courses. Reynolds shared assignments he uses in his classroom, and Armando spoke about his experience in his Ascender class where his instructor taught them that their voices mattered.

Next participants learned how to use drawings to support learners in Artist Liliana Wilson’s session titled “Artwork as a Form of Validation through the Lens of an Artist.” Participants wrote about Wilson’s prints, and some then shared their writing, which was followed by Wilson discussing the prints and their origins. 

After lunch, campus teams met to discuss lessons learned and promising strategies, and plan for future semesters as an institution.

The final session of the seminar was “Creating a Transfer Community” in which participants explored different strategies on how they can support and breakdown barriers to facilitate the transfer process for students who want to attend a four-year institution. This session was led by Dr. Erin Doran, CTN’s Director of Data Analysis & Research. In her presentation, she said, “A strong transfer receptive culture validates students’ pathways while also supporting students from historically excluded groups who may not have the same levels of support.”

The seminar ended with photos and sharing time, in which participates read what they had written about places, art, and “the why” during their sessions


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