Volunteers to plant 30 fruit trees Monday at West Dallas Stem School, Launching Learning Garden

DALLAS (SMU) – Volunteers will plant a fruit tree orchard between 9 a.m. and noon Monday, Dec. 12 at Dallas ISD’s West Dallas STEM School — the first step of the school’s planned learning garden.

When the trees mature in three years, students will harvest as many apples, pears, peaches, figs and paw paws as they can eat. Other produce will be distributed through the campus general store, or shared with West Dallas nonprofit, Brother Bill’s Helping Hand.

School volunteers and partners from SMU, Toyota USA Foundation and the West Dallas community will prepare the site for each tree, then plant and stake them. Grow North Texas, the Dallas affiliate of the Giving Grove, a national nonprofit serving communities experiencing food insecurity, is providing the trees and will oversee the planting process. To ensure a healthy and productive orchard, Grow North Texas has trained two tree stewards from Brother Bill’s Helping Hand to oversee continuing care.

The West Dallas STEM School orchard is the 11th Dallas-area orchard planted by GROW North Texas’ Giving Grove program this fall, with more scheduled by the end of February. A grant from Domino’s Pizza is funding the project through One Tree Planted, a global reforestation organization.

The mature orchard is expected to produce more than 20,000 servings of healthy fruit each year, with a typical tree lifespan of 20-30 years or more. The orchard will preserve urban greenspace, increase tree canopy and offer important environmental benefits, including carbon sequestration, improved soil biology and stormwater absorption.

In addition, the orchard will be an outdoor laboratory that will strengthen the unique project-based STEM curriculum at the West Dallas STEM School, opened in 2021 as a collaboration between Dallas ISD, SMU, the Toyota USA Foundation and the West Dallas community.


What: An urban orchard of 30 fruit trees will be planted at Dallas ISD’s West Dallas STEM School

When: 9 a.m. remarks and groundbreaking. Planting to follow.

Where: West Dallas STEM School, 2200 Dennison St., Dallas. Orchard entrance off Hampton Road, south of Texas Quality Remodeling

Tackling the Great Teacher Resignation – One Teacher at a Time

DALLAS (SMU) – College students like Mary Cabanas are in the pipeline to relieve the impact of widespread teacher resignations threatening U.S. public education. But what sets Cabanas apart is that she will enter a tough profession with her eyes wide open, thanks to determination, mentorship and training from SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development.

“Ongoing problems in education have been magnified by the pandemic and the political division in the U.S.,” says Stephanie Knight, Simmons School dean. “And previous approaches to solving the teacher shortage, like alternative certifications, haven’t worked.”

Teachers need to develop knowledge and skills in the classroom early in their teacher education, Knight says. They also need higher pay and to be treated like professionals, which includes the opportunity to be collaborative and creative, Knight says.

Simmons Noyce Scholar Student Mary Cabanas Cardenas
SMU Noyce Scholar Mary Cabanas Cardenas poses for portraits in and around Harold Clark Simmons Hall Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022 in Dallas. The Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship is funded by the National Science Foundation and supports new math teachers who commit to working in underserved communities after graduation.
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Cabanas’ trajectory as an education student may be a model for other students. She has taken collaboration with other future teachers into her own hands, forming SMU’s first student organization for education majors. But instead of taking field trips and hosting guest speakers, each week the Hilltop Educators meet to discuss controversial subjects in education, like book bans and school shootings.

The senior mathematics and education major has been planning to become a teacher since 8th grade. She worked in a classroom early, observing and even teaching a pre-K class as a future teacher intern in high school. At SMU, she is a recipient of the Noyce Teacher Scholarship, which commits her to teach math at a high-need school after graduation in exchange for a scholarship funded by the National Science Foundation.

Mentorship by Noyce Scholar faculty sponsors has opened other doors for Cabanas. On Saturday mornings, she can be found on campus assisting in an education research project comparing the effectiveness of using iPads vs. virtual reality to teach geometry. She also spent a summer researching best practices in math education by watching videos of math teachers and coding their teaching practices. In addition, Cabanas helped analyze the effectiveness of demonstrating to students how workers use math in their careers.

“I’ll take what I’ve learned from research into my classroom,” Cabanas says.

Participating in education research gives Noyce Scholars the opportunity to be part of a larger academic community dedicated to bringing evidence-based practice to education, says Annie Wilhelm, one of Cabanas’ Noyce Scholar mentors and an associate professor of teaching and learning at SMU’s Simmons School.

“Research gives students the opportunity to connect what they are learning in class with the K-12 classroom,” Wilhelm says.

Cabanas’ motivation is personal – she wants to teach because teachers made a difference in her life. She moved with her family from Mexico to Texas and, as a 12-year-old middle schooler, faced the challenges of 7th-grade along with the task of learning English and settling in to Garland, Texas.

“My teachers saw my potential,” she says. “As a newcomer, I was scared. It helped to know there were adults who were there for me.”

