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, 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.”
“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.’”
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.”
May 14, 2020 - The Stephen F. Austin State University Rusche College of Business recently secured a corporate partnership with Mustang Machinery Company, Ltd., a company that sells and rents construction equipment and engines and operates under the name Mustang Cat.
The partnership allows Mustang Cat the opportunity for exclusive access to branding and recruiting possibilities within the College of Business. It also provides students within the college a platform to increase their network while pursuing job and internship opportunities. Details of the partnership include corporate branding, signage, class visits, student prospecting for jobs and internships, and more. Dr. Timothy Bisping, dean of the College of Business, said partnerships like the one with Mustang Cat provide another avenue for students to succeed.
“Partnering with Mustang Cat allows more opportunities for our students to expand their professional skills and explore career options,” Bisping said. “Our goal is to provide a real-world business environment for our students, grow programs, and continue to offer as many opportunities for our students as possible. Corporate partnerships, like the one we have with Mustang Cat, allow us to do this.”
Austin Propes, parts manager of Mustang Cat, feels confident in the partnership.
“Mustang Cat employs many talented alumni from SFA and being involved with the university helps with our ongoing recruiting efforts,” Propes said. “As a family owned local company, supporting a local university like SFA is something Mustang Cat is happy to do and very proud of.”
Mustang Cat joins Hajoca, Kohl’s and Fastenal on the list of College of Business corporate partners. For more information, contact Bisping at (936) 468-3101 or email@example.com.
May 13, 2020 - A new concentration available through Stephen F. Austin State University’s Master of Education in educational leadership prepares students to become leaders in the field of public-school athletic administration.
Beginning this fall, the James I. Perkins College of Education at SFA is offering an athletic director concentration that provides the needed skills and knowledge to effectively supervise both coaches and student-athletes.
“The Master of Education in educational leadership program at SFA has a rich history of preparing effective and capable school leaders who influence the educational setting and focus on instruction for student success, but the addition of a program specifically for future athletic directors is a new one,” said Dr. Barbara Qualls, director of SFA’s educational leadership program.
“Students are already enrolling in a cohort for this new program,” she added.
Through this 30-hour, completely online program, students can earn an educational leadership master’s degree, develop athletic administration skills and meet many of the requirements for eventual principal certification, all while remaining fully employed.
“In each course, a field-based component connects the university coursework with transformative leadership experiences in the school setting,” Qualls said. “The students complete assigned and creative experiences that directly apply to each course and comply with the Texas core competencies for administrators and Educational Leadership Constituent Council standards.”
Scholarships are available for the program.
For more information, email Qualls at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Although Rojas returned to her home in Fort Worth when SFA’s campus closed in March due to the pandemic, she’s still helping the food pantry and its clients.
“I call clients to ensure they have food to tide them over,” Rojas said. “I also contact area grocers to organize the collection of boxes the pantry uses to package food for distribution. What others may see as simple tasks can be much more. A phone call or cardboard box can make a difference in how many people we can feed in a given week.”
Rojas also mobilizes volunteers to help ensure the pantry is stocked and remains open.
“Lizette’s ability to be extremely organized and create order in a chaotic situation has impressed me throughout this pandemic,” Cordova said. “Nacogdoches is a unique community in that you must be able to network and do it well. Lizette came into an agency that was already well-respected, and she has worked very hard to bring it to a level that is now even more visible and appreciated.
Rojas said she has spent the majority of her internship closely working with individuals and families in need of food or financial assistance. Some of the areas she’s helped to address include working to stop family violence, closing the health-care gap, harnessing technology for social good and ending economic inequality.
“Those who receive services from HOPE come from all walks of life, and their priority is the need for food, but sometimes they need more. Some clients may need referrals to housing, employment, medical or transportation services, and some may just want someone to listen and offer them the motivation to continue along their paths.”
As the pandemic’s effects continue, Rojas said she is determined to stay focused on making a difference — from SFA’s campus or elsewhere. “Although I’m not physically in Nacogdoches, I’m there in spirit,” Rojas said. “It’s important to me to continue my work helping my East Texas community.”
For more information about Nacogdoches HOPE, visit www.nacogdocheshope.com.
May 12, 2020 - Stephen F. Austin State University’s School of Human Sciences is now offering a Bachelor of Science in construction management.
