College of Public Service August/September 2023 Newsletter

University of Houston Downtown. Determined. Dedicated.
Welcome New Gators!

Welcome from the Dean

Dean Jonathan Schwartz of the College of Public Service

WELCOME BACK! It is refreshing to see our students fill the halls here at the College of Public Service. I hope you had an enjoyable summer and are ready to engage in both your classes and activities in the College and at the University this semester. We have a lot planned! If you haven’t, I also hope you explore our College of Public Service Student Groups. Please take a look below to read about people/things you likely will not find about anywhere else. And remember, we are here for you. Stay connected and let us know how we can make life at the College of Public Service the best it can be for you.

Some Tips for Success

Dr. Cynae Punch Brown

Dr. Cynae Punch Brown, says: “Speak up: If you are having challenges, or have questions, don't wait for someone else to ask. You have the right to ask questions on your road to success. 🙂”

Dr. Diane Miller

Similarly, Dr. Diane Miller suggests you “Ask for help. Your professors are ready to help, but they can’t help if they aren’t aware of your specific need.”

Dr. Miller also suggests you “Find a buddy (or two…or three!) on the first day of class and exchange contact information. This is helpful to have—especially when you get caught in traffic or want to check on a detail from class.

Keep everything! For many degree programs, the classes build upon one another, even if they’re not listed formally as prerequisites. Notes or assignments from previous semesters often prove to be useful resources for later classes.

Stay organized and save the important stuff (and isn’t it all “important stuff”?!?) in multiple places (e.g., not just on the 5 yr.-old flash drive that swims at the bottom of your backpack).

Ask the professor about the relevance of textbooks to future classes before you sell everything back at the end of the semester. Some resources will continue to be useful until graduation…and beyond.

NEW! Student Study Lounge

Empowerment Youth members in the CPS Study Lounge

Good News! Room C-222, located diagonally across from the second floor elevators is now a space for students to study, work on group projects, or just sit and relax. The room currently has three computers, a projector, whiteboards, and desks and chairs that can be arranged as needed. Effective August 21, 2023, this room will be available to students as a study lounge from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. The room will remain unlocked during those hours.

Education Majors, Kaira Renteria and Yesenia Turcios enjoy the grand opening of the CPS Study Lounge

Welcome to Commerce Connects!

Commerce Connects is dedicated to providing volunteer opportunities for all UHD students especially for freshman in the fields of Criminal Justice, Social Work, and Urban Education while they are taking their core classes. We want you to experience, first-hand, through project-based opportunities, what life is like in those career fields. As the Student Program Coordinator, I provide volunteer opportunities and recruit students to gain experience in their preferred CPS major. I contact nonprofits and agencies to coordinate volunteer events for our students. I am regularly present during outreach events such as welcome weeks and resources fairs, providing students with information on the organization. Commerce Connects allows students to experience unique volunteer opportunities to explore the worlds of Criminal Justice, Social Work, and Urban Education.

Please feel free to contact us with any additional questions.

Student Groups

SWSCAN Official Logo

SWSCAN is a social work-based organization dedicated to contributing to our campus, community, and each other. SWSCAN’s core values consist of valuing community service, volunteering, networking, and peer support. Though SWSCAN is social work-based, students of all majors are welcome to join!

SWSCAN Members at a home event.

Highlights: Graduation cord for active members, along with service, networking, and leadership opportunities. If you’re interested in joining SWSCAN, please email the officers at uhdswscan@gmail.com for more information!

Phi Alpha Honor Society for Social Workers - TAU DELTA CHAPTER

The purpose of Phi Alpha is to provide a closer bond among social work students and promote humanitarian goals and ideals. Phi Alpha fosters high standards of education for social workers and invites into membership those who have attained excellence in scholarship and achievement in social work.

Highlights: Some highlights of being a member of Phi Alpha are an induction ceremony to honor new members on their accomplishments, a certificate of membership, a membership pin, and graduation honor cords, along with service, networking, and leadership opportunities.

Phi Alpha Honor Society Honors Cord Ceremony.

To join Phi Alpha, you must have completed 9 credit hours in the Bachelor of Social Work program and have a GPA in the top 35% of all social work majors. You will receive an email from the Chapter President inviting you to join if you have qualified. If you have more questions, please contact the officers at uhdphialphaofficers@gmail.com for more information!

