SFA University

June 25, 2020 - Stephen F. Austin State University’s Office of Research and Graduate Studies (ORGS) has announced the recipients of its annual Research and Creative Activity grants. The RCA grant program was created to help support the initial research efforts of SFA faculty members and to help prepare them and their research for submission to national grant programs.

ORGS and the Division of Academic Affairs conduct a university-wide call for proposals, and the deadline for submissions is typically the end of October. The University Research Council conducts a blind peer review of all applications. Grant awardees are notified early in the spring semester, and projects are funded through the remainder of the fiscal year.

This year, ORGS received 13 applications, and the council selected six recipients. Monies awarded totals slightly over $130,000.

2020 Research and Creative Activity Grants

Dr. Carmen Montaña-Schalk - Department of Biology, College of Sciences and Mathematics
Examining the Effects of Predators on Energy and Nutrient Exports across Aquatic-Terrestrial Boundaries

Montaña-Schalk’s study will investigate how aquatic predators (e.g., fish and invertebrates) in permanent ponds influence biomass and transport of nutrient subsidies from water to terrestrial boundaries (e.g., ponds to forest) via amphibian migrations.

Dr. Bidisha Sengupta - Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, College of Sciences and Mathematics
Unraveling the Pathway of Aggregation of Amyloin beta-peptides with the Intention of Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease using Neurotransmitters and Phytochemicals

The aim of Sengupta’s project is to understand the mechanism of the onset of Alzheimer’s disease at the molecular level by studying the unfolding process of amyloid B-peptide (AB). Furthermore, Sengupta will investigate the role of naturally occurring chemicals, including Tryptamine-based sleep regulatory neurotransmitters melatonin and serotonin, and plant flavonols (mono/polyhydroxyflavonoid), against aggregation of AB, which is the key factor for Alzheimer’s disease. This naturopathic noninvasive way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease is likely to create a connection between sleep regulation, healthy diet and dementia.

Dr. Yuhui Weng – Forestry and Spatial Science, Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture.
Effects of Thinning on Needle Decomposition in Loblolly Pine Plantations in the West Gulf Coastal Plain

Thinning is widely used in managing loblolly pine plantations in the West Gulf Coastal Plain region to improve timber productivity and economic benefits. This study focuses on investigating how thinning affects decomposition of needles on the ground and needle nutrient release of loblolly pine — an important issue of plantation ecological environments. The results will provide important messages for managing loblolly pine plantations in the region.

Dr. Jessica Sams - Department of Languages, Cultures and Communication; College of Liberal and Applied Arts
Unreliable Narrators: Dangers of Eyewitness Testimony

Research has demonstrated humans are unreliable narrators because of the fallibility of cognition and memory, yet eyewitness testimony has remained a cornerstone in U.S. court cases. The dangers of eyewitness testimony, especially given by a witness perceived as an expert or authority figure, include the following:
  • narrators are subjective and, therefore, fallible
  • memories are inaccurate, and details shift to create a cohesive narrative
  • original intent or thought is inaccessible and irrecoverable
  • testimony is highly mediated yet presented as natural conversation
  • and identities being performed skew the importance of details and thus affect aspects of memory-making and event-reporting.
This project will address these issues by weaving together findings from research in the fields of cognitive science (e.g., psychology and behavioral neuroscience), linguistics (e.g., conversation analysis, corpus studies and semantics), and the law and will provide original analyses of eyewitness accounts and testimonies with collaboration from Assistant Federal Defender Angela Halim.

Dr. William Nieberding - School of Art, College of Fine Arts
East Texas: A Portrait in Wet-Plate Collodion

East Texas: A Portrait in Wet-Plate Collodion is a photographic project in which portraits and landscapes made with tin, collodion and light create a unique picture of time in East Texas. Nieberding is researching and experimenting with these materials using historical and contemporary chemical formulas to fine combinations that work best for creating expressive tintypes in the heat and humidity of East Texas. A gallery exhibition of the original tintypes and large-scale inkjet prints created through this research will conclude the project.

