Sharla Baker

Program Assistant for Educational Leadership, Teacher Education and Administration
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Office: 
Matthews Hall 218
Phone: 
940-565-2175
Email: 
Sharla.Baker@unt.edu

Rhonda Keller

Office Support Associate, Teacher Education and Administration
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Office: 
Matthews Hall 206-L
Phone: 
940-565-2923
Email: 
Rhonda.Keller@unt.edu

RuthAnn Robbins

Lecturer, Teacher Education and Administration
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Office: 
Matthews Hall 204-D
Phone: 
940-565-2826
Email: 
Ruth.Robbins@unt.edu

Jeannette Ginther

Senior Lecturer, Teacher Education and Administration
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Office: 
Matthews Hall 204-F
Email: 
Jeannette.Ginther@unt.edu

Chris Long

Assistant Professor, Teacher Education and Administration
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Office: 
Matthews Hall 218-J
Phone: 
940-565-2939
Email: 
Chris.Long@unt.edu

22nd Annual Higher Education Law Conference

Date: 
Monday, March 26, 2018 (All day) to Tuesday, March 27, 2018 (All day)

As the premier conference on higher education law in Texas, the Texas Higher Education Law Conference provides college and university professional in the public and private sector, and attorneys who advise them the most current information on important developments in such areas as student legal issues, first amendment rights, technology dangers, FERPA and free speech areas to name a few.

See the conference website for more details.

College to host 300 future educators at TAFE conference

Next month the UNT College of Education will for the first time host the Texas Association of Future Educators North Texas regional conference, welcoming 300 high school students with dreams of becoming educators. The conference is set for Friday, Dec. 1, in the University Union and Matthews Hall.

Jeanne Tunks, associate professor of Teacher Education and Administration and one of the faculty advisors for the college’s honor society, Kappa Delta Pi, along with Cynthia Molina, president of the KDP chapter, have been working with Leah Zavala, a Denton ISD teacher and leader of Denton’s TAFE chapter, to bring the conference to the UNT campus. The partnership is an opportunity not only for high school students to learn more about UNT’s education program, but also for KDP members to gain mentorship experience, Tunks says.

Currently, 13 UNT KDP members are mentoring 33 Denton ISD TAFE members, giving them valuable insight on what to expect when they get to college, Tunks says.

“The goal of TAFE is to get kids actually into school classrooms and thinking about what it takes to be a teacher before they ever arrive at a college of education. They’re in the field watching teachers teach, learning from them,” she says. “With our Kappa Delta Pi mentoring program, we’re teaching them how to be college students. Many are first-generation, so we’re hoping to give them information they can really use as they transition from high school to college.”

The UNT mentors meet once a week with their high school counterparts – in addition to frequent communication via text and group chat – to discuss theory and practice.

“The whole notion is that these students are thinking way ahead of their years about what it’s like to be a teacher,” Tunks says, adding that she and her KDP co-sponsor, Assistant Professor Ricardo Gonzalez-Carriedo, don’t direct the students in their mentorships; instead, they support and entrust the mentorship project to the KDP leadership.

“We as sponsors don’t designate anything. We promote and encourage, but it’s really up to the students to organize the structure and lead it,” she says. “We’re trying to grow the qualities of teacher-leaders.”

At the December conference, TAFE members from across the region will compete in teaching exercises including creating lesson plans and books. UNT faculty, KDP members and other COE students will serve as judges.

The competitive tasks will challenge students to think quickly and creatively – and give them an idea of what classroom teaching is really like, says Tunks, who has served as a judge at previous TAFE conferences.

“It takes your breath away to see the creativity of these high school students and what they’re able to create. It was exceptional,” she says. “This experience challenges them and really helps them determine whether teaching is something they want to pursue.”

Learn more about TAFE, and read about some recent accomplishments of UNT’s KDP chapter.

 

Above, current KDP officers and members with advisor Assistant Professor Ricardo Gonzalez-Carriedo.