Alpha Phi Sigma, Criminal Justice Honor Society

Alpha Phi Sigma is a national honors society for criminal justice students. The purpose of Alpha Phi Sigma is to promote academic excellence, educational leadership, unity, and community service. Membership is open to undergraduate and graduate criminal justice students. To qualify for membership undergraduate students must have completed 12 hours of undergraduate criminal justice coursework, maintain a 3.2 GPA in criminal justice courses, and maintain an overall GPA of 3.2. Graduate students must complete 9 hours of criminal justice graduate courses, maintain a 3.4 GPA in criminal justice coursework, and an overall GPA of 3.4. Members of Alpha Phi Sigma have the unique opportunity to network with other criminal justice students as well as professionals in the field of criminal justice. Someone that qualifies for membership of Alpha Phi Sigma at UHD will gain access to all our chapter events and can wear the Alpha Phi Sigma regalia at graduation if they maintain a good standing with the organization.

Alpha Phi Sigma over the last year has had the opportunity to tour the Gulfton Opportunity Center, the Forensic Science Center, attend a College Safety Day event at Crime Stoppers Houston, and participate in numerous volunteer opportunities with Crime Stoppers Houston. One of the largest volunteer opportunities with Crime Stoppers Houston was helping pack backpacks and hand them out at the Crime Stoppers Houston Backpack donation drive. All of this is in addition to our own chapter events like our Meet and Greet. As well as our biannual end of semester Banquet to recognize our new and graduating members.

You can find out more information about our organization on the UHD website which has information about the application process, membership fees, and other requirements for membership. You can also visit us on Instagram at @uhd_aps.

Alpha Phi Sigma visiting Houston Crime Stoppers.
Alpha Phi Sigma Spring Banquet 2023

STAR Lab Wins AARP Grant

The Service, Teaching, Aging, and Research (S.T.A.R.) Lab recently won a very competitive AARP grant that will provide 70 seniors at Houston’s Big Bass Apartments with 70 electronic tablets. Ten UHD students will be engaged in training and supporting the seniors in the use of the tablets through 10 interactive sessions.

2023 AARP Community Challenge Grant Winner

The tablets are a means of supporting seniors to be more connected to resources and opportunities they might not be aware of. The opportunity provides our students with a way to engage with and learn from seniors in our community. The one-on-one interaction between generations is what the S.T.A.R. Lab hopes to promote through its work in the community. If you’d like to participate in other S.T.A.R. Lab initiatives, please contact Dr. Goins at goinsa@uhd.edu.

Be a STAR Teacher at UHD!

The Department of Urban Education Faculty, pictured here at the Fall Faculty Retreat, is excited and ready for the 2023-2024 academic year. They are proud to roll out the theme for this year: "Be a STAR Teacher at UHD!" You are invited to visit our 4th-floor offices to see how we are decorating and DOING with this mindset.

Urban Education Faculty taking part in the CPS Family Night.

Urban Education & Special Education

In the last decade, there has been a movement to provide adequate education to all students with special needs in general education classrooms. Data from the National Center of Educational Statistics (2021) indicate that nearly 70% of students with special educational needs receive education in general education classrooms. However, research indicates that most general and special education teachers need to become more familiar with the special education process and procedures.

Students in PED/SPED 3301 Mock Parent/Teacher/Admin conference.

Dr. Ashwini (AshTiwari's Introduction to Special Populations class PED/SPED 3301 class did a mock Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) activity. This role-play activity involved going through the steps to determine eligibility and developing an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for special education. Students were given group assignments, and they prepared for their assigned role in a mock admission, review, and dismissal (ARD) that was presented to the class. Each group was given a real-life scenario reflecting the responsibilities and rights of the professionals, the student, and the family as they collaborated in planning an appropriate educational program for the student. Students wrote a summative and reflective paper on the ARD process in which they raved about the assignment.

Students in PED/SPED 3301 Mock Parent/Teacher/Admin conference.

Dr. Tiwari believes that for all the prospective teachers, their future roles and responsibilities would include going through ARD to provide special education services to their students. This role-play activity will provide valuable experiences that help UHD students fully prepare for their roles in the education of special education students.

Summer Fun at the College of Public Service

Environmental Science Summer Institute

Environmental Science Summer Institute at the College of Public Service.

In the recent months, Dr. Albrecht, Dr. Burks, Dr. Morano, and I (Dr. Jeffrey) have been diligently working on our Let’s Go Outside – Urban Explorers Girls STEAM Academy project, which has kept our grant team busy, but filled with immense enthusiasm about the next phase of our program.