Dr. Tingting Xu - Department of Education Studies, James I. Perkins College of Education
Redefine Engineering in Early Childhood Education through Professional Development

Xu’s project intends to examine the impact of a summer intensive professional development on kindergarten and first grade classroom teachers’ content and pedagogical knowledge of engineering, as well as their attitudes and efficacy towards teaching engineering. With a time-series research design using mixed methodological approach, it is expected to discover a significant increase in teachers’ content and pedagogical knowledge of engineering, as well as improved attitudes after the professional development.


A traveling exhibition of local photographer Richard Orton’s images of the Upshaw family of Nacogdoches County will be on display July 7 through Aug. 15 at The Cole Art Center at The Old Opera House in downtown Nacogdoches.

June 19, 2020 – The Cole Art Center at The Old Opera House, Stephen F. Austin State University’s historic downtown gallery, will reopen to the public Tuesday, July 7, with a traveling exhibition of local photographer Richard Orton’s images of the Upshaw family of Nacogdoches County on display.

The photographs, which have been featured in an exhibition that’s been traveling across Texas for the past three years, are the focus of Orton’s book, “The Upshaws of County Line: An American Family,” which is a documentation of the County Line community’s history through photographs and oral histories of the families who lived there. Orton became acquainted with the Upshaw family, which had lived for decades in the northwest Nacogdoches County community of County Line, in the late 1980s and began taking photographs for this project, which evolved into a book that was published by the University of North Texas Press in 2014 after 25 years of preparation.

John Handley, director of art galleries at SFA, and Chris Talbot, director of the SFA School of Art, began discussing the possibility of turning Orton's photo project into a traveling exhibition in 2016. After a number of art venues, including universities, expressed interest, the show was printed, framed and prepared for touring. It has been seen in venues at Southwestern University, the Institute of Texan Cultures, Angelina College, Denton UNT Gallery on the Square and the Museum of Big Bend at Sul Ross State University, among others. It last closed in Midland at Midland College at the end of February this year.

Following its display in Cole Art Center next month, the exhibition will become permanently located in a city facility, according to Orton.

“Our plan is to give the exhibit to the City of Nacogdoches as part of its soon-to-be-created collection at the restored Zion Hill Baptist Church,” Orton said. “The city has assured us that the exhibit will continue to be made available to other venues, and that a marketing plan will be made toward that end.”

Three brothers, Guss, Felix and Jim Upshaw, and their families established County Line in the 1870s. What stimulated Orton's curiosity about County Line was how quickly emancipated slaves were able to own their own land, and, as a result, had the opportunity to live relatively autonomous, self-sufficient lives while raising their families in the time of Jim Crow.

"That is why I wanted to make photographs there and collect their oral history," Orton explained. "I was most fortunate to be allowed to do that.

“Though my early visits to County Line were motivated primarily by curiosity and surprise that such places existed (nothing about them in history class), I was drawn in by the warmth of the people who lived there, beginning with Edward Monel and Leota Freeman Upshaw,” he said. “After 25 years, I felt obligated to do something to express my gratitude. That’s when the book started taking shape, and then John Handley made the exhibit possible.

“The Upshaw family has changed my life for the better, and this exhibit is my attempt to say, ‘Thank you,’” he added.

Seven of the nine venues in which the show was exhibited had an opening event that Orton attended. An Upshaw family member attended three of those to talk about the photo project.

“Something I noticed at several of these openings was the way that white people responded to it and the way black people responded,” Orton said. “White folks seemed taken by a history and reality that they did not know about before, and the black folks would say something like ‘that looks like my family.’”

“The Upshaws of County Line: An American Family” is the winner of Ottis Locke Best Coffee Table Book Award from the East Texas Historical Association. The more than 50 duotone photographs and text convey the contemporary experience of growing up in a "freedom colony." 