KHPR professor using brain waves to study depression, concussions, more

Researchers have long examined the link between exercise and major depressive disorder (MDD), with one of the earliest known published studies dating back to 1905. Then, clinical methods were limited, little was known about the effects of exercise, and data were often unreliable, but today researchers are able to use advanced technology including electroencephalography (EEG) to better understand what’s happening in the brain during exercise — and determine why it may have a positive effect for individuals with depression.

Now UNT Assistant Professor Ryan Olson is using these advanced techniques right here in his psychophysiology lab in the UNT College of Education’s Department of Kinesiology, Health Promotion and Recreation, shedding light on what functional brain activity can tell us not only about depression and anxiety, but also concussions, sleep deprivation and much more.

Depression and Exercise

Building on that seed of an idea from 1905, Olson utilizes the event-related potential (ERP) technique (derived from the EEG signal) to explore what’s happening in MDD patients’ brains and how exercise may provide antidepressive effects. In one of his recent studies, Olson and his team assembled a group of MDD patients with similar baseline levels of depressive symptoms. Participants were randomly assigned to either a moderate-intensity exercise or placebo exercise (i.e., stretching) group. Over an eight-week period, subjects performed exercise three times per week for 45 minutes during each session. ERPs were measured at the beginning and end of the eight-week intervention to determine functional changes over time.

“We found some pretty striking differences. In the exercise group, we found clinically significant reductions in depressive symptoms,” Olson said. “Whether they’re actually remitting from depression is a separate question, but on average, we found significant reductions in depressive symptoms compared to the placebo exercise group.”

Olson also saw reductions in a variable called rumination – the tendency to focus on either the past or the future and not the present, which is common in patients with MDD.

“Rumination isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just means you can’t stop thinking about something, you can’t let it go. And that’s one of the variables we saw a change in with exercise as well, which was an interesting finding,” Olson said. “Rumination, especially on negative thoughts, is a hallmark symptom of depression; these participants are unable to let things go, try to change something in the past or think about the future.”

But Olson said the most interesting effect he observed during the study, in addition to reductions in depressive symptoms and rumination, was improvements in neurocognitive function assessed through ERPs, which is exciting to researchers because it’s getting at the potential mechanism of why they’re seeing changes in depressive symptoms.

“We’re now able to target specific aspects of cognition, like inhibition or decision-making. We know certain areas of the brain regulate those functions, so it starts to make sense when we observe exercise working through the same areas of the brain. You’re starting to answer the why,” Olson said.

Olson has been studying the effects of exercise on depression and anxiety symptoms prior to arriving at UNT last year. In one of his earliest studies, he worked to establish differences in neurocognitive function between healthy and MDD groups while performing a task of inhibition. He and his team found differences in ERP responses between the two groups, so he followed this study by targeting those differences with exercise.

“I used an acute exercise paradigm, where I had participants come in and exercise at low or moderate intensity, and I wanted to see the effects on a specific ERP waveform, the N2 component. It turns out that acute exercise does modify it,” Olson said. “So then I said, what if we perform this long term? Will this waveform stay modified, and if so, does this relate to changes in depressive symptoms?”

Event-related potentials

ERPs are an indirect measure of neural activity, Olson said. During his trials, Olson and his team measure these waveforms to see what the brain is doing — and when.

“Every time I clap or talk, your brain generates an event-related potential, meaning it’s tied to a specific event,” Olson said. “In our studies, the ‘event’ is a simple cognitive stimulus that we can manipulate to add a layer of complexity that allows us to measure different aspects of cognition. After participants complete our tasks, we can process the data and measure the amplitude and latency (timing) of the ERPs.”

And why is timing important?

“We measure in the millisecond time range because information processing happens so fast that we’re usually not aware of it,” Olson said. “Imagine making a decision on the fly. It could be the difference between getting in a car accident or not. So those timing-related questions are very important.”

Concussions: Getting Athletes Back in the Game Safely

Olson also does extensive work studying concussions. The objective is to determine whether athletes are healthy enough to return to play after experiencing a concussion as well as ensure appropriate diagnoses are being made. Olson said the current “return-to-play” criteria is for the athletes to complete sideline testing as well as a series of cognitive tasks that can easily be distorted by the athlete. For instance, athletes can purposefully underscore during the preseason in order to perform at a similar level during the season following a concussion.

