Gator Gateway in the College of Public Service

The week of July 18 – 22 we welcomed our incoming freshman who are declaring majors in Criminal Justice, Social Work, or Urban Education. Events in the College of Public Service were part of a university-wide initiative to provide opportunities for our incoming freshmen to make connections and identify resources and strategies for success at UHD. Just so you know, the Gator is our University of Houston – Downtown mascot. We named the big event Gator Gateway to honor of our newest gators and to provide a gateway for their success.

We designed our Gator Gateway events in the College of Public Service around a cruise ship theme. Our premise was that people on a cruise ship are really going places. In one sense the entire ship is moving forward to a destination, and in another, the individuals on the ship are also moving forward as they develop relationships and engage in specific shipboard activities. We like to think of this as comparable to the university experience where students are involved with a group of like-minded individuals who are focused on a common goal of study, graduation, and success in their profession of choice, and at the same time achieving unique, incremental milestones toward that larger goal. This might be a creating a successful class presentation or paper, participating in a professional student organization, or other similar experiences which contribute to the overall goal.

We began our week with a welcome to the cruise. Freshmen received boarding passes and toured the College of Public Service building with their Gator Crew guides and the Assistant Director of our Advising Center, Ms. Anna Esparza. The tour included highlights such as our Student Resource Rooms for study and collaborative activities, our Advising Center, and the paintings in the lobby of each of our four floors by artist and UHD professor, Floyd Newsum. Students mingled with representatives and leaders of our student organizations in Criminal Justice, Social Work, and Urban Education as well as faculty in all three of these areas. They chose partners and learned about one another through a bingo game with CPS backpacks for those who achieved bingo! Each of our three incoming groups assembled at the base of our winding staircase for a “class photo” which you can see on our College of Public Service home page! We also created a welcome to the cruise board with photo opportunities for all.  Here is a photo of some of our Fresh Gators!

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Our officers and some members from student organizations in the College of Public Service were with us all week long. We want our freshmen to get to know the leaders and members of organizations in their field of study and to join these organizations so they will have immediate connections to peers and to service, professional development and social activities related to their interests. Here’s a photo of some of the student organization leaders and members from the Professional Society of Criminal Justice Students, Alphi Phi Sigma, the National Criminal Justice Honor Society, the Social Work Student Community Advocacy Network, the Be a Teacher Club, Bilingual Education Student Organization, and the Urban Educators’ Literacy Society.

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On Tuesday, we had a College Immersion experience highlighting the community engagement, service, and research opportunities available in the College of Public Service through curricular (course-based) and co-curricular (non-course-based) engagement with our community partners in agencies and institutions tied to criminal justice, social work, and urban education issues. We began the day by asking our incoming freshmen about their previous and existing service activities. As 73% of our incoming freshmen have service commitments, this was a stimulating discussion. We discovered that our freshmen have served in many critical ways related to their fields of interests and they are able to discuss their activities in ways that provide inspiration for others. Following this we provided opportunities for students to learn about some of our work in the community.

I want to thank Dr. Bernardo Pohl for his discussion of the African-American Literacy Project; Dr. Rebecca Pfeffer for her discussion of her research projects with students and study abroad related to human trafficking; Dr. Judith Harris for her discussion of the senior thesis course and their service learning project in the Harris County Re-Entry Project at the Harris County Jail, and Dr. Maria Bhattacharjee for her discussion of her ongoing work with Crockett Elementary including the STEM project with Dr. Poonam Gulati and her students and the digital book projects. I also had the opportunity to share our Family Literacy Project at the House of Tiny Treasures along with current UHD students Ignacio Gamez, Jessica Lavon, and Yolanda Guzman.

Our Fresh Gators then had the opportunity to break out to a classroom and work with one of the presenters to draw with felt-tip pens on blank puzzle pieces, creating a puzzle representing the site of service. There was much talk and laughter here as students had the opportunity to engage with one another and create a visual that represented some of the key ideas related to the service site.  Here are some of them discussing their approach!