“I must admit that I knew nothing of the history of freedom colonies in the United States prior to moving to Texas in 2012,” Handley said. “This is partly because there simply is not much information about the subject available, and also, I feel that having been born and raised on the West Coast, I had little opportunity to learn about them.”

A few years after working as the director of the SFA art galleries, Handley recognized the opportunity to transform the Upshaws’ story into a traveling exhibition. The book format was expanded into an exhibition (framed photographs and text panels), marketing materials were developed, and the exhibition was made available to a wide range of institutions at a very low cost.  

“After nine venues, Richard and I agreed that it was time to ‘retire’ the exhibition, but only in a meaningful way – as a gift to an appropriate institution,” Handley said. “Eventually, working with Jessica Sowell with the historic sites here in Nacogdoches, we agreed to transfer the exhibition to the city where it can be further utilized.”

With the advent of CODID-19, SFA art galleries were closed to the public, and summer exhibitions were canceled. However, Cole Art Center will reopen to the public on July 7.

“Considering the rise in awareness about racism and the political climate in the United States, and after talking with both Richard Orton and Chris Talbot, we felt it only appropriate to offer the full exhibition at the Cole Art Center before transferring it to the city,” Handley said. “We here at the School of Art are very proud of this exhibition and its successful tour. I hope locals take the opportunity to come down and see this show.”

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cole Art Center patrons will be required to wear a mask, practice social distancing, comply with designated entrance and exit routes and follow all other CDC guidelines, including maximum capacity restrictions. Larger groups can be accommodated by appointment. There will be no reception. The exhibition will show through Aug. 15.

For information, call the art center at (936) 468-6557.

June 18, 2020 - During one of the last cool mornings in May, an aluminum boat filled with four Stephen F. Austin State University researchers navigated a muddy waterway to a hoop net trap located under the drooping limbs of a streamside tree. As forestry graduate student David Rosenbaum balanced on the bow of the boat and hoisted the trap above the water, Dr. Christopher Schalk, assistant professor of forest wildlife management, released a shout of excitement as the wide, spiked, moss-covered shell of an alligator snapping turtle became visible.
 
While the untrained eye can easily confuse this species with the common snapping turtle, there are distinct characteristics that set the two apart.
 
“The most obvious difference is size,” Schalk said. “Alligator snapping turtles achieve a much larger size than the common snapping turtle.”
 
Schalk said the record weight for a wild-caught alligator snapping turtle is 126 pounds, while the weight of a common snapping turtle ranges from 10 to 35 pounds.
 
Another defining characteristic of the alligator snapping turtle is the appearance of the hard, upper part of the shell known as the carapace.
 
“The alligator snapping turtle has much stronger serrations on the shell and along its edge compared to common snapping turtles,” Schalk said. “However, those can actually wear down over time due to older turtles rubbing up against root banks.”
 
Given its sheer size and prehistoric appearance, it’s not hyperbolic to refer to this species as dinosaurs of the turtle world. Evidence suggests ancestors of the alligator snapping turtle began to appear in the fossil record more than five million years ago during the Miocene era. Since then, descendants of that ancient species carved a niche in the waterways of the Southeastern U.S.
 
However, modern populations of the alligator snapping turtle, the largest freshwater turtle species in North America, have been so drastically reduced that it is now listed as a species of conservation concern by every state within its natural range. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also is considering federal protection of the species under the Endangered Species Act.
 
Rosenbaum explained that life history traits of the species, along with unregulated harvest and habitat loss, have resulted in a cascading destructive effect that recently led Texas to change the species’ status from threatened to imperiled.
 
“They take a long time to reach sexual maturity, and their nests have a really high mortality rate,” Rosenbaum said. “If you kill one adult female in a population it has a huge effect down the line because that female could have produced offspring year after year for 50 years.”
 
Rosenbaum’s research, funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s State Wildlife Grant Program and allocated by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, builds upon previous work conducted by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to determine the species’ distribution and occupancy throughout East Texas.
 