A partnership among SFA’s Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture, College of Sciences and Mathematics, James I. Perkins College of Education and Rusche College of Business, the construction management program began in fall 2019.
The degree’s courses focus on management and design skills, as well as the knowledge of business, sustainability, building construction and safety codes necessary to succeed in this field. They also prepare students to take the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Associate exam.
“This degree provides students with a broad-based knowledge of the construction industry combined with a solid general education and extensive training in business management,” said Sally Ann Swearingen, associate professor of construction management and interior design in SFA’s School of Human Sciences. “Students pursuing this degree also examine the regulations, planning, design, theory and methods used in the construction field.”
The 120-hour, four-year degree plan includes a six-hour internship and teaches students how to coordinate and supervise workers, handle unexpected issues and delays, work with customers, and select personnel and subcontractors for specific tasks to meet demanding deadlines.
Students also learn about the construction methods and technologies they need to interpret contracts and technical drawings and discuss them with architects, engineers and building owners. In addition, they study how to write proposals, budgets and plans and how to document progress.
Swearingen said the school is working to make 90% of the degree’s courses available online within two years along with creating on-campus minisessions for labs. SFA also is creating an external board for the program that will include representatives from major construction companies.
Salary estimates for this industry range from $60,000 to $90,000 based on residential to heavy construction.
“The job outlook for this field is good because of the growing population and the new residences, retail outlets, schools and office buildings that go along with that,” Swearingen said. “The need to improve the nation's infrastructure of roads, bridges and sewer pipe systems and to make buildings more energy efficient also makes this a great career choice.”
For more information, contact Swearingen at (936) 468-2048 or email@example.com.
May 12, 2020 - The Stanley Center for Speech and Language Disorders at Stephen F. Austin State University will provide speech and/or language teletherapy beginning June 1 for current clients of all ages and anyone receiving services through the school system or other clinics closed due to COVID-19.
It also will offer a limited number of online evaluations for potential clients.
SFA graduate students will provide the clients’ teletherapy with “100% supervision from a licensed speech-language pathologist,” said Deena Petersen, clinic director.
Like other health service providers, the Stanley Center for Speech and Language Disorders has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We hope to open the clinic this summer to provide face-to-face services, but for now all services will be delivered via teletherapy,” Petersen said.
The clinic’s annual summer literacy camp will be offered during SFA’s Summer 1 session through teletherapy. This camp focuses on literacy instruction through small groups and is available to children who will be entering kindergarten this fall or who are in first or second grade and struggling with reading.
“It will be teletherapy that focuses on letters, letter sounds and decoding words,” Petersen said. “A limited number of groups will be available.”
The clinic also is offering speech therapy to those with Parkinson’s disease at no charge via teletherapy.
For more information about these teletherapy services and limited online evaluations, call (936) 468-7109.
Dr. Jamie Humphries, associate professor in the Stephen F. Austin State University Rusche College of Business, uses data visualization to convert complex data sets into usable business intelligence.
May 11, 2020 - This semester’s special-topics class in a business communication at Stephen F. Austin State University started out as a crash-course in data visualization, with students tracking financial and logistics information as well as the occurrence and location of wildfires, both nationally and in Texas, using Tableau software.
A data junkie who has made a career out of turning opaque statistics into usable business intelligence, Dr. Jamie Humphries, associate professor in the Rusche College of Business, is at his best when tracking something big, something arcane that can be polished, packaged and brought to the conference-room table.
So, it was no surprise that when COVID-19 emerged as an all-consuming pandemic generating a global avalanche of data, that Humphries would realize the opportunity for his students. Quickly plugging into the public Johns Hopkins University database, continually updated with correlated data from 30 global sources, Humphries asked his students to create custom, interactive COVID-19 dashboards.
Under the guidance of Dr. Jamie Humphries, associate professor in the Stephen F. Austin State University Rusche College of Business, students created interactive dashboards to track and interpret COVID-19 data.
Once the basics were in place, students were asked to be inventive, to start benchmarking and tracking adjacent data like Wall Street trading to see which stocks crash and those that sizzle during a pandemic, fever charts for hotel stays and, of course, the virus’ curve and its associated death and infection rates. The more granular the better.
Though the COVID-19 project was not on the syllabus at the beginning of the semester, it’s going to be a graded assignment. And it’s also providing a golden opportunity for students to experience what it’s like in the private sector post-graduation.
