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UHD's Urban Education Department wins State's Star Award; Collaboration with LSC makes earning a teaching degree easier

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 / UHD Public Affairs

UHD won the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board's Star Award Nov. 9 for its innovative and collaborative teacher-education degree program. UHD and Lone Star College - Cy Fair and LSC Kingwood won for their collaboration. Pictured, from left, UH System Regent Welcome Wilson, UHD Dean of the College of Public Service Beth Pelz, UHD Chair of the Department of Urban Education, Myrna Cohen, Distance Education Advisor Kim Constantine and Executive Director of Distance Education Louis Evans.

The University of Houston Downtown, Lone Star College-Cy Fair and Lone Star College-Kingwood together won one of four Star Awards from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board Tuesday, Nov. 9, for a collaborative, teacher-education degree program that provides students with a seamless transition from the community college to the university while working with school district partners.

"This award showcases a wonderful collaboration between three institutions of higher education," said Mary E. Smith, coordinating board assistant deputy commissioner for Academic Planning and Policy as she introduced 11 finalists at the organization's 10th Annual Star Awards Ceremony luncheon.

She said reviewers chose the four winners from a pool of 65 nominated programs. Star Awards recognize exemplary contributions toward closing the higher education gaps that challenge Texas residents including increasing the college-going rate of residents, improving college graduation rates and helping more students complete degrees.

Beth Pelz, dean of UHD's College of Public Service that includes the Department of Urban Education, said, "This award recognizes that our approach is innovative, replicable and effective. Ultimately, our faculty has made this program a success."

Myrna Cohen, chair of UHD's Urban Education Program, said UHD focused on creating a program that would be responsive to students. "It was very complicated and difficult in the beginning," she said. "We had to coordinate the work of two very large institutions; we became very good at solving problems."

UHD's partnership with Lone Star College began five years ago and UHD's Louis Evans has been involved from the start. "We realized that there was a demand for teachers and that we needed to provide an affordable and convenient path for many paraprofessionals already working in local school districts," said Evans, now UHD's executive director of Distance Education. Today there are more than 600 students enrolled in the program.

UHD forged its first partnership with Lone Star College - Cy Fair and then expanded the successful program to Lone Star College - Kingwood. Students take all classes on the LSC campuses. Each student completes an associate of arts degree in teaching from LSC and a bachelor of arts degree in interdisciplinary studies with teacher certification from UHD.

The Cy Fair program works most closely with Cy Fair Independent School District for student teaching and classroom observation. The Kingwood program collaborates with Humble ISD and New Caney ISD.

"The Urban Education program is a great program with fantastic professors, and the award was well deserved," Evans said. "It was a team effort that allowed the programs at Cy-Fair and Kingwood to be successful. I especially want to recognize Former Provost Molly Woods, Beth Pelz, Myrna Cohen, Viola Garcia and Janice Nath, associate professors of Urban Education; academic advisors Ana Esparza and Terrilyn Ratcliff and Paulette Purdy, the business administrator for the Department of Public Service.

"I also want to recognize the faculty and our staff in admissions and financial aid. Without everyone's support, the Star Award would not have been possible."

UHD and LSC-Cy Fair worked together to develop an integrated curriculum and agreed to offer courses on weekends and weeknights so that individuals who were already working in the districts could enroll. Evans and Janice Nath, associate professor of Urban Education at UHD, helped get the program launched for fall semester 2006, holding recruiting events, preparing and setting up services to make enrolling in the program as easy as possible.

Those interested in becoming teachers complete an associate of arts degree in teaching at LSC-Cy Fair and a bachelor of arts degree in interdisciplinary studies at UHD. Along the way, they work with advisors who are cross-trained by UHD and LSC to ensure they know what is required. The program is so flexible that students can take courses from both institutions during the same semester to smooth the transition from community college to university.

Other Star Award winners this year: Brazosport College for Learning Frameworks; Texas Women's University's T. Boone Pickens Institute of Health Sciences in Dallas for its "College of Nursing Undergraduate Nursing Weekend Program"; and the 77th Texas State Legislature for Bill 940 that created the state's Joint Admission Medical Program.

Contact UHD Public Affairs at 713-221-8010 or

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