Environmental Science Summer Institute adventures at Brazos Bend State Park.

Please take a look at this video compiled by Dr. Burks. It offers a vivid portrayal of the captivating experiences and engaging activities that were a part of our Environmental Science Summer Institute. It provides a glimpse into the essence of our initiative and the impact it has had on our school district-university partners and UHD students.

Environmental Science Summer Institute adventures at Sheldon Lake State Park.

UHD Urban Education Students and Alumni Participate in NASA Educator Workshop

This summer, six UHD Urban Education students and alumni participated in an in-person pilot workshop focused on NASA’s Next Gen STEM at NASA Johnson Space Center. This inaugural workshop, developed by NASA’s Educator Professional Development (EPD) team, centered around NASA Next Gen STEM topics including the Moon, Aeronaut X, the Solar System and Beyond, and Earth. The goal of the workshop and the EPD team was to increase teachers’ confidence in using NASA STEM resources and engagement opportunities within their classrooms.

Four current UHD teacher candidates – Tekina Adams, Sabrina Gibson, Brenda Gonzalez, and Johanna Rodriguez – and two alumni – Aaron Caple and Brittney Smith – joined over 30 educators from across the country to learn how to implement NASA’s K-12 activities tied to NASA missions in their classrooms. Brittney Smith, a UHD alumnus and Pre-Kindergarten teacher, was excited to participate because she “always thought NASA was so cool growing up and I love science. This PD [professional development] opportunity was perfect for me.”

UHD students and alumni were invited to participate in the pilot workshop due to a standing relationship between the Department of Urban Education and NASA’s Johnson Space Center and Next Gen STEM. This partnership, initiated in 2015, has enabled teacher candidates in the urban education program to work with and learn from NASA educators and interact with astronauts aboard the International Space Station through a live educational downlink. Dr. Franklin Allaire, Associate Professor of Science Education in the Department of Urban Education explained that “the partnership between UHD and NASA has been a wonderful opportunity for our students to learn directly from science education professionals and to engage in classroom-ready activities developed by NASA.”

Urban Education Major, Tekina Adams

To ensure their successful participation, the College of Public Service, led by Dean Jonathan Schwartz, reimbursed current UHD students up to $500 for the cost of travel and accommodations related to the workshop. Additionally, workshop participants can qualify for a $500 stipend upon the completion of all pre- and post-workshop requirements.

On top of participating in hands-on science lessons and activities, workshop participants were treated to tours of the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility and the Mission Control Center at NASA Johnson Space Center. Participants also got to meet and learn from subject matter experts including educator-turned-NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold and European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano.

“This workshop, like other NASA-related opportunities, are professionally life-shaping and life-changing for our students. Our students will be better teachers because of this experience,” said Dr. Allaire. Cindy Hasselbring, NASA K-12 Education Advisor for Next Gen STEM, noted that “we really enjoyed having [UHD students and alumni] and hope that this experience helps they have a strong start in the teaching profession and gives them the tools to use to capture and encourage students’ interest in STEM!”

With a new school year starting, all the UHD participants in the Next Gen STEM 101 workshop now have a responsibility to implement the lessons and activities they have learned. Smith explained that her next steps “are to implement some of the activities into my lessons this year while also showing my colleagues NASA Connects.”

College of Public Service Student and Family Welcome Night

Provost Dr. Bordelon, with Dr. Jeffery, Assistant Professor of Urban Education.

On August 22nd, we held our 2nd Annual College of Public Service Family Night. Our newest gators and their families joined President Blanchard, Provost Bordelon, and several CPS faculty members and staff to learn more about the University and the College in particular. We enjoyed a meal together and even had a special Kids’ Corner for our future Gators!

Dr. L. Blanchard​, President of the University of Houston-Downtown.
Assistant Dean Robles shares about resources available to students at the University of Houston-Downtown.
Are you thinking about Grad school at the College Public Service?

Dr. Beth Pelz: A Dean Who Made a Difference

While it seems obvious to us now, Aristotle was the first to notice that every story has a beginning, middle, and an end. Regarding endings, he wrote that they should be “surprising, yet inevitable,” meaning that we shouldn’t see them coming, but, once they happen, it should seem as if things couldn’t have unfolded any other way.

