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Where Are They Now? Meet several outstanding DDCE grad student alums

In the past 10 years, the DDCE has sponsored more than 120 graduate students. During their time in the division, they worked with mentors and took advantage of professional development opportunities to prepare for their future careers. We caught up with a few outstanding alums to learn more about their good work and how they are improving the cultural landscape of higher education.

Institutional Support Consultant TG (Texas Guaranteed)

image of student Dr. Manuel Gonzalez (M.Ed., ’09, Ph.D., Educational Administration, ’14) was one of the first team members for Project MALES, a research-based mentoring program that helps Latino boys and young men enter the college pipeline. Now Gonzalez is traveling the country, working with higher education institutions to improve their recruitment and retention strategies.

Takeaway from UT days
“Grad school is more than just coursework, presentations and dissertations. It is an opportunity to deeply explore your research interests, to expand your critical understanding of the world, and to experience diversity of thought and passion.”

Current position
“The fact that I get to help minority-serving institutions meet their goals of improving access to higher education and successful degree completion for underrepresented students and communities is something that excites me every day.”

Assistant Professor and Director of the Ph.D. in School Improvement Program, Texas State University

image of student With more than a dozen peer-reviewed articles and book chapters in her portfolio, Dr. Melissa Martinez (Ph.D., Educational Administration, ’10) is now in her sixth year—and up for tenure—at Texas State University.

Standout UT experience
A native of the Rio Grande Valley and a former bilingual elementary school teacher, Martinez discovered an interest in her cultural past while taking the Equity and Access in Higher Education course taught by Dr. Gregory Vincent, vice president for diversity and community engagement. “I’d never read so much for a course in my life, nor had I truly engaged with readings and learned so much
about the history of schooling for Mexican Americans in this country. It was a very unsettling experience to know that while I was born and raised in Texas, this was the first time I looked more in-depth into my own community’s history.”

Mentors matter
Martinez attributes much of her success to her mentor Dr. Victor Sáenz, professor in the College of Education and director of Project MALES. “One of the keys to his success has been his ability to stay grounded and truly engage with people in meaningful ways.”

Assistant Professor, Educational Leadership, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

image of student As an undergrad, Dr. Ryan Miller (B.J., Print Journalism, ’07/Ph.D., Educational Administration, ’15) worked on the university’s first campus climate study related to the LGBTQ+ community and worked for the DDCE in its early days. After earning a master’s degree at Harvard, he returned to the DDCE first as a staff member and later as a graduate student and postdoc.

Current research
Miller launched a new project this year investigating faculty members’ strategies for teaching undergraduates about diversity in today’s political climate.

Takeaway from UT days
“It was interesting to see all the perennially controversial issues in higher education—affirmative action, state funding, guns on campus, free speech, the contested mission of the university—play out at UT Austin. Learning and working at such an institution is an unparalleled opportunity.”

Assistant Professor, Higher Education and Community College Leadership, Iowa State University

image of student Dr. Sarah Rodriguez grew up in the East Texas town of Eustace. After staying close to home and earning a bachelor’s degree at Texas A&M University-Commerce, she received her master’s degree from the University of Tennessee before coming to UT Austin to earn her Ph.D. in Higher Education Leadership in 2015.

Mentors matter
Rodriguez is thankful for the constellation of support provided by her personal coaches, challengers and cheerleaders including Drs. Beth Bukoski of the College of Education; Charles Lu of the Longhorn Center for Academic Excellence; Tina Jackson of the Charles A. Dana Center; and Victor Sáenz of Project MALES.

Current position
“We have an incredible team and a strong focus on the role of social justice in education. Even though I remain in a Lone Star state of mind, I could not imagine being in a better place than Iowa State University.”


Executive Director for Access and Diversity, Weber State University

image of student After working as deputy to Dr. Gregory Vincent, Dr. Romo completed his doctorate and became director of Project MALES. Now in snowy Ogden, Utah, Romo (Ph.D., Educational Administration,’12) has put down roots at Weber State and has become active in city government, serving on two commissions, including Ogden’s first-ever Diversity Commission.

Takeaway from UT days
“The biggest lesson is accepting the failure and sacrifices that each one of us goes through on our academic journey. It is humbling!”

Current position
“What I love about my current position is the unique opportunity to start a new area providing much-needed resources, co-curricular activities and opportunities to assist historically underrepresented students. I get to work with students, parents, stakeholders, administrators, legislators, educators and many others to understand how disenfranchised some of these students are and why it’s imperative to listen to their needs and provide options that will eventually lead them to a college degree.”

Associate Director for the Minority Achievement, Creativity and High-Ability (MACH-III) Center, Prairie View A&M University

Dr. Stella Smith (B.S., Microbiology, ’97/Ph.D., Educational Leadership and Administration, ’13) was at UT Austin for more than 20 years as an undergraduate student, full-time staff member, graduate student and postdoc.

Mentors matter
Smith names several mentors who were influential for different reasons, beginning with Dr. Gregory Vincent, who helped her become a strategic thinker. Others include Dr. Sherri Sanders, who helped her support colleagues as people, not just coworkers; Dr. Richard Reddick, who taught her how to make research accessible to everyone; Dr. Aileen Bumphus, who taught Smith to dream big; and Dr. Wanda Nelson, who always modeled a level of grace and poise.

Current position
“The best aspect of my job is leading research initiatives that will enhance the narrative around how to support underrepresented students, faculty and administrators throughout the P-20 education spectrum.”

Assistant Professor of Educational Policy, Organizations and Policy, Iowa State University

image of student Dr. Daniel Spikes (B.A., English, ’01/Ph.D., Educational Administration, ’14) worked in several education pipeline programs, including the Longhorn Center for School Partnerships and the Neighborhood Longhorns Program. Now at Iowa State University, he has been recognized for his dedication to the university and the community through his work with Des Moines schools.

Research interests
Spikes studies the practices of schools and school leaders that serve to perpetuate or ameliorate racial disparities in education.

Mentors matters
Spikes is grateful for all his mentors, especially Dr. Mark Gooden, professor in the College of Education. “He took time out to ensure that I was prepared to enter academia, and he genuinely cared for me as a person. To this day, we are still closely connected as I work to get tenure.”