“You have to pivot,” Humphries said. “You have to find something new.”
Creating customized dashboards to track a virus the size of COVID-19 has been great for the three business and two forestry students enrolled in this semester’s class. By the time it’s over, they should be qualified to take the Tableau software exam for desktop specialist and be halfway through their preparation to qualify as a certified associate, both sought-after credentials in multiple disciplines.
Humphries, in only his second semester at SFA, said the COVID-19 project has tapped into the best impulses of his students.
“These students are a lot smarter than what we give them credit for, and they can be creative,” Humphries said. “You don’t have to ask them to do it. They just do it.”
Once COVID-19 transitions into recovery and the data becomes historical, Humphries said it will still have a great deal of value for students learning the foundations of data visualization. He plans on returning to the pandemic issue, and introducing new topics, this fall.
Regardless of the topic – pandemic, the stock market, wildfires or the opioid crisis – the goal of data visualization is always the same.
“Take data and turn it into a story,” Humphries said. “No one wants to look at a spreadsheet.”
To see Humphries discuss his COVID-19 tracking process with business students, visit bit.ly/2Ll697W.
By Richard Massey, marketing communications specialist at Stephen F. Austin State University.
“When we said goodbye for spring break, my students and I didn’t get a chance to savor the moment because we thought we would be right back,” said Alyssa Landreneaux, a fifth-grade teacher at the school.
Since March 16, the Monday after spring break in Nacogdoches, SFA Charter School’s 250 students in kindergarten through fifth grade have been sheltering in place at home with their families due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As a teacher, your instinct is to be in the classroom learning with students each and every day,” said Madison Taylor, a first-grade teacher at the school. “The loss of this time together is hard to grasp, not just for the loss of in-person academic learning but also for the time and relationships between students.”
Lysa Hagan, principal and chief executive officer of the charter school, said the empty hallways and classrooms in the Janice A. Pattillo Early Childhood Research Center initially made her sad.
“Then it came to me that I knew exactly where to find everyone; the children and teachers were just in a different place,” she said. “I simply opened Seesaw, and there they all were laughing, talking and learning with one another.”
When schools around the state closed, the more than 30 SFA Charter School teachers sprang into action to provide high-quality online instruction through a remote learning platform called Seesaw.
Teachers use this platform to post videos of themselves teaching lessons and giving instructions for student work. In return, students can record themselves completing their work verbally or submit written answers. Then teachers assess student work and provide feedback to each student all within the same online area.
“Although all the teachers are using the Seesaw platform, each class is unique,” said Natalie Cardenas, SFA Charter School academic coordinator. “We are still able to assess each student’s needs, differentiate lessons for them and continue with the curriculum we have always used.”
Landreneaux said SFA Charter School teachers in the upper grade levels were already familiar with Seesaw and guided the other teachers in transitioning online. In the span of a few faculty meetings, expectations for learning were set, and a tentative curriculum calendar was established. In just days, many classrooms were up and running, and students were logging in and enjoying the lessons.
“Teacher instruction and learner response have been amazing!” Hagan said. “When everything else seemed uncertain in our world, school was the normal our students could count on.”
Following Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards, the teachers prioritized math and reading lessons and integrated science, writing and social studies curriculum throughout those lessons. Also, just as they would in their physical classrooms, teachers responded to individual student needs by modifying lessons and providing extensions.
“Our exceptional teachers are so grounded in our constructivist philosophy of learning that the how and what to teach were not even a discussion,” Hagan said. “We simply had to support one another to make the curriculum fit into the online platforms we had available. The instruction teachers are providing online is exactly like what the children experience in the face-to-face classroom.”
SFA students working toward teaching certificates also have successfully participated in the charter school’s online instruction.
“Our teacher candidates are still providing TEKS-based lessons following the same structure as when they were live in the classroom. They teach, assess and reteach just like before,” Hagan said.
Physical education, art and music lessons are posted each week to promote physical and creative growth, and students can choose which day of the week they want to complete these.
“Some teachers post fun how-to videos, such as how to catch a mudbug at the creek or bake a coconut meringue pie,” Landreneaux added. “Our goal is to have 100% student participation schoolwide, so teachers are working hard to keep the learning engaging.”
