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Pennsylvania Humanities Council Celebrates Playwright August Wilson In New Initiative

Pennsylvania Humanities Council

Originally Posted: October 8, 2021

Brittany Levingston is a 2014 graduate in the SMU Department of English

Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) is pleased to announce its partnership with Dr. Brittany Levingston, one of the 41 newest Leading Edge Fellows, who will develop a series of statewide programs centered on the renowned works of Pennsylvania playwright August Wilson.

The Leading Edge Fellowship is an initiative of the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) that aims to demonstrate the potential of people with advanced degrees in the humanities and humanistic social sciences to solve problems outside the academy. It recently underwent a major expansion with the support of a $3.6 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The fellowship program features outstanding PhDs in the humanities that have been placed with nonprofits to support initiatives advancing social justice and equity in communities across the United States. Fellows receive an annual stipend, as well as health insurance and professional development support.

“As we look forward with hope to our emergence from the pandemic, we also feel a sense of urgency in helping humanistic scholars work with others to create a better, more inclusive future,” said ACLS President Joy Connolly. “This impressive group reflects our commitment to supporting early career scholars and recognizing the power humanistic knowledge and inquiry have to help shape the world beyond campus.”

Levingston’s work will focus on the ten plays of August Wilson’s Century Cycle, which chronicles the collective memory, history, and dreams of African American families across the twentieth century. She will collaborate with PHC on a slate of community engagement programs exploring themes from the plays in conjunction with the rich history of African American communities across the state.

“I am overjoyed to be working with PHC on this exciting project that will celebrate the work of August Wilson and the stories of African American communities in Pennsylvania,” said Levingston. “I look forward to collaborating with partners across the state to bring inspiring and engaging programming to local communities.”

Levingston recently received a PhD in English and African American Studies from Yale University. She began her work with the Pennsylvania Humanities Council as a Leading Edge Fellow in September, 2021. Public programs are expected to be announced in Summer 2022. READ MORE

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Department of Economics PH.D info session for undergraduate students

SMU Department of Economics
Event: September 27
Time: 7:30-9PM
Location: Zoom

Dr. James Lake, the Director of Doctoral Programs & Professor of Economics at SMU will be hosting an Economics Ph.D. Info session virtually on Monday, September 27 from 7:30-9PM. Please see the flyer below for more information. All majors are welcome to attend.

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Welcome Back!

Originally Posted: Aug 23, 2021

Welcome back, Mustangs! Can’t wait to see you in class!

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A Q&A with two-time intern of the Mickey Leland Environmental Internship Program Cristina Barrera


Originally Posted: August 4, 2021

Cristina Barrera graduated in 2017 from Southern Methodist University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies. She interned with TCEQ’s Mickey Leland Environmental Internship Program in 2015 and 2016 and is currently attending the Yale School of the Environment for a master’s degree in environmental management. I asked Barrera about all things MLEIP—from what she learned during the two summers she interned at TCEQ to how those internships helped her focus her interest in the environment on a smaller niche.

Tell me a little about yourself.
I grew up just outside of Austin, where I learned to love hiking, kayaking, soccer, and live music. I figured out that I wanted to work in the environmental field at a really young age, beginning with my favorite bedtime story – “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss. That was reinforced by my experiences with Girl Scouts, environmental clubs and courses throughout high school. I went to SMU knowing I wanted to work at the intersection of business and the environment. I decided to pursue a master’s degree at Yale School of Environment to further my knowledge on how to foster social progress and environmental stewardship both professionally and personally. READ MORE

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Environmental education isn’t always elementary


June 14, 2021


Growing up in Texas, Alison Wenzel learned to love the environment from a young age from her parents. Because her mom was an environmental educator and her dad is a lifelong outdoorsman, they often went camping, hiking, and fishing as a family.

With the goal of becoming an environmental scientist, Alison initially earned a double major in environmental science and geology with a minor in environmental anthropology from Southern Methodist University.

But an internship at the City of Denton changed her career trajectory from field work to education.

“In my last semester of college, I was a recycling education intern and I just fell in in love with education. My mom was an educator and I always told myself I’d take a different career path, but the first time I did that job it was so exciting for me to be able to take all the information I learned and communicate it in a new way,” Alison said.

