UTSA English doctoral program honored as Excelencia in Education finalist

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(Oct. 12, 2011) -- The UTSA doctoral program in English recently was honored by Excelencia in Education as one of America's top programs in increasing degree completion among Latinos at the associate, bachelor's and graduate degree levels. One of 16 finalists among 195 nominees, the program was recognized at a recent ceremony in Washington, D.C., featuring U.S. Under-Secretary of Education Martha J. Kanter.

"For America to achieve President Obama's goal of becoming the world leader in college degrees by 2020, it is vital that we increase degree completion among Latinos," said Kanter. "The successful and innovative programs recognized today are examples of institutions working to do their part, and I commend Excelencia in Education for helping institutional leaders, educators and policy makers to understand these best practices."

UTSA's program was nominated by UTSA English professors Norma E. Cantu and Jeanne Reesman. Reesman leads the program as graduate adviser of record, and Cantu has been associated with the program since its approval in 2001.

Cantu believes several factors led to the program's selection. Sixteen doctorates were awarded, eight of them to Latinos, ranking them among the nation's best. She also cites UTSA's mission to educate students as an Hispanic-serving institution and the program's unique service-learning component.

"We offer them an opportunity, but don't require it. We just encourage them and support the work they do in the community," said Cantu. "This gives them the sense that what they do is not the 'ivory tower disconnect' from the community. It is intimately tied so that the theoretical critical analysis and thinking done in the classroom is translated to something they do in the community."

The service-learning projects include volunteering at the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center and the San Anto Cultural Arts Center. Additionally, doctoral students have assisted teenagers in writing newsletters and taught immigrants to read including Somali immigrants enrolled in a program at San Antonio Clark High School.

"This is the kind of program that can serve as a model for the future," Cantu said. "We don't look at only American and British literature; we also look at comparative literature and culture studies as well as film, drama, performance and a variety of cultural expressions."

Top honors in the associate, baccalaureate and graduate levels were awarded to El Paso Community College, Texas Tech University and Carlos Albizu University in Puerto Rico. All finalists will be included in the Excelencia in Education annual publication "What Works for Latino Students in Higher Education," which will be available for download at the Excelencia in Education website.