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Here is an example of a completed puzzle related to study, service, and research in human trafficking.

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On Wednesday, we met in the Robertson Auditorium in the One Main building to talk about success strategies specifically related to studies in Criminal Justice, Social Work, and Urban Education in the College of Public Service. Our panel of experts was comprised of CPS Advisor, Mercedes Gonzales, current Social Work major, Jamie Pena, Urban Education graduates Evelyn Rodriguez and Victor Becerra, and current Criminal Justice major, Maria Bitgood.

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Each of them shared strategies and provided encouragement to our incoming freshmen. They began by stating “We never had the opportunity to get together for a week or to sign up for mentors as you are doing!” Victor Becerra told us all that he is the first person in his family to go to college. In order to learn about UHD, Victor confided that he stopped the elevator and got off on every floor, “walking around to find out where the snack machines were and where would be quiet places to study…” Jamie Pena shared her strategy with us, “When in doubt, go back and think about your ‘why.’ Why is this important to you? Why did you choose this major?” Both Evelyn Rodriguez and Maria Bitgood talked about their growth in confidence while in their programs at UHD. Evelyn received 7 job offers when she was in her final semester in Urban Education.  Maria presented at our Undergraduate Student Research Conference on her project for the Ft. Bend County Sheriff’s office regarding food service in the jail, a project for which she later won an award and an offer for further consulting work. Mercedes Gonzales let students know that our advisors are here for them and eager to assist!

Our incoming freshmen had an opportunity to pass the microphone and ask members of the panel for more details about persistence, internships, scholarships, and the like!

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On Friday, we hosted our Fresh Gators for a College of Public Showcase. We began with a panel discussion of some of the key aspects of programs in Criminal Justice, Social Work, and Urban Education. Faculty members Dr. Heather Goltz (Social Work), Dr. Mike Cavanaugh (Criminal Justice) and Drs. Colin Dalton and Diane Miller (Urban Education) engaged our freshmen in mini-lessons and learning experiences representative of what they will experience in the College.

As a prelude to these break-out sessions all of our freshmen signed up to be a part of the mentor program where they will have an opportunity to interact regularly with a faculty mentor and a peer mentor in their chosen major. Within their mentor groups of up to 15 freshmen, our UHD freshmen will engage with their mentors and will take two of their first semester classes together. We believe this will provide them with a strong foundation and a network of support.

In addition to the mentor groups, we asked our Fresh Gators to sign up for a student organization in their field of major. There were large crowds at the organization tables and we look forward to working, serving, and socializing with all of our energetic new club members! All of this activity made us hungry so we concluded by mixing and mingling while eating nachos from the Nacho Bar set up for the occasion in the grand lobby of the Commerce Building.

We are looking forward to seeing each other again on the first day of the fall semester – August 22nd!Blog - Photo 7

 

My Best Wishes to All of You,

Leigh Van Horn

Thank you for writing!

When you write to me, I print out the email, I frame the handwritten note, I carry the cards and messages with me…your words make me smile; they lift me. Your words let me know that together we are building a world where people consider others carefully, a world where we know that our words and deeds have an effect on others, a world filled with people who want to do good and who are discovering how to do that. Our commitment to each other and to criminal justice, social work, and urban education binds us, calls upon us to be strong, and demands that we take care of one another and of ourselves.

Right now, I am carrying notes that say, “Thank you for your passion for UHD; it leads me to love UHD even further,” and “Thank you for being a mentor and for the support you put into making opportunities  possible for students like me.” These notes remind me of the importance of remaining steadfast in our commitment to one another.