Following that internship, and with the knowledge that she loved teaching, she applied and got into the University of Texas in Arlington’s Master of Education Curriculum and Instruction Science Education Online Program.

Alison found out about the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s Mickey Leland Environmental Internship Program when she was helping her sister, Amanda Wenzel, find an internship. When she realized the program accepted graduate students, she and her sister both applied. Alison got into the MLEIP 2020 program, and, although her sister did not (Amanda accepted an internship with Texas Parks & Wildlife last summer), they both ended up working at TCEQ this year.

Alison interned with TCEQ’s Take Care of Texas program last summer in an environmental education and outreach position.

As an intern, she worked on projects that had a real impact on Texas. One of those included collaborating with the graphics team to update the Air Quality Index graphics and lesson plans so that air quality was easily understood by elementary school-aged students.

“What I learned most from the program that I hadn’t really known before was just how large-scale state organizations work,” Alison said. “I learned a lot about intergovernmental work and about how interconnected governmental agencies are, between working with scientists and web developers and the graphics team it was unlike anything I had ever been a part of before. I loved having all of these different resources at my fingertips and I loved that any time I had a question environmental-related, someone at TCEQ could answer it.”

She also learned a lot about TCEQ and the history of the internship program, including details about its namesake Mickey Leland, through webinars held throughout the summer.

“We got to have a seminar with Alison Leland, Mickey Leland’s widow, and she was so engaging in talking about his life and his experience. I loved that they had you learn about his history because it really gave me pride in taking part in a program with his name on it because he was a very inspirational politician,” Alison said.

Now that she has joined the Take Care of Texas team fulltime, she continues to work on projects that make an impact in environmental education. This year, she worked with TCEQ’s Deputy Executive Director L’Oreal Stepney on a series of videos highlighting diversity among TCEQ staff that was featured on TCEQ’s webpage during Black History Month.

Her favorite part of working at TCEQ so far has been meeting a variety of employees, not just on her team, but also in other program areas and throughout the state who love what they do for a living.

“Working with people who are passionate about what they do just makes it so much easier from an educational and outreach perspective to communicate about what TCEQ does. People are proud of the work they do and it’s exciting for us to showcase them,” Alison said.

She recommends students apply to the internship program regardless of major, since environmental agencies such as TCEQ have all kinds of positions to fill—from human resources to legal and accounting.

“It’s a one-of-a-kind program. You’re getting paid, which shows your work is being valued. To me, that really helped me have an investment in it. It’s worth your time. It’s worth your effort and it really makes you proud of the work you’re doing,” Alison said.

And, in case you think environmental education is just teaching kids, Alison says that isn’t so. Not only does she help create graphics for social media to teach all Texans about how to reuse, reduce and recycle, she’s even gotten her grandmother on board.

“If my grandparents can learn to recycle in their 80s, anyone can learn!” she said. READ MORE

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Roberto José Andrade Franco for Texas Highways

Texas Highways

Originally Posted: June 26, 2021

Roberto José Andrade Franco is a Clements Center Research Fellow.

Joel Salcido was 6 years old the first time the craft of photography captured his attention. He was in a Juárez photography studio where his Uncle Chico worked, a serene place as dark as a cave if not for a small translucent window. Young Joel watched his uncle put on green-tinted glasses to carefully retouch black-and-white negatives. Using a magnifying glass, Uncle Chico fixed imperfections with a set of sharply pointed pencils—a technique that has almost disappeared with the rise of digital photography. “It was this magical mystery thing that was happening,” Salcido recalled.

A few years later, it happened again. This time in his grandmother’s house in Juárez. While playing hide-and-seek, Salcido stepped inside a large box. What he experienced made him forget about the game he was playing. He saw the outside world projected upside-down inside the box’s darkness. “I was blown away,” Salcido said. “What is that?” he thought, unaware he’d stepped into a rudimentary camera obscura. READ MORE

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Juneteenth is more popular than ever. This year’s celebrations come amid a culture war.

