MID YEAR IMPACT REPORT
Rama Hamarneh, Dr. Jonathan Kaplan, and Tom Leddy-Cecere
Refugee Student Mentor Program In 2015, the Department of Middle Eastern Studies (MES) began a collaboration with the Austin Independent School District (AISD) to not only provide an essential service to our community, but also to provide volunteer opportunities for UT students with foreign language skills to serve as mentors to refugee elementary students. This serviceâ€“oriented idea came to MES faculty member Jonathan Kaplan, when he saw an influx of refugee children in his daughterâ€™s elementary school. What started as a small program in just one school, quickly grew into a volunteer program with over 50 UT students working with Arabic, Persian, and Pashto speaking students at 16 AISD schools.
In 2016, Ph.D. Candidates Tom Leddy-Cecere and Rama Hamarneh were named co-coordinators of the Refugee Student Mentor Program (RSMP). We asked Rama Hamarneh to tell us more about the RSMP and their recent HornRaiser* campaign.
Tell us about the HornRaiser campaign to help raise funds for student mentor transportation. What inspired you to create this campaign? We sought to raise funds to expand our ability to aid AISD students. Historically, most refugee families move further north and east after their first year in Austin, and, as a result, move further away from mentors. We had a number of mentors who wanted to volunteer, but could not reach the schools by their own means. This left a large number of AISD students out of our reach. Typically, our mentors would spend one to two hours on public transit getting to and from the schools. This would leave less time to spend mentoring students. We knew it was hindering our ability to do this important work, so we started trying to find a solution for the transportation problem. We knew Hornraiser would be a great fit and it all grew from there. How did support impact this initiative? The vast majority of our donations came from individuals, which was really encouraging to see! Many of the gifts came from UT faculty, staff, and families of our student mentors. The number of people who wanted to support the RSMP showed us that people from different parts of the community, see value in our program. We are so fortunate to have
a supportive community that want to see us continue to grow as a program and presence in Austin. Our donors made it possible for us to provide transportation for our student mentors. With the donated funds, we opened a group account with a local ride-share company. This made it possible for mentors to carpool to AISD schools not easily reached by public transport. This allows us to transport more mentors to students in need, and maximizes the time spent with the students. Do you have any stories about the Refugee Student Mentor Program that you would like to share? One of our mentors volunteered at an elementary school twice a week before coming to class. She would give me regular updates about the students she was working with each week. One student needed help in math, and desperately wanted to take her math tests with the rest of her class. After one month, the mentor came in with the biggest smile on her face. She held up a crayon drawing of her with the student. Written on top of the drawing in big block letters was “THANK YOU!” The student was able to take her first math test with her classmates. It was truly inspiring to have received regular updates on their progress and to watch her get to know the students as she worked with them.
*HornRaiser is the official crowdfunding platform of The University of Texas. It features opportunities to support the university’s unique and diverse research projects, student initiatives, and socially compelling activities. HornRaiser is where your gift — big or small — can make a tremendous impact.
Lisa Heffernan, Dean Randy Diehl, and Mary Dell Harrington
UT Alumna Mary Dell Harrington and Lisa Heffernan met while volunteering at their childrenâ€™s school. Mary Dell recalls that she and Lisa â€œlargely ignored our responsibilities and talked incessantly about the changes happening in our lives, as our eldest sons were on the threshold of walking out of our thresholds.â€? Those Tuesday morning conversations were the beginning of what would become Grown and Flown, an online community for parents of young adults aged 15-25.
Grown and Flown Mary Dell, you are the co-founder of Grown and Flown. Would you mind telling us more about it? There are many sites that address parenting little kids, but almost nothing for parents of high school and college kids. This is a time when the challenges of parenting are the hardest; the decisions are the most consequential. My co-founder, Lisa Heffernan, (who is a New York Times Bestselling author) and I started Grown and Flown because we saw a lack of resources for parents, like us, who had kids in this age group. We now have over 200 writers, including high
school teachers, college professors, physicians, and therapists who have helped us amass a library of more than 1200 blog posts that are all targeted to this readership. We publish new content daily, which we share across many platforms on social media, especially Facebook. We have also appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, Money Magazine, and we were recently named by People Magazine as 2 of 25 Women Who are Changing the World. That was a big surprise and we were deeply honored to be included. We also started a Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group a little more than two years
ago and it has become a highly-engaged community of 55,000 parents who regularly tell us how much they learn from the other members and how much they love being part of the group. They ask questions, share ideas, get together, and form friendships all over the country. At a time when our country is so politically divided, this is one place where we come together and all agree with the goal of wanting to be the best parent we can be. How did you discover that there were students who were unable to furnish their dorm rooms with basic supplies? The National Retail Federation estimates that parents spend close to $1000 outfitting their kids each year in college. We know that these kinds of expenditures are simply out of reach for many families, especially given the high cost of tuition, room, and board. Dean Diehl has spoken about UTâ€™s powerful work in identifying and reducing barriers that some students face while completing college. Economic need is a huge aspect of that. You were able to rally support from fellow UT Alums; would you share how this came about? Donations came from the UT Alumni community, primarily from the College of Liberal Arts Advisory Council, which I joined
a few years ago. Dean Diehl and Kathleen Aronson supported our initiative and expressed their personal commitment to the council members. Our Facebook group, where there are members of the UT community, was also very supportive of the project. In 2017, Grown and Flown supplied 225 students with dorm supplies. What is your goal for 2018 and how can people help? We hope to return to UT to help more college students and would like to scale the program to other colleges or universities nationwide. Last year a retail partner sold us high quality merchandise at a discount and managed the logistics of shipping thousands of items to the Office of Student Success, where they organized the dorm items so the students could easily pick them up on Move-in Day. We are looking for a retailer who has that capability and, of course, donors, for financial support. The first days of college can be an intimidating time for most students, but, if we are able to help these kids create a comfortable dorm setting with all the basics they need, in the same way we would do so for our own kids, we hope they feel a little more at home in their very first days as Longhorns.