Dr. Beth Pelz, Dean of the College of Public Service

As the 35-year career of Dr. Beth Pelz, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice and former Dean of the College of Public Service (CPS), comes to a close, it is certainly surprising to take stock of all of her accomplishments here at UHD, given the fact that, many times, Dr. Pelz was often asked to, as she said, “create programs and pathways with string, glue, and tape.” And while the outstanding results she achieved are surprising, anyone who knows Dr. Pelz’s character would say that they were inevitable given her "creative energy” (as a former dean once put it), as well as her tenacity and vision. All these qualities, along with an abiding care for students and her community, made her decades of success all but a certainty.

Speaker Dr. Kevin Buckler, Chair of Criminal Justice & Social Work

Regarding her time in the classroom, Dr. Pelz said she enjoyed teaching, as it afforded her the chance to “interact with students who were being introduced to the Criminal Justice System,” as well as introduce them to “the history, functions, and goals” of the law enforcement, courts, and corrections systems. She went on to say that such classes allowed her to emphasize the impact crime has not just on victims, but on entire communities. Apart from those lessons, Dr. Pelz hopes that all her Criminal Justice students know that they can and should be leaders “both at the administrative and street levels.” Ethical behavior and policy-driven performance are crucial, as is servant leadership—all of these, she said, “engender trust.”

As for her administrative accomplishments, well ... those are many, too. Dr. Pelz was the founding dean of the College of Public Service (2003-2014), and the inaugural Chair of the Department of Criminal Justice (1999-2003). She also oversaw the development of the University’s first master’s degree (Master of Science in Criminal Justice). And while the story of Dr. Pelz’s career is ending, her influence is not, as the colleagues, students, and Houstonians she impacted continue to live out her legacy. Thank you, Dr. Pelz, for making UHD and Houston more thoughtful and humane.

Student Spotlight

Urban Education Major and Jack of All Trades - Shawn Bays

Shawn Bays, is a senior Urban Education major. He currently works during the day and attends school at night. When not at work or school, he enjoys spending time with his lovely wife Renee and son Gavin.

Shawn chose UHD as he felt like it would give him the best chance of preparing for the classroom. He has a very strong computer science background and while he taught previously in his old career, he wanted more firsthand experience. “I had very little hands-on training in the elementary classroom. I felt pursuing this degree would give me some real-world experience and allow me the chance to really grow as an educator.”

“The experience has been incredible and transformative. UHD has truly supported my passion for volunteering in our community and helping different organizations grow. At UHD, I currently take part in three student organizations, Kappa Dela Pi, Be a Teacher Club, and the Social Ambassadors for College of Public Service. I also help out with all the other clubs on campus, and you can see me at all the major events. I enjoy helping other clubs with organizing events as well as using my background to design their website or build servers for them. I love to volunteer and cultivate the sense of belonging to something greater. I hope to use my passion to help build a communal spirit wherever I go. I hope to make an impact and have others feel valued. I also hope to inspire others to pursue their own passions and understand the significance of community. “

Shawn wishes to express his gratitude to all his professors including, Dr. White, Dr. Perez, Dr. Beebe, as well as Mr. Marc Williams for always being there for him and for igniting his fervor for the education field, for the support they have always provided along his journey, and for their unwavering dedication in helping him succeed.

Faculty/Staff Spotlight

Leslie Sirriani, LCSW-S, Director of Field Education, Lecturer, Department of Social Work

Leslie was born in Savannah, Georgia, but didn’t live there long. Her dad was a pilot in the Air Force, "so we moved every 2-3 years to different locations throughout the United States. However, since both of my parents are from Texas, I have always considered Texas my home base and have lived here for the past 25 years."

After graduating from Auburn University with a BS degree in Organizational Management, Leslie decided to follow in her father’s footsteps and go into the Air Force where she served for seven and a half years as a staff officer. That is where she met her husband, Joe, a fellow officer. While she enjoyed her time in the military, she made the decision to leave the AF and focus on raising her kids. "Being a mother was, and continues to be, the most profound and meaningful experience of my life, but after several years serving as classroom mother and driving carpool, I knew I needed to find something more." That’s when she found the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer program. Serving as a CASA volunteer for 5 years changed everything. Working directly with children and families involved in foster care, experiencing first-hand the extent to which the system was unable to attend to their trauma and the complexities of their lives was an epiphany for her. This was when she heard her call to social work.

"I was thrilled to be accepted into the Masters of Social Work program at UT Austin and proud to receive my degree the year before my oldest graduated from high school. It wasn’t easy going back to school – I worried I would feel old or out of place. But those feelings were immediately replaced with a resonance and connection to the work that has never left."