In May, of this year, I received an email from the parents of a student in Criminal Justice who was to graduate on Sunday, May 15th. They wrote to me, so I could know that they are proud of their son and his accomplishments, that he is a role model for his younger sister, and that his time at UHD will “benefit him for the rest of his career”. They let me know that, “As parents, we always want the best for our kids”. Their love for him, their pride in his accomplishments, and their thanks to us, reminds me that we must honor our commitments not only to our students, but to the families of our students. When a UHD student is successful, as is this student who graduated with honors and will go on to law school, he or she fulfills his or her dreams, the dreams of his or her family members, and ours as well. The success of our students is a reflection of all of us here at UHD. We too, want the best for our students!

Interviewing Our College of Public Service Students

Every day as I walk between buildings on the UHD campus or within the College of Public Service building, or as I attend and participate in events such as our Speaker Series, the Undergraduate Research Conference, and service events sponsored by our student organizations and/or our faculty, I have the opportunity to see our students in action and to talk with them. These conversations led to a desire to tell people about the College of Public Service experience; to reach out to our current and future students and to the members of our communities in criminal justice, social work, and urban education.

As a result, we are asking our students to talk with us about their experiences at UHD and in the College of Public Service. I am working with Paulina Gamino, our College Web Technician Specialist and our College of Public Service students and alumni in making the films that you see here on our home page. This has been an amazing experience for all of us. What you see here are the first of what we hope will be numerous interviews. Right now, you can “meet” Evelyn Rodriguez, Debbie Cortes, Ann Johnson, and Naiyolis Paloma. Soon, we’ll add our interview with Maria Bitgood. We’ve scheduled an interview with MSCJ Student, Jose Martinez to take place next month. He will be joined by the Chair of the Department of Criminal Justice and Social Work, Dr. Barbara Belbot.

When we ask an individual to participate in the project, he or she is joined in the interview by me, or by a faculty member who has identified them as a candidate for the project. During the interview we provide the speaker with non-verbal feedback. This creates a more intimate feel for the speakers and enables them to see an immediate response to what they are saying. Though Paulina has created a framework for discussion, it seems that each one of our students is confident and able to flow as he or she shares with us in ways that let us know who they are, what they believe, what they value, and what gives them strength and helps them to succeed.  Each film is actually 30 minutes to an hour in length. Paulina Gamino pulls clips and creates the excerpt that you see on our home page. In doing this, she has discovered that many of our students have identified strategies to help them to stay motivated, to work through personal and school-related difficulties, to study, to get organized, or to reach their goals. She is now working to develop a “map” that will enable you to choose what you need to hear about and enable you to learn from your peers; people like you who may have discovered something that will be of help to you. You are independent thinkers, you are dedicated to your major and to serving others, you make powerful contributions to the learning and leading that is happening here in the College of Public Service and the University of Houston – Downtown. YOU are the inspiration for all of us!

The Value of a Graduate Degree

We decide to pursue a graduate degree in our field for a number of possible reasons; career advancement, a need for specialized knowledge related to the profession, a desire to diversify our skills, a love of learning…

As I considered the value of a graduate degree in Criminal Justice or in Teaching from the College of Public Service I sought the ideas of those who had completed or were in the process of attaining their MSCJ or MAT degree with us.

The Master of Science in Criminal Justice degree prepares its graduates to take on leadership positions within the criminal justice system, shaping future policy and the criminal justice process.

Members of the Master of Science in Criminal Justice Program shared the following:

“We, the graduates of this program, are ambassadors for our profession.”

“After 29 years in the profession I am looking at it through new eyes. What I have learned here has helped me to see everything from a different perspective.”

“In the MSCJ program I’ve learned to analyze problems and develop proposals for my division.”

“In thinking about the meaning of a graduate degree in Criminal Justice, I believe that we are recognizing the value that an educated officer brings to the community.”

The Master of Arts in Teaching degree is designed to help existing teachers advance their expertise in methods and research to positively impact urban classrooms or, as in the case of the MAT with certification, to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to be certified to teach in urban classrooms

Members of the Master of Arts in Teaching Program shared the following:

“I changed my major from Microbiology to Biological and Physical Sciences, knowing in my heart that I was going on to teach middle school/high school science. I looked around at the different programs available in Texas and decided on a program offered at UHD, MAT with Certification.”