Janet M. Davis, Professor Distinguished Teaching Professor Professor of American Studies and History Associate Director, Plan II Honors How would you describe your teaching style? My teaching style is dialogical, enthusiastic, and dedicated to showing how the past and the present are deeply interconnected. As part of my dialogical style, I promote an intergenerational conversation between my students and their relatives. I teach a range of coursesâ€”from large lecture historical survey courses that count toward the Legislative Requirement in American History to specialized seminar courses. Even in my largest lecture courses, I encourage my students to ask questions at any time. Open dialogue is essential to creating a generative learning environment. I frequently bring artifacts from my own family history into my courses, such as my great-grandmotherâ€™s diary as a teenager in Santa Ana, California, during the 1870s, or my motherâ€™s war ration booklet from World War II. My students enthusiastically respond in kind with their own family histories and artifacts. I learn so much from their experiences. What is the most rewarding part of being a professor? The most rewarding part of being a professor is the interconnected journey of learning through research, writing, and teaching as part of a dedicated community of students and scholars. I love being able to dig deeply in the archives, make historical sense of my findings in my writing, and then share my excitement for learning and research with my students, fellow scholars, and wider publics. It is so rewarding to help my students become better communicators as they become clearer and more
graceful writers. Additionally, I routinely work with journalists, documentary filmmakers, museum curators, and playwrights, which is really satisfying and an essential part of my mission as an educator outside of the classroom. Last summer, for example, I talked about circus history to the public under a canvas tent at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., as part of the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival. You teach a course titled, Animals and American Culture. Did this inspire you to write your most recent book, The Gospel of Kindness: Animal Welfare and the Making of Modern America (Oxford University Press, 2016)? My course, Animals and American Culture, transformed my original book idea, a history of animal welfare in the United States, into The Gospel of Kindness, which explores the historical relationship between animal protectionism and American values at home and abroad from the 1830s to the eve of World War II. In my class, I ask students to think about what the American history survey looks like if we place animals at its center. This very big question helped me think big about the historical significance of animal protectionism, especially given its close relationship to better known social movements, such as temperance, asylum reform, and abolitionism. How does your research inform your teaching? My teaching and research constantly reinforce each other. My commitment to accessibility and narrative clarity in the classroom makes me a better historian and my scholarly research makes me a more effective teacher. My scholarship on the American circus enriches my classroom discussions of the rise of the railroads, urbanization, immigration and assimilation, the dissolution of Victorian gender norms, physical culture, racial segregation, and the genesis of the nationâ€™s overseas empire. My
scholarship on animals allows my students to encounter a seemingly foreign past powered by animal muscle, in which drovers guided cattle, thundering cheek and jowl, down Wall Street as late as the 1870s. Students also learn how wandering pigs and cows were a major flashpoint between European settlers and Native Americans in colonial America. My students analyze the extraordinary significance of whaling to the early American economy; they understand the centrality of the horse to the building of modern America. My research on animals has also inspired me to transform my teaching: as a Provost Teaching Fellow (2015-2017), I developed a service learning initiative, which I am now implementing in my course, Animals and American Culture. Students are completing their service learning hours at either the Austin Animal Center or the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Both locations offer rich opportunities to wed the major historical themes we are studying in class to broader forms of community engagement. You are a fellow of the Trice Professorship in Plan II and the Eleanor Butt Crook Endowment; how does private support help your research and teaching? Private support is incredibly important to my research and teachingâ€”helping me travel to archives and helping me participate in exciting and innovative new teaching practices. The Trice Professorship in Plan II and the Eleanor Butt Crook Endowment allows me to work directly with the remarkable Plan II thesis students. We meet weekly to brainstorm ideas, work through the process of generating a thesis statement, and I point students to archival resources, secondary literature, and potential thesis supervisors and second readers. The process mirrors my own research, which, once again demonstrates that my research and my teaching are mutually constitutive.
website: liberalarts.utexas.edu phone: 512-471-8861 The College of Liberal Arts The University of Texas at Austin 116 Inner Campus Dr., Stop G6000 Austin, TX 78712