USA Today

Originally Posted: June 14, 2021

Andrew Torget, a Clements Center fellow, is quoted in this USA Today article with mention of his award winning book  Seeds of Empire.

In the wake of 2020’s racial reckoning over the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, the celebration of Juneteenth spread outside the African American community.

Juneteenth, a portmanteau of June and 19th, commemorates June 19, 1865 — the date when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3, informing the Galveston, Texas, community that President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed enslaved African Americans in rebel states. It’s also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day.

A year later, Juneteenth comes as Congress struggles to pass sweeping legislation that would protect the rights of voters of color and the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which bolsters police accountability.

The day also drops into a culture war, as state legislatures attempt to ban school discussions of the long-lasting effects of slavery, systemic racism and critical race theory.

A decades-long push to make the day a federal holiday continues: On Tuesday, the Senate passed a bill to make it so.

But Juneteenth’s increasing popularity coincides with a concentrated effort to limit public relearning of precisely what it asks America to remember: how the nation’s early history of enslaving African Americans affects current legislation that restricts voter access and marginalizes voters of color. READ MORE

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Texas’s Best Young Accordionists Carry on a Conjunto Legacy

Texas Monthly

Originally Posted: May 2021

Had this been a non-pandemic year, Christopher Ramirez and Ashly Nicole Molina would have been in Austin on a recent Saturday afternoon. As two of the four finalists for the sixteen-and-under conjunto category in the Big Squeeze—the annual competition of Texas’s best young accordion players—they would’ve played live at the Lone Star Plaza in front of the Bullock Texas State History Museum. They would’ve felt the butterflies in their stomachs that come from standing onstage in front of a crowd, playing in front of judges, family, and other competitors. And as they did, extending and compressing the accordions’ bellows that breathe life into the instruments, moving their bodies to the rhythms and sounds, they would’ve felt that anxiety melt away.

But because of the pandemic, like every contestant in all four of the Big Squeeze’s categories—polka, zydeco, cajun, and conjunto—Ramirez and Molina submitted virtual entries for the May 8 contest. Each musician recorded him- or herself playing two songs. They were graded on technical skill, song interpretation, and stage presence, even though judges admitted that the latter was difficult to convey in a video audition. READ MORE

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Erasure of freedman’s towns, Central Expressway injustice inspired book from SMU grad student

Lake Highlands Advocate

Originally Posted: May 21, 2021

A Lake Highlands resident’s nonfiction book about how highway construction erased neighborhoods of color in Dallas was released today.

Collin Yarbrough is a Lake Highlands High School alumnus and SMU grad student who also owns Full Circle Bakery with his mom, Judy. His book, Paved A Way, has the subtitle “Infrastructure, Policy and Racism in an American City.”

He started working on it in May 2020, after turning in a paper about the history of Central Expressway. READ MORE

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Texas Highways publishes article by history alumnus Roberto Franco

Texas Highways

Originally Posted: April 2021 issue

Growing up along the El Paso-Juárez border, I was a long drive from where much of the prevailing stories of Texas history took place. El Pasoans’ revolutionary heroes came from Mexico. Our cowboys were vaqueros, and our missions mainly told the history of Native Americans. Even if some of our schools were named after people who fought for Texas’ independence, those names hardly meant anything to me since I didn’t grow up hearing their well-known stories—real or mythic.

Of course, even in the westernmost corner of the state, it was almost impossible to live unaware of the Texas ideology. I knew the Alamo existed, but it was so distant from my world it might as well have been in New York. It wasn’t until I moved to Dallas in 2014 that I noticed just how much its story is ingrained in the identity of the state.

I’ve read more about Texas this year than ever before—thick tomes like Stephen Harrigan’s Big Wonderful Thing; and smaller books like Richard R. Flores’ Remembering the Alamo. Both ask weighty questions about what a place like the Alamo means. (The short answer: It depends on how our present circumstances influence our view of the past.) I read books written by Texas writers and by outsiders obsessed with the state’s legends. I read about things I had just absorbed from living here. Not even two months into 2021, I had read 11 Texas-related books. My reading inspired me to finally set out to see these foundational places with my own eyes. READ MORE