During the next two summers, Rosenbaum will survey 23 sites across 20 counties spanning from the Sabine River north to the Red River and southwest to the Navasota River.
 
“My main goal next summer is to fill in the gaps where records of the alligator snapping turtle are missing,” Rosenbaum said. “There are a few counties that have no records of the species, but the counties surrounding them have documentation and suitable habitat.”
 
In addition to documenting and marking the turtles, Rosenbaum is collecting tissue to analyze the bioaccumulation of mercury.
 
“You tend to see mercury biomagnify as you move up the food chain, so with each trophic transfer, you’re becoming heavier in mercury,” Schalk said. “Alligator snapping turtles are major predators, and a lot of the fish they eat are already high up on the food chain to begin with, so they’re going to potentially be heavier in mercury.”
 
Once prized for its meat, it is illegal to harvest an alligator snapping turtle in Texas, and personal harvest is limited in Louisiana. Despite this, both Schalk and Rosenbaum said illegal poaching still occurs.
 
“In some cases, people are still consuming them,” Schalk said. “Aside from their threatened status, alligator snapping turtles possess traits that, in my opinion, make them an undesirable source of meat because of the way mercury bioaccumulation occurs.”
 
Because the species is almost exclusively aquatic, with females emerging only to nest on land, they can be overshadowed by more visible, terrestrial threatened or endangered species, such as the Texas horned lizard or red-cockaded woodpecker. Their lack of visibility, however, does not imply a lack of ecological importance.
 
“It’s an iconic species here in Texas,” Schalk said. “They’re a good indicator species for a healthy ecosystem — one that’s not overfished and has stable populations that are indicative of low anthropogenic impacts.”
 
In addition to being a top predator, Schalk also explained that the turtles actually produce a considerable amount of food for other animals, such as raccoons, opossums and larger fish through the predation of nests and juveniles.
 
“They’re a pretty easy animal to be enthusiastic about just because they’re so large and aggressive looking,” Rosenbaum said. “There’s definitely an air of mystery and lore about them that makes them attention grabbing.”
 
For more information on this and other research, visit atcofa.sfasu.edu.


 

 
Story by Sarah Fuller, outreach coordinator for Stephen F. Austin State University’s Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture. Contact information: (936) 468-1185 or fullersa@sfasu.edu.


The popular Junior Jacks theatre camp at SFA has transitioned online and transformed
into the Junior Jacks Virtual Experience.

June 16, 2020 - Registration is ongoing for the Junior Jacks Virtual Experience at Stephen F. Austin State University. The popular two-week School of Theatre camp is designed for children entering third through ninth grades. This year’s online camp is scheduled for Monday through Friday, July 27 through Aug. 7.

Junior Jacks was designed as a day-camp version of the highly successful High School Summer Theatre Workshop at SFA, according to Carolyn Conn, associate professor of theatre at SFA and the camp’s director. The fun and exciting summer theatre camp, offered in two age groups, is filling quickly, even in its virtual format, and Conn suggested parents register their children early.

Instead of cancelling Junior Jacks this year because of COVID concerns, Conn decided to put the popular summer camp online at the request of parents.

“I decided to go forward because I was encouraged by parents to do so,” she said. “They told me that kids would need these kinds of outlets more than ever if they were still inside (quarantined)  in July. I want children to have something active and creative to do while remaining in their safe environments.”

All meetings will be hosted on Zoom, and final performances of the students will be recorded and aired on the School of Theatre YouTube channel.

“There will be full group workshops and breakout sessions for small group shows,” Conn said.

Junior Jacks is a community outreach opportunity designed to not only introduce children to theatre, but it also allows the School of Theatre’s teacher certification students to work with students who are younger than high school age. Junior Jacks campers traditionally play theatre games and rehearse plays that will be performed at the camp’s conclusion. This year, it will all be online, with theatre teacher certification students getting valuable online teaching experience, Conn said.

Meeting times are 10am to 12-noon for third through sixth grades and 1 to 3:30pm for seventh through ninth grades. Performances will be recorded on the final day and aired one time only on Aug. 8 on the School of Theatre YouTube channel.