“I found that the implementation of math journals into my class helped develop students’ mathematical thinking, mathematical communication, and the increase use of the correct mathematical vocabulary.”

“My final project in the program will be to develop lesson plans that focus on specific skills and that will be accessible for teachers to use as a tool. The lesson plans will include graphic organizer activities and other learning strategies that are beneficial to students. This re-envisioning of the curriculum will help expand my career opportunities.”

Approximately 20% of MAT graduates have gone on to pursue additional academic qualifications, most leading to administrative positions, which supports the goal of the program to produce teacher leaders.

Participating in Citizenship Month

The following is a short speech I gave at the opening event of Citizenship Month held at the Asia Society in the Museum District, Houston,Texas.

Two years ago, Shirin Herman of the Refugee Program in the Houston Independent School District and Noel Bezette-Flores, Director of the Center for Public Service and Family Strengths, University of Houston – Downtown, invited me to work with them on a poetry writing project for Citizenship Month in Houston. I put together some ideas for writing poetry with students who were relatively new to Houston and who were learning English as their second or third language. The first year we met briefly with teachers from Las Americas Newcomer Middle School and Fondren Middle School and we sent the curriculum ideas to Julie Norton at Harmony Public Schools to share with the teachers there. The poetry we received was inspiring and edifying and the work of the student writers was celebrated during Citizenship Month.

This year, I was able to work more collaboratively with the teachers and it has truly been a highlight for me. It has always been my thought that the best kind of partnership in curriculum design or professional development is for teachers to work together face-to-face. That is what we have been able to do this year and with your permission, I’d like to share some reflections about this experience.

Some of the preparation for tonight began early this summer when I met with Keri Bell and Julie Norton of Harmony Public Schools. We worked together to add to the curriculum from last year, incorporating some ideas for writing poetry about where we are from and what that means to us as citizens. Later in the summer I had the most wonderful opportunity to work for two days with middle school and high school teachers from Harmony. We read together, wrote together, talked together, and drew together – both literally and metaphorically! There is magic in a room full of English Language Arts teachers who have great passion for their students and their subject matter. During this time we actually experienced ourselves what we might share with our students. This enabled us to co-construct ideas about curriculum centered on citizenry and social justice. Then, the teachers from Harmony took their thoughts and ideas back to their colleagues and into their classrooms. Some were able to partner with art teachers and create interdisciplinary experiences for the students. What emerged is simply astounding.

I then reconnected with the teachers in the Houston Independent School District, specifically, Ms. Behzadi, at Fondren Middle School, Mr. Severino at Las Americas Newcomer Middle School, and Mr. Garrett at Lee High School. At each site it was clear that the teachers were constructing learning experiences that were highly engaging to their students and, that were helping them to consider reflectively, “Where am I from?” “Where am I now?” “Who am I?” and “How do I fit in and contribute to the landscape and citizenry of Houston, Texas?” These teachers were helping students connect to their prior knowledge, to create their own photographic landscapes and make figurative comparisons to life, to begin with a word, expand it into a sentence, and then into a poem that would touch our hearts. Here and now, in their own words, these students let us know that they “…wish for more opportunities,” experience “Adventure, sadness, happiness, future and …have questions sometimes,” notice that “…all country has their own colors,” understand that “It’s easy to move from place to place. But it’s hard when you miss your friends and family,” and know that “Life is like a roller coaster because sometimes it goes up and at other times it goes down…” And, for all of us, it is important to know that “If you fall many times, you get up more strengthened”. I know that you will learn much from listening to and later reading their words, as I have!