Cabanas should find plenty of teaching openings when she graduates. Almost two in five teachers plan to quit in the next two years, according to a June survey of members of the American Federation of Teachers.

After graduating in May of 2023, Cabanas plans to begin work at SMU on her Master’s degree in math education while completing her student teaching in fall of 2023. Her dream is to teach math at North Garland High School, where her teachers were so influential to her.

“I have to do this for the next generation,” she said. “If not me, who will?”

Photo cutline: Mary Cabanas, photo courtesy of SMU




SMU/Simmons and TCU offer Ph.D. Student Conference on the Doctoral Journey

Dean-Knight-and-Dean-Petrosino and PhD StudentsMarc Sager, PhD candidate at SMU/Simmons, and Leslie Epke, PhD candidate at TCU, developed a 1-day conference (Sept. 30) in which their respective Schools’ PhD students explored the demands and pleasures of the doctoral journey. Presentations included developing a research agenda, presenting and publishing, the faulty search process, stress management, and community involvement in research. Speakers and presenters from Simmons included Dean Knight, Marc Sager, Damion Davis, and Elizabeth Adams.

Session Speaker Topic Description
Welcome Dean Knight (SMU) and Dean Hernandez (TCU)
Session 1 Dr. Taryn Ozuna Allen (TCU) Developing a Research Agenda as an Emerging Scholar Creating a research agenda, regardless of theoretical interests, methodological preferences, or career goals.
Session 2 Marc Sager (SMU) Publishing and Presenting at Conferences The processes of presenting at conferences and publishing.
Session 3 Dr. Pablo Montes (TCU) On the Market: Life Outside of Graduate School Becoming a professor:  job search strategies and making yourself marketable.
Session 4 Leslie Epke (TCU) Journal Session Reflect and process what was covered at the conference.
Session 5 Dr. Damion Davis (SMU) Mental Health Practices for Graduate Students A counseling professional discusses stress management skills
Session 6 Dr. Elizabeth Adams (SMU) Community Involvement: Bringing Theory to Practice Learn about the West Dallas STEM School RPP and how research is bridged into practice.
Closing Dean Knight (SMU) and Dean Hernandez (TCU)

APSM Student Reflects on STEM Pilot Project for Youth Sports

This summer, I had the opportunity to be an intern for Clinical Assistant Professor Sarah Brown in her West Dallas pilot program, Pony Connect. Pony Connect is a research initiative that involves using STEM concepts in youth sports. The aim is to engage SMU students with the community. It was a mutually beneficial program because as much as the students are looked up to I have always wanted to get involved with the Dallas community and Pony Connect was the perfect opportunity for me. I was also learning so much from them. They taught me the importance of friendship, trust, and how the smallest details can make the biggest difference. It was incredible to form relationships with these students and watch their personalities shine. I loved seeing their excitement when different activities and projects were introduced.

We would give the students a test before the lesson was taught and then give them the exact same test at the end of the unit. Watching the students’ academic success improve was so rewarding. The fact that we were able to incorporate math or engineering lessons into fun activities and sports drills, showed them that learning can be fun and enjoyable. Overall, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity and so proud of the work Dr. Brown has accomplished. I am excited to watch the program grow!

Essay by Elizabeth  Klevana, Sport Performance Leadership major


Pictured below (left) is Iyasu Shaka, who writes his acceptance speech for winning the top prize at the camp, and  Isaac Shaka (right), who presents a basketball shoe he made from cardboard, bubble wrap, and foam.


Associate Prof. Walkington and Ph.D. Student Pruitt-Britton Write Ed Week Commentary Debunking Alleged Indoctrination in Math Textbooks

Simmons Associate Professor Candace Walkington teaches a class in Harold Clark Simmons Hall on the SMU Campus.

Education Week published a commentary by Candace Walkington, Simmons associate professor of mathematics education and learning sciences, and co-author, Ph.D. student, Tiffini Pruitt-Britton, who show that math textbooks are not about indoctrination, but fall short in promoting diversity and inclusion.

Their commentary comes at a time when political accusations inflame education discussions at the local and national levels. Some politicians are declaring what books schools should carry and what subjects should not be taught, such as critical race theory.

“We found no references to race or social justice let alone critical race theory, a framework for understanding how racism has been persistently embedded in policy. But our analysis did show a lack of substantial attention to differences linked to race, culture, gender norms, and sexual orientation in math-story content, they say. Read their commentary here.

Tiffini Pruitt-Britton, Simmons Ph.D. student, and co-author of Education Week commentary.

NPR’s Planet Money Podcast Interviews Associate Prof. Dominique Baker About her Research on Black Students’ Loan Debt

The Indicator, NPR’s Planet Money podcast, delves into the issue that Black students are more likely to default on student loans than white students. To examine this, reporters count on the expertise of SMU’s Associate Professor Dominique Baker, who teaches in the Simmons School’s Department of Education Policy and Leadership.