Registration cost is $60 per student and $40 for each additional sibling within a single family. Needs-based scholarships may be available. More information and a registration form can be found at http://www.theatre.sfasu.edu, or contact Conn at conncs@sfasu.edu.


Dr. Jeremy Stovall, professor of forestry at Stephen F. Austin State University, was recently presented with a plaque recognizing his dedication to excellence as Faculty Senate chair by SFA President Dr. Scott Gordon.

June 15, 2020 - Dr. Jeremy Stovall, professor of forestry at Stephen F. Austin State University, was recently presented with a plaque recognizing his dedication to excellence as Faculty Senate chair by SFA President Dr. Scott Gordon.

“I want to congratulate Jeremy Stovall for leading our Faculty Senate during this past year,” Gordon said. “We will all remember 2019-2020 as the academic year that saw a worldwide health crisis as a result of COVID-19. Jeremy was a shining star and handled this critical leadership role with careful thought and compassion.”

The Faculty Senate, which includes 32 faculty members, serves as an advisory body to the provost and president, acting as one of the main means of communication between faculty and administrators. Senators are elected by the faculty of each college, the library and non-tenure track faculty.

Chairing the senate for a year, Stovall served out of a desire to learn more about how SFA functions as an institution. As circumstances began changing in mid-March, Stovall worked closely with the senate and administration to find solutions.

“COVID-19 presented the Faculty Senate with unprecedented challenges in quick succession these past several months,” Stovall said. “Fortunately, we had talented faculty serving on the senate who did all they could to meet these challenges. Dr. Gordon, Dr. Bullard and the entirety of the SFA administration worked diligently to collaborate with the Faculty Senate and our leadership, providing an excellent example of shared governance.”

To learn more about the Faculty Senate, sfasu.edu/facsenate/.

By Joanna Armstrong, marketing communications specialist for Stephen F. Austin State University.


Stephen F. Austin State University’s Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture is establishing a silvopasture demonstration area, which combines the production of trees with an understory component of forage for livestock, at the Walter C. Todd Agricultural Research Center. The demonstration area also provides environmental and financial benefits.

June 8, 2020 — Thanks to a Conservation Innovation Grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Stephen F. Austin State University’s Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture is moving forward with the establishment of a silvopasture demonstration area at the Walter C. Todd Agricultural Research Center.

“Silvopasture is an agroforestry practice that combines the production of trees with an understory component of forage for livestock,” said Jason Grogan, research associate with the Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture.

Grogan explained that the system provides myriad benefits, including soil protection, carbon sequestration and improved weight gain in cattle during the hot summer months, as well as overall efficiency in land utilization.

The combination of long-term income from timber sales along with annual income from livestock production can be economically beneficial to producers — especially those with relatively small acreage tracts.

The demonstration area is unique in that it will provide landowners with insight into transitioning to a silvopasture system from a heavily forested area, as well as from bare pastureland.

Currently, Grogan is overseeing the thinning of a dense pine plantation to create open rows in which native grasses will be planted for livestock forage. In an adjacent area without trees, brush will be cleared to allow for the planting of native grasses and loblolly pines.

Grogan said pines will be planted in groups of three rows with a 30-foot gap between each grouping. In addition to space for grazing, this gap also will allow hay to be baled.

“The area we’re converting from bare pasture to silvopasture will have to remain free of livestock for about three years until the pine trees are large enough to not be damaged by livestock,” Grogan said.

Although the area will heavily focus on demonstration and outreach, Grogan said there will be opportunities for research.

“We’re hoping to look at the efficiency of using goats to control woody vines and vegetation rather than herbicide when converting a forest to silvopasture,” Grogan said.

Landowners interested in learning more about this agricultural system won’t be the only beneficiaries of the new demonstration area — the SFA cattle herd also will graze there.

A public field day is tentatively scheduled for January. For more information on silvopasture or the demonstration area, contact Grogan at (936) 468-5588 or jgrogan@sfasu.edu.