Students have taken advantage of the online platform to respond to their lessons in new ways.
“The creativity students are able to express through the different modes of communication on Seesaw have allowed for their thoughts to shine,” Taylor said. “The option to type, write, voice record or even video themselves has opened up a line of communication for students to express their thoughts on the learning in an interactive and engaging way.”
Landreneaux believes teachers will continue to use Seesaw even after the school reopens to provide more opportunities for differentiation, small group learning and at-home enrichment now that families are familiar with the platform.
In addition to Seesaw, charter school teachers are using their workshop approach via Zoom to continue fostering classroom communities and help students maintain their relationships with each other through real-time instruction. Zoom activities include book groups, small-group specific skill instruction, whole-group community meetings and large blocks of independent work time during which teachers give individual students feedback.
“Seeing the joy that lights up students’ faces when they see a classmate on the screen or begin to understand something more clearly through a small group lesson is something that every teacher is living for in our time online,” Taylor said.
Without the leadership of SFA Charter School administrators and her fellow teachers, Taylor said her online lessons would not be as successful.
“Something that is so amazing about the SFA Charter School family is that we are just that, a family — a family who works together, supports each other and encourages each member,” Taylor said.
Students’ parents and caregivers are a big part of the charter school family, too. They have been the teachers’ biggest allies throughout the online learning transition, according to Taylor.
“They are truly a partner in this process. Their support and involvement in the online lessons and activities have played a huge role in the learning of their children,” she said. “Not only are they an outstanding component of at-home learning, but the support and words of encouragement they have expressed for their teachers are appreciated more than they know.”
Landreneaux said the parents are working just as hard as the teachers. “They’re asking questions and making suggestions for improvement.”
Hagan added, “Our parents had to be the information technology department for a while. As students became more fluent with the learning technology, I think parent anxiety tremendously decreased.”
She said a grandmother of two charter school students shares her home-schooling experiences through Instagram posts.
Though this new online teaching and learning format has been successful in many ways, it still presents challenges, Cardenas said.
Some SFA Charter School families do not have internet access, so they must pick up a packet of materials every Monday when they return the student’s work from the previous week.
“Determining which children have access to technology and which need a paper packet for the week has been one obstacle,” Cardenas said.
So far, less than 5% of the students have needed or chosen the packets, and they receive real-time feedback from their teachers through phone calls.
Accountability also has been a challenge.
“Holding students and families accountable in a time like this is difficult,” Cardenas said. “Every family has a different situation, and expecting them to fulfill their own everyday needs and assist with their child’s lessons can be tough. Parents are doing their best.”
Despite these challenges, charter school teachers have been able to gather the data needed to provide progress reports for each child.
As the end of the school year draws closer, Landreneaux’s biggest concern is that her fifth-grade students won’t get to experience the customary charter school send-offs before they head into middle school.
“There will be no fifth-grade talent show or celebratory pool party,” she said. “I won’t get the chance to read one more book to them on the rug or hug them as they walk across the stage in our traditional graduation ceremony. Virtual learning just can’t replace these personal moments.”
The charter school is hoping to provide some closure to the 2019-20 academic school year by holding two graduation vehicle parades — one for the kindergarteners and one for the fifth graders — featuring mortarboards and tassels. These parades will celebrate students’ achievements on the last day of school in the ECRC parking lot.
Taylor also feels the loss of in-person moments, but she, Cardenas, Hagan, Landreneaux and the rest of the SFA Charter School family are making the best of the current situation and looking toward the future.
“Children are resilient, and they are learners,” Taylor said. “I know with the hard work of our teachers, the support from families and the love of learning from Junior Jacks, we will start out next year just as positively as we leave this one.”
May 7, 2020 - For East Texas students who look forward to participating in the Art Academy each summer at Stephen F. Austin State University, news that the current COVID-19 pandemic had forced the academy’s cancellation this year was disappointing.
But, to fill that void, SFA art education students put their talents to work creating art instruction videos that highlight art and cultural and historical art traditions.
Several videos were created immediately following spring break to launch the series of tutorials, and new ones are continuously being added as an alternative to the School of Art’s summer academy. Many of the tutorials require materials that can commonly be found around the house or easily obtained.
To access the art lessons, visit the YouTube channel: SFA Art Education Home Art Lessons.