This spring, two experts in the fields of alternative education and innovative entrepreneurship participated in the Spring DDCE Lecture Series to share their expertise with the campus community. Below are some takeaways from the two events.
On Tuesday, Feb. 5, Rubén Cantú, executive director of inclusive innovation and entrepreneurship, gave a talk titled “How Inclusivity Drives Innovation in Today’s Leading Companies.” With a focus on tech industry marketing, he shared insight into how to create more opportunities for collaboration and innovation.
The first step, he noted, is to dig deep and assess your own personal biases.
“I dare and challenge you to not see the world through one lens,” Cantú said. “When you mix all these different lenses, you’ll find more opportunities to leverage.”
When the discussion moved toward higher education, Cantú emphasized the need to create interactive classroom environments to prepare students, particularly underrepresented students of color, for the new world of work.
“Students need to learn how to think critically—and to be on their feet,” he said. “We need them to think like executives. In terms of bridging the wealth gap, our students of color are way behind—and we need to improve the status quo.”
Visit the Inclusive Innovation and Entrepreneurship website to learn more about Cantú’s good work in promoting new opportunities and generational wealth for traditionally underserved students and community members.
On Wednesday, Feb. 20, Dr. Melissa Chavez, associate vice president and the superintendent of the University of Texas Charter School System (UT-UCS) discussed best practices in K-12 alternative education programs.
Joined by three UT-UCS administrators—Nicole Whetstone, Holly Engleman and Melissa Ruffin—Chavez gave an overview of the UT-UCS system, which serves about 300 students annually in various campuses across Texas. She also discussed their efforts in receiving an “A” rating from the Texas Educational Agency—a remarkable achievement given the serious challenges UT-UCS students are facing on a daily basis.
“Our students don’t have to choose between education and mental health,” Chavez said. “We provide support for both.”
The students’ educational challenges center around what types of trauma they have experienced. Notably, 50 to 70 percent of the students have been exposed to trauma. High mobility rates and movement in and out of the foster care system present other challenges.
“Most of the students have lost educational opportunities through multiple placements and mobility,” Chavez said. “Some students may have already been in eight to ten school districts.”
A big part of Chavez and Whetstone’s vision for the charter sites involves creating a sense of normalcy for all students, including participation in field trips, school performances and recognition ceremonies as well and in outdoor activities such as horticulture and caring for animals.
“We try to find opportunities for our students to shine in different ways,” Whetstone said. “Very often our students have never had the experience of participating in ceremonies to honor the students—and they love it.”