Story by Sarah Fuller, outreach coordinator for Stephen F. Austin State University’s Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture. Contact information: (936) 468-1185 or fullersa@sfasu.edu.

May 27, 2020 - Every year, seniors in Stephen F. Austin State University’s interior design program take their final projects on the road to major Texas cities to receive feedback and obtain job leads.

Their travel was canceled this year because of COVID-19.

Like other designers around the country, the students decided to move their work online to showcase how they create beautiful spaces while focusing on safety, economy and utility.

The SFA senior interior design student website organizes the seniors by the cities they’re hoping to work in — Austin, Dallas and Houston — and presents their portfolios and résumés for potential employers to explore.

Jennifer Luque, adjunct professor of interior design in SFA’s School of Human Sciences, helped create the website and taught the seniors’ portfolio course during the spring semester.

“This is the next best thing to exhibiting in person,” Luque said. “What some have interpreted as a challenge, we have taken as an opportunity.”

She sent the website’s URL to the International Interior Design Association Texas/Oklahoma Chapter and the American Society of Interior Designers Texas Gulf Coast Chapter. Those organizations have agreed to share the website with their members, including thousands of interior designers, firms and industry professionals, according to Luque.

“In some ways, the students are receiving more exposure and a chance to share their graduate portfolios with individuals across the region,” she said.

Luque added that one student was hired just by sharing the site with friends, family members and firms asking SFA about recent interior design graduates.

Trekeva Cotledge of Whitehouse and Madison McDaniel of Mount Pleasant are two of the nearly dozen students featured on the website.

Cotledge’s portion of the website includes her designs for furniture, a condo and a long-term care facility.

“I aim to give back to the community and help clients’ dreams come true through strategy and dedication,” she said.

Cotledge hopes to obtain a second degree in architecture and start her own business.

McDaniel’s volunteer work refurbishing furniture for the “Chairished Blessings” fundraiser and designing bath houses for the homeless for Love In the Name of Christ, an organization in Nacogdoches committed to transforming lives, informs her design philosophy.

“A good designer needs to be able to see and create beautiful, functional spaces,” she said.

Her portion of the site features both residential and retail designs.

For more information on these future designers’ work, visit the SFA senior interior design student website at https://sfasuinteriordesign.wixsite.com/sfasu-2020portfolios. For more information on SFA’s interior design program, contact program coordinator Leisha Bridwell at (936) 468-2371, or lbridwell@sfasu.edu.
 


Stephen F. Austin State University, Interior Design Seniors (Photo by Hardy Meredith)

 

May 26, 2020 -  As students across the nation adjust to the altered academic landscape, students at Stephen F. Austin State University are preparing to attend a virtual commencement May 30, which is designed to celebrate their achievements in spite of the challenges faced this semester due to the impact of COVID-19.

Through a series of videos, students will have access to the commencement address by SFA alumnus Michael Calbert, chairman of the board of Dollar General; and addresses by SFA President Dr. Scott Gordon; Dr. Steve Bullard, provost and vice president for academic affairs; and Craig Turnage, executive director of alumni relations, as well as a version of the school song created with video clips submitted by many of the graduating students.

Michael Calbert, a 1984 Stephen F. Austin State University alumnus and Dollar General chairman of the board, will deliver the commencement address as part of SFA virtual commencement May 30.

Calbert, a 1984 SFA accounting graduate and East Texas native, worked as an auditor at Arthur Andersen and later joined U.S.-based private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Co. before retiring in 2014. In addition to Dollar General, he also serves on other corporate boards.

SFA graduate Annemarie Price said she plans to celebrate the day with a personal touch. Price, a marketing major from Katy, will have two very special guests in attendance — her dogs Astro and Travis dressed for the occasion in suits and ties — as she accepts her diploma at home from her parents. While it’s not exactly the celebration she had planned with friends from around the state gathered at Johnson Coliseum to watch her walk the stage, it’s enough for now.