As they report, “We explore why Black borrowers are three times more likely to default on their student loans than white borrowers. From the intergenerational wealth gap to discrimination in the labor market to the type of majors and colleges they choose, find out how Black students are often disadvantaged even before college starts.”

Baker has been examining Black student loan debt and the for-profit schools that market heavily to people of color, who may later default because of the cost and lack of scholarships.  Baker believes the government should conduct fuller investigations of the for-profit school practices that often lead to students defaulting.

Simmons Associate Professor Dominique Baker, Department of Education Policy and Leadership

Listen to the podcast here.




Toyota’s President Reflects on the Importance of STEM and Working with Partners in Education

In an op-ed for The Dallas Morning News, Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor Corporation, expresses his concern over training the workforce to meet the challenges and demands of the 21st century. His article stresses the importance education has in ushering change. Toyoda also delineated the partnership his company has in North Texas with Dallas ISD, SMU Simmons and the community of West Dallas to create a significant PreK to 8 STEM school near L.G. Pinkston, the neighborhood high school.

With successful partnerships and the creation of a STEM school, Toyota decided to replicate the STEM school model in 14 other U.S. cities and work with communities to bring in educational change.  As Toyoda writes, “Toyota’s U.S.-Japan partnership has flourished thanks to the shared values and mutual respect forged by the people of both countries at all levels. At its heart lies education and developing people. And as a company that calls both America and Japan home, Toyota will continue working to support students and all citizens of these great countries to help ensure we can, and will, provide mobility and happiness for all.”    Click here to read his article.

NSF Noyce Track 4 Grant Award to Jeanna Wieselmann Makes Examination of Integrated STEM Instruction Possible

Assistant Professor Jeanna Weiselmann, Ph.D., Department of Teaching and Learning

Assistant Professor Jeanna Wieselmann, Ph.D., heads up a collaborative research team investigating how elementary teachers integrate their instruction of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).  The project, Research on Integrated STEM Self-Efficacy (RISE), will examine the STEM integration of 700 elementary teachers who experienced ten different teacher preparation programs across the U.S.

According to Wieselmann, quality integrated STEM instruction requires teachers to attend to the unique aspects of each discipline while also bringing them together in authentic learning opportunities for students, and this can be challenging. The aim is to support the national need to develop and retain highly effective elementary school teachers.

“Elementary teachers are often expected to teach integrated STEM, but teacher preparation programs have been slow to incorporate experiences that prepare teachers for this type of instruction, instead of focusing on mathematics and science as completely separate disciplines. ” she says. “Our project will explore how we can better support early-career elementary teachers to build their confidence and effectiveness in teaching integrated STEM lessons, with the ultimate goal of improving the quality of instruction students experience.”

Wieselmann, a faculty member in Simmons’ Department of Teaching and Learning, is the principal investigator of the project’s National Science Foundation Noyce Track 4 research grant (DUE-2151045) totaling $1.3 million. Additional principal investigators include Deepika Menon, Ph.D. (University of Nebraska, Lincoln), Sarah Haines, Ph.D. (Towson University), and Sumreen Asim. Ph.D. (Indiana University Southeast).




Carrolton Leader Profiles Doctoral Student Josue Romero

Josue Romero, a doctoral student in Education Leadership, is featured in a Q&A profile by the Carrolton Leader.  He also serves as principal at McLaughlin Strickland Elementary School in the Carrollton-Farmers Branch School District.

Romero is a first-generation college graduate. He earned his undergraduate degree from the University of North Texas and a master’s degree in Educational Leadership and Policy from The University of Texas Arlington.

Read his profile here.

NAEd/Spencer Foundation Awards Dominique Baker Postdoctoral and Dissertation Fellowship

Dominique J. Baker, PhD, Department of Education Policy and Leadership

DALLAS (SMU) –Dominique J. Baker, a nationally recognized expert on education policy in SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development, was one of the recipients of the 2022 National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowships.


Baker and 24 other pre-tenure scholars will receive a $70,000 award to further their research in areas addressing critical national and international issues in education. The award provides funding for fellows to focus on research and attend professional development retreats.


With this award, Baker will explore the links between race, racism, and how student loan policies are covered in the media. She will be analyzing more than 90,000 newspaper articles from eight outlets to determine how often, if at all, news media outlets use words or phrases that convey ideas about race and racism when writing about student loans.


She’ll use SMU’s high-performance computing cluster to do the research.


Earlier this year, the Russell Sage Foundation, in partnership with the Economic Mobility and Opportunity program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, also awarded Baker a $30,000 grant to look into the same issue.


Her research focuses on the way that education policy affects and shapes the access and success of minoritized students in higher education. She primarily investigates student financial aid, affirmative action and admissions policies, and policies that influence the ability to create an inclusive and equitable campus climate. Baker is the 2021 recipient of the Association for Education Finance & Policy’s Early Career Award and the Association for the Study of Higher Education’s Excellence in Public Policy Award.


For more on her research, see the following: