The Catch the Next Ascender Fall Virtual Seminar took place on Thursday, October 28th from 9:00- 4:30 p.m.  and Friday, October 29 from 9:00-12:45 p.m. The Fall Seminar brought together scholar mentors, educators, advisors, counselors, and CTN Leadership Fellows from across the state to discuss progress and challenges in the program and to share best practices in the classroom. It focused on team building while also addressing the needs of various disciplines through breakout sessions.

The seminar with close to 40 participants in attendance began on Thursday at 8:30 with Café con Pan Coffee Break facilitated by Dr. Anna B. Alaniz, CTN Director of Professional Development and CTN CEO, Dr. Chavez followed by a Welcome, Introductions and Parking Lot. A padlet exercise was used to help participants strengthen their knowledge of their work style while learning about their peers in order to facilitate positive collaboration in their Ascender team and to be able to share issues that they would like to have addressed during the seminar or future seminars by the CTN staff.

The first session “Strengthening an Interdisciplinary- Asset Based Community of Practice” was led by Dr. Chavez. Participants focused on the significance of a functioning team for faculty and small learning communities for students. Dr. Chavez talked about using data, being proactive, not reactive and involving each other in decision making. She asked participants to share the key ingredints that they thought would make their college teams function better. Some of these included trust, conflict resolution, sharing of resources and confidentiality. Dr. Chavez also spoke about CTN’s theoretical framework focusing on the program’s assest based approach and culturally sustaining pedagogy.

The session titled “Establishing Culturally Responsive Pedagogical Practices via ‘Storytelling” led by Dr. Alaniz allowed participants to construct personal narratives as a social and cultural activity with an aim to educate, entertain, and instill moral value and validation of themselves and others. Participants broke into groups to write and then shared their stories, strong lines and questions, modeling the Ascender methodology.

In the next session “Leadership: Leaders Shaping the Ascender Framework” facilitated by Dr. Alaniz and Esmeralda Macias, CTN Leadership Fellow from South Texas College, participants learned their leadership style and its relation to the Ascender’s framework. The session began with reflection time asking participants to think about who they perceived as a leader and why. They then reviewed four leadership styles and asked participants to choose which leadership style they identified with most. Participants went into campus breakout rooms and together wrote an elevator pitch for the Ascender program which they later shared with the group.

After lunch, Dr. Erin Doran, CTN Director of Research and Evaluation, led her session titled “Research and Evaluation.” Participants reviewed the research and evaluation process for the Ascender Program. Dr. Doran went over CTN data gathering, data analysis and reporting. She explained that often the information is used for grant application. She also discussed CTN’s Journal of Pedagogy and Ideas and her willingness to mentor and support faculty who might be interested in submitting for publication.  

Next CTN Author Mentor and Trinity University Professor of the Humanities, Norma Cantu, led the session “Cada Cabeza es un Mundo: Creating Community Through Literature” in which participants used an asset-based approach to create a community through literature and apply those strategies in the different components of the program. She led participants through a brief history of writing and spoke about the philosophy behind writing across the curriculum. She shared various types of poetry, including slam poetry, with participants and then asked them to write their own “I Am From” poem. Next participants wrote their own poem following a template inspired by the poem “You Bring out the Mexican in Me” by Sandra Cisneros.

This was followed by the session “Catching Dreams: Ascender Mentor Stories” led by CTN Leadership Fellow Diane Lerma from Palo Alto College. Participants went to breakout rooms, read a story about an Ascender mentor, chose strong lines, and shared why those lines resonated with them. They then wrote about why they went to college and selected a story from their group to share.

CTN Peer Mentor Victor Saenz and University of Texas, Department Chair & Professor, Dept. of Educational Leadership and Policy was the facilitator for the session titled “Research Findings Mentorship” where participants learned about research-based findings on mentorship with an emphasis on males of color.

He talked about the systemic and structural challenges facing young males of color in education and the deficient narrative that is often used to describe them. He then discussed the MALES Project Mentoring program and shared some highlights of the program.  

The afternoon ended with Breakout Sessions by discipline led by CTN Leadership Fellows. These included: “Mathematics in the Ascender Framework”- FacilitatorsMario Morin, Department Chair, Mathematics, and Rosa Gutierrez, Mathematics Instructor, South Texas College CEO, EnLearn; “English Presentation”- Facilitator: Esmeralda Macias, South Texas College; “Learning Frameworks Session” -FacilitatorJuan Ramirez, Department Chair, Education, South Texas College; and “The Art of Advising in the Virtual Age”- Facilitator: Ariel Flores, Specialist, Area of Study Master Advising, Austin Community College.

The first session for day two was titled “Student Engagement Best Practices.” Participants reviewed with CTN fellows Dr. Alaniz, Juan Higa, and Debra McBeath the Ascender student engagement practices such as: Ascender Club, Leadership, Internships, Staple Events (Noche de Familia, University Tours, Celebracion) and other activities to create a sense of belonging and engagement.

Next participants heard from CTN Leadership Fellows, Alejandra Polcik & Megan Diaz from ACC in the session titled “Mentors Models: Best Practices.” After providing a definition of mentor, they asked participants to think of someone that had been a mentor in their lives. They also spoke about how to implement the mentorship component of the Ascender program, including a mentor orientation guide.

The next session “Student Retention Strategies: Advising Best Practices” was facilitated by Ariel Flores. In it, participants heard about different strategies and best practices on how to retain students beyond the first year. Flores stressed that “retention is a team effort between many departments.”

To end the day, campuses had team time to gather in breakout rooms to discuss concerns, questions, and resources available on their campuses followed by an Ofrenda Sharing where participants shared one piece of their writing from the two-day presentation as an ofrenda to the rest of the group. Facilitators were Dr. Maria M. Chavez and Dr. Anna B. Alaniz.

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