“When I found out graduations were being canceled, it was important for me to redirect my focus on what I could control, what was truly important and what I could look forward to during this crisis,” Price said. “The class of 2020 won’t get the typical walk across the stage right now, but we will each have a unique celebration, which we will not easily forget.”

Other students are planning on simple celebrations with immediate family.

“My plan for graduation is to dress in a cap and gown and walk across my house as if it were a stage,” said Rachel Ballback, health science major from The Woodlands, who was named Miss SFA in March. “Even though I imagined the day to be much different, I am grateful SFA is offering an alternative.”

Price offered congratulations to her fellow graduates for persevering through an unprecedented situation.

“You have adapted and overcome in unexpected and unpredictable circumstances,” she said. “You should be proud of what you have accomplished.”

Degrees to be awarded include 1,188 bachelor’s, 294 master’s and two doctoral degrees. More than 468 students will graduate with honors, including 155 cum laude, 152 magna cum laude and 152 summa cum laude. Seventy-nine will graduate with the university scholar designation.

The ceremony will be available to view beginning at 6 a.m. May 30 at sfasu.edu/commencement.

May 20, 2020 - Jordan Stanford, a sophomore agricultural development major at Stephen F. Austin State University, was recently selected as one of 14 university students from across the U.S. to serve as a 2020-21 National Teach Ag ambassador.
 

“I have always felt called to agricultural education,” Stanford said. “To help others find their calling in this amazing career is something I look forward to as a part of this program.”
 
Stanford serves as a student representative on the Teach Ag Texas Committee. The national ambassadors begin training this summer and will later be tasked with engaging students visiting the Teach Ag booth at the 93rd National FFA Convention this October in Indianapolis, Indiana. They also will host similar booths and workshops in their own states to promote the need for high-quality, diverse agriculture teachers.
 
The National Teach Ag Ambassador Program was developed in an effort to address the current, nationwide high demand for agriculture teachers in the U.S. This need is the result of retirements, current program growth, new programs opening, as well as current teachers leaving the profession to explore other career opportunities.
 
“I am excited for Jordan, and I know she will make a great contribution in recruiting future agriculture teachers in Texas,” said Dr. Candis Carraway, assistant professor of agriculture at SFA. “We know the training she receives through this program will enable her to make a bigger impact in our state.”
 
The National Teach Ag Campaign is an initiative of the National Council for Agricultural Education, led by the National Association of Agricultural Educators. Funding for the National Teach Ag Campaign is provided by the CHS Foundation, Corteva Agriscience, Growth Energy and BASF as a special project of the National FFA Foundation. For more information about the campaign, visit http://www.naae.org/teachag.

May 19, 2020 - Finishing spring semester 2020 studies, which have been online, in the midst of a worldwide pandemic would be stressful for any college student. But imagine yourself as a fine arts student who had chosen this academic year to study abroad.

Separated from family, friends and familiar surroundings, students involved in an ongoing exchange between Stephen F. Austin State University and Rose Bruford College in the United Kingdom have an added set of challenges that comes with being thousands of miles from support systems at home amid overwhelming fear of the unknown.

The relationship between SFA and Rose Bruford, the leading professional theatre school in the university sector in England, extends more than 25 years. SFA theatre students who spend a year at Rose Bruford have the opportunity to study in Sidcup, Kent, which is just outside of London, Spain, Estonia, Prague and other parts of Europe. Similarly, Rose Bruford students who come to SFA can fulfill American Theatre Arts program requirements here.


Alli Beck

Alli Beck, senior theatre major from Nacogdoches, and Dustin Barnes, senior theatre major from Needville, are in London completing their last few courses at Rose Bruford. Beck describes the past few months as “a whirlwind” amid the worldwide COVID-19 crisis.“My studies at Rose Bruford are continuing, but they are the least of my worries during all of this,” she said. “It’s been really hard to motivate myself to be invested in the modules left to finish in the midst of this uncertainty.”

