Campus and Community

UHD Joins Houston Institutions in White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics

White House Initiative

From Left, Poonam Gulati, associate professor of natural sciences; Alexandra Ceja, executive director of the White House Initiative; Jaqueline Cortez Wang, senior advisor; and Maria Bhattacharjee, associate professor of urban education.

September 2015 marks the 25th anniversary of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, which was established in 1990 to address the educational disparities faced by the Hispanic community. In commemoration of this milestone, the Initiative launched the “Anniversary Year of Action: Fulfilling America’s Future” campaign, encouraging private and public institutions to make individual commitments to invest in the creation or expansion of quality educational programming for Hispanics throughout the nation.

Leaders from Houston’s public and private sectors, including UHD, this month answered the call, announcing several commitments totaling more than $11 million to further support and advance the educational attainment of Houston’s Hispanic community.

“The commitments announced by Houston’s public and private leaders will help us tackle the critical education challenges Hispanics face from cradle to career,” said Alejandra Ceja, the Initiative’s executive director. “Investing in our Latino students is not only the smart thing to do, but it is also the right thing to do to strengthen our country’s economy and global competitiveness. In order to continue leveling the playing field for Latinos and ensure our nation’s vitality, we must continue to invest in their educational advancement.”

UHD has committed more than $1.5 million to train future bilingual elementary educators in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects. Led by Poonam Gulati, Ph.D., associate professor of natural sciences, and Maria Bhattacharjee, Ed.D, associate professor of urban education, the UHD initiative has committed to developing 200 high-quality Hispanic STEM teachers over the next five years.

“As a federally designated Hispanic Serving Institution – with more than 40 percent of our student population being Hispanic – it is important that we support this critical White House Initiative and lead by example,” said UHD President Bill Flores, Ph.D.  “Along with our community partners, UHD is involved in several White House Initiative efforts throughout Houston, and we are proud that our STEM program was selected to support the initiative. Hispanics are rapidly becoming the new majority of Houston and of Texas. So, by investing in and helping to educate future scientists, engineers, and health professionals, we will help keep Houston’s economy strong and growing.”

Through the proposed program, UHD science students will work alongside Hispanic pre-service teachers (PSTs) to help them improve their confidence in the use of inquiry-based teaching techniques and scientific methodology in the classroom. PSTs in the program will use these methods to teach two hours of science lessons weekly at either Crockett Elementary or Braeburn Elementary, both of which have a 95 percent Hispanic student population. In addition to weekly lessons, UHD students will lead the development of science clubs at each of the elementary schools.

The project aims to improve the science teaching methodology of elementary school teachers-in-training and help science majors develop a deeper understanding of scientific concepts through teaching, while encouraging both to commit to serving the community. As a result, the commitment leaders project that students at Crockett and Braeburn will demonstrate an increased interest in science and STEM-related careers. Each of these outcomes will be measured by pre- and post-program surveys.

“Our initiative will prepare children to be proactive in solving problems – such as food security, nutrition and obesity – that affect their daily lives,” said Bhattacharjee. “We can no longer wait for the government to rescue the Hispanic community. We have to find ways to increase capacity and be active agents in seeking solutions to our challenges. I hope that UHD will be a leader in providing students with opportunities to apply their skills to build a community that we all can be proud of it. Working together, we can create a better future for our children and our country.”

To further support these goals, the program plans to secure grant funds to establish the Summer STEM Institute to educate and train future and current teachers and peer leaders in STEM-focused methodology.

For more information about this initiative, visit the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.