After tonight, many of the poems and art works will be on display at the Houston Public Library on McKinney. I urge you to go there and immerse yourself in the experience! As you view these works you will be engaged by carefully constructed imagery and text that will both entertain and inspire. I want to draw from the words of these writers to give you a preview of what you’ll read from writers who “…walked into the promised land given opportunity to change my destiny,” whose “…minds are open minded as our hearts speaking in different tongues,” who come from “tears shed in anger and the smiles filled with happiness,” who are from “Houston, Texas and Bluefields, Nicaragua, from rice and beans and sizzling fajitas on the grill!”

Thinking about the mission of the College of Public Service

The mission of our college reads, “The UHD College of Public Service is a community-based center for higher learning dedicated to preparing students for careers in criminal justice, social work and education. We believe that, through public service, an educated society creates thoughtful policies and practices to improve the lives of diverse populations. Our students engage in dynamic research designed to enhance the quality of schools and social and justice institutions to instill scholarship, integrity and responsibility in tomorrow’s leaders.” We have recently re-dedicated ourselves to this mission. That involved us, as a college, in thinking about the mission and what we are doing or what we are going to do to ensure that our thoughts and actions reflect these words and the ideas behind them. To me, the words “community-based center” reflect our location in the heart of downtown Houston. Just outside our doors lies Allen’s Landing, the historical center of Houston, the court district, theater and arts district, sports arenas, thriving businesses, shelters and service agencies, and public and private schools for K-12 students. Every day we have an opportunity to reach out to the people of this community and foster relationships in which we might share knowledge, develop student internships, or engage in community based interdisciplinary projects involving students and faculty from social work, criminal justice and/or urban education. Our belief that “…through public service, an educated society creates thoughtful policies and practices to improve the lives of diverse populations” means that our faculty, often along with our students, provide agencies, institutions, businesses, or schools with education and service programs, engage in action research, or work together to develop solutions to meet current and future challenges. Our current logo reads, “We’re changing lives in the College of Public Service”. By that we mean that here at UHD in the College of Public Service we work closely with our students. Students in our undergraduate and graduate programs can depend on faculty, staff, and members of our Advising Center to provide them with engaging learning experiences. We are dedicated to working alongside our students to provide them with opportunities to practice scholarship and leadership in the fields of criminal justice, social work, and urban education. We change the lives of our students by helping them see how they can dedicate themselves to serving others. Our students from the College of Public Service then enter into practice in criminal justice, social work, or urban education and pay it forward, changing the lives of those they serve.

Being Asked to Serve by Leigh Van Horn

I have been a faculty member at UHD since the fall of 2000. For fourteen years I have been fully engaged with students, faculty, staff, and administration and this has been a most joyous and fulfilling time in my life. I became a Professor in Urban Education a little over a year ago and with this promotion began to ponder how I might further contribute to the University of Houston – Downtown. What might I do differently now that I was a Professor? I began to write and make professional presentations with my students who are teacher candidates in Urban Education. I was drafting a book proposal for a text that would demonstrate how to use award winning, culturally relevant children’s literature to teach literacy skills, and developing ideas about the effect of empathy in literacy education.

In the summer of 2014 when I was asked to serve as Interim Dean for the College of Public Service I saw another way that I might contribute. My decision to serve was a carefully considered one in which I spent time reflecting on what I would bring to the work.  I believe that the support I have and the relationships I have built with individuals in the community and the students, faculty, staff, and administration here at UHD contribute greatly to my ability to learn what is needed, to create and share possible plans, and to build on the strengths of the College of Public Service. The care and respect that I have for the people in this university and in the community that surrounds us guides my decision-making and sustains me in this intense and exciting period of our life together. My belief in the inherent good of what is happening here at UHD and in the possibilities that lie ahead for a college that encompasses programs in Criminal Justice, Social Work, Urban Education, a Criminal Justice Training Center, and a Center for Public Service and Family Strengths keep me focused on achieving the goals and objectives for the college. I look forward to working with all of you in the coming year.