Social work has brought her a breadth of amazing experiences: providing direct clinical services to both adults and children, serving as both interventionist and program coordinator for several federally funded research projects, working for a non-profit delivering in-home counseling services, and providing workshops and trainings to health care professionals across the country.

"I am most grateful that my social work journey has now led me to the University of Houston -Downtown. It truly is a dream come true for me to have the honor and privilege of serving the students and staff as Director of Field Education and Lecturer for this extraordinary program and I look forward to contributing to its growing success."

Alumni Spotlight

Diana Rodriguez, Criminal Justice

After graduating in December of 2014 with a Bachelor’s of Science in Criminal Justice, Diana earned a position with TRIAD; a Harris County program that provides countywide prevention and early intervention services to divert youth and families from involvement with the CPS, mental health and/or juvenile justice systems. As a Liaison, one of the JP court judges she worked with was Judge JoAnn Delgado. Judge noticed her passion for helping others and encouraged Diana to engage more, to hold the education system more accountable, to seek more resources, and to learn more – do more. "Through her guidance, I did. She believed in me, so I did too."

Diana decided to return to UHD to pursue her Master of Science in Criminal Justice. Her first goal as a returning student – find a way to get connected. Her first in-person class was research methods and design with Dr. Ashley Blackburn (a continued mentor). She suggested I meet with Dr. Nina Barbieri to join APS - Alpha Phi Sigma Criminal Justice Honor Society. "I did just that."

In December of 2020, Diana became the first person in her family to receive a master’s degree and decided - "why stop now?" I applied for the doctoral program in criminology at The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) and was accepted to begin in the Fall 2021 semester where I remain in pursuit of being part of the one percent of Latinas who earn a PhD."

Some words of advice:

Before you plan where you’re going, find the people who believe in you and build relationships that will help get you through whatever life has planned for you; everything you will become depends on it.

Embrace the need to pivot – you control almost nothing in life.

Change is inevitable and uncomfortable – choose to grow because of it.

Life is unfair so be grateful as often as possible for the smallest of reasons.

You are loved, you are worthy of dignity and respect, and you are never alone.

Save the Dates!

The CPS Dean’s List Awards are Wed. September 6th from 4-5 pm., and Thurs. September 7th from 4-5 p.m. both events will be held in the Wilhelmina Cullen Robertson Auditorium, A-350, in the One Main Building.


Dr. Stackhouse and Dr. Beebe were funded a Title 5 Pathways to Teaching in Critical Areas of Need Grant Award in the amount: $2,588,121.

Dr. Lizette Burks, Dr. Abdelnasser Hussein and Dr. Diane Miller. They were awarded a Powell grant for $150,000 to support our new Master’s of Educational Leadership Program.

Dr. Stackhouse and her team of high school researchers were funded to participate in the AERA Youth Teams in Educational Research Program.

Dr. Eve Zehavi, Dr. Ron Beebe, and Dr. Diane Miller on their funded Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board Grant. The four UH System Universities collaborated on this proposal and were awarded $245,409 in total. UHD will receive close to $62,000 to support improving our alternative certification program.

Dean Schwartz was appointed by the President of the Texas Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (TACTE) as the Chair of the Legislative Committee.

vitalvoices logo

• Monday, September 11th at 6 p.m. Suicide Prevention: Creating Hope through Action. Join UHD’s Dr. Shahnaz Savani, Dr. Robin Gearing from the University of Houston, Jennifer Battle from Harris Health, and Dr. Anish Cherian, live via zoom, from the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences in India. Event held live in C-100 or via zoom. Register.

Suicide Prevention: Creating Hope Through Action flyer

• Wednesday, September 20th from 5:30 p.m. – 7 p.m. Present Day Predators: Understanding and Combatting Child Exploitation. Join special guests, Tony Goodwin and Brandon Poor, otherwise known as the Catfish Cops for a wildly interesting look at the underside of childhood sexual exploitation. Event held live in C-100 or via zoom. Register.

• Thursday, September 21st from 9:30 – 11:30 a.m. It Takes a Village: A Panel Discussion with the professionals involved in combatting childhood sexual exploitation. A HPD police officer, a forensic interviewing, an assistant attorney general, a victim advocate, and the Catfish Cops are joined by Dr. Beth Gilmore to discuss the teamwork involved in combatting this modern day evil. Event will be held live in C-100 and via zoom. Register.

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University of Houston-Downtown, Determined. Dedicated.