Barnes describes these past few months as “lonely, more than anything.”
 


Dustin Barnes

“It’s hard to go from going to the college every day and being able to see friends, to rarely seeing, let alone interacting with, another person,” he said. “Most days I can keep myself busy by finding online resources that help me continue to learn about things I’m interested in. But some days, I just lie in bed and watch Netflix or Disney Plus.”

The United Kingdom government began its lockdown on March 23, but due to Barnes’ own health conditions, his doctors had already told him to stay home the week before.

“So I’ve been at home for about eight weeks now,” he said. “This fell in line with Rose Bruford’s Easter break, so, luckily, the faculty and staff here had about a month to prepare and make the switch to online where possible.”

From about December to February, Beck was on break and free from classes. In February, her coursework sent her to the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague to do an Erasmus (EuRopean Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students) program and study at DAMU (Academy of Performing Arts) until May. But after only a month of being there, the pandemic forced her to return to England.

“My roommates in London all went back home and I was left alone, so a friend is letting me live with them and their family for the remainder of my stay,” she said. “I’m currently still finishing an Erasmus Project from Prague as well as starting a design module at Rose Bruford. During this time, I’ve had the opportunity to spend my time learning more about my personal interests when I’m not ‘in class.’”
 


Ruth Sanders

Rose Bruford theatre student Ruth Saunders, who had begun her studies at SFA only in January, returned home immediately following spring break as a result of the pandemic. Arriving in Texas on Jan. 6, Saunders said she met “amazing people” who helped her move in and navigate the campus. In the two months that followed, she enjoyed exploring a new culture, meeting new people and taking theatre courses at SFA.

“We got to midterms, and I was so excited to continue the semester while looking forward to spring break,” Saunders said. “I went away on a trip to Eagle Rock Loop and enjoyed every minute.”

Then, everything changed.

“My 21st birthday was the 15th of March, and then I was on a plane home on the 16th of March,” she said. “While a complete shock, I was so thankful to my friends who helped me to get packed up and were so understanding. After a week or so, I figured out how best to work from the U.K. while juggling work from Bruford, too.”

Beck said she’s concerned she won’t be able to return home when she is ready, or that something will happen to her family while she is so far away. She is challenged by “knowing, once I do come back home, it won’t be the same place anymore, and I will no longer be able to enjoy all the things I’ve missed over this year.”

“My greatest fear has been around my flight home,” Barnes said. “The airline I am using is only giving updates about a month in advance for flights, so I won’t get any information on whether or not my flight home will be on schedule for another month or so. At the moment, I’m finishing up my finals at Bruford, and then I plan to fly back home to Texas in July to take online classes for Summer II at SFA so I can have an easier last semester before I graduate in December.”

Upon returning to the U.K. and juggling the demands of online classes, Saunders has found it difficult to stay in contact with her new SFA friends. “Working online was difficult, but that wasn't the hardest thing,” she said. “I was so challenged in not seeing my friends who I had spent the last two months getting to know.” She hopes to return to Texas in the next year or two.

Like most of the world today, Beck isn’t sure what the future holds for her academically and professionally.

“Our directing project, which was supposed to be over at the end of June, is now possibly being pushed into July or August, if we can meet in person by then,” she said. “I’ll either be coming home in June or August based on this decision. Until then, I’ll be spending my days reading, listening to podcasts, exercising and studying.”

Amid all the challenges and uncertainties, the students said there are some valuable lessons to be learned. Saunders said she cherishes the short time she was at SFA, the new friends she met and what she learned about theatre in different parts of the world … “seeing how the same industry can look so similar, yet be different.”

“For me, the most valuable lesson has been to make the most of each day you’re able to go to class, be with friends and family, or even take a trip to the store,” Barnes said, “because you never know when all of that may just go away.”

“I’ve acquired a whole new perspective on society, the government and the lengths – or lack thereof – that humans will go to keep each other safe,” Beck said. “This experience has been one of personal growth.”

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