“One of the classic findings in the concussion literature is there’s rarely a difference in cognitive test scores between a healthy and concussed individual. So one might think that a recently concussed athlete is healthy, yet they may have subtle cognitive deficits that may be undetectable by more traditional measures,” he said.

That’s where ERPs come in. In healthy people, ERP waveforms become larger the more difficult the cognitive task they’re doing becomes. However, this is not the case following a concussion. Olson’s research compares a non-concussed individual’s response to the concussed individual’s response, measures the difference between the two responses, and determines how long it takes for the concussed group’s responses to return to “normal” levels.

“This could be a better way of tracking recovery trajectories and making sure that an athlete is actually healthy enough to continue playing,” he said. “The great thing about this technique is that it’s extremely difficult to cheat. There’s almost no way to cheat this test because you’re generating basic neural responses.”

Collaborations

In addition to doing his own research in KHPR, Olson is collaborating with other researchers across campus. He’s got several ongoing projects with members of his department including Brian McFarlin, Jakob Vingren, Calvin Nite, Erin Bowman and Scott Martin. He’s also beginning work with Heidimarie Blumenthal and Anthony Ryals in UNT’s Psychology department, and with Daniel Taylor, creator of the UNT Sleep Health Research Laboratory. His work with Taylor has direct implications to UNT students: They’re researching college students and sleep deprivation.

“We’re looking at acute sleep deprivation and the effects of exercise on cognition the next day. If you stayed up all night studying, would it be a good idea to go for a jog before going on to your exam?” Olson said. “It’s also about applying it to the military and the bigger picture – when you’re sleep deprived, are you making good decisions when you need to be?”

What’s Next?

Olson said his goal for his main area of research, studying the effects of exercise on major depressive disorder, is to make sure exercise is recognized as a potential supplemental treatment for MDD patients, perhaps working together with anti-depressants.

“We’re still trying to understand some of the early exercise prescription issues – like what intensity, how long, how many weeks does it have to be, does it have to be just aerobic exercise or can you do resistance exercise? There are a lot of the basic questions we’re trying to answer right now,” he said.

The bottom line for Olson is finding applications for his research — not just for clinical populations or athletes, but also the general population.

“That’s always the question I ask of my students: So what? What is the big idea in the end? That’s an important question that we have to answer as researchers,” he said.

School leaders learn innovative coaching strategies at COE conference

The 34th annual UNT Educational Leadership Conference organized by Assistant Professor Miriam Ezzani and Principal Lecturer Linda Stromberg of the College of Education’s Department of Teacher Education and Administration brought together 150 teachers and leaders from schools and districts across North Texas Nov. 8. The focus of this year’s conference was “Transforming Culture Through Leadership Coaching.”

Mike Moses, former superintendent of Dallas ISD and onetime commissioner of education for the state of Texas, gave the keynote address, encouraging attendees to be the kind of leaders who build a climate of energy and enthusiasm in their schools.

“As educators, we’re interested in improving the quality of life for kids, but we’re also interested in the growth and happiness of adults so they can help kids grow,” he said. “I think that teachers want to work in organizations where they feel gratified, excited and enthusiastic, but they also want to work with people who are invested in their professional development.”

Moses said paying attention to national polls, voting patterns, educational trends and technology, among other factors, will help educators build a legacy of leadership that will make today’s young children tomorrow’s successful adults. He also stressed the importance of mentorship.

“If mentors in my life were interested in my goals, dreams and aspirations, and wanted me to be happy, I would knock myself out for them,” he said. “That’s creating an environment of leadership. Be about the business of creating environments that are nurturing, affirming and encouraging.”

Conference participants were challenged to consider concepts and skills in leadership coaching offered by the presenters Kathryn Kee and Lloyd Sain. Kee and Sain are national trainers through Results Coaching Global. They engaged the participants in research-based learner centered activities intended to cultivate powerful communication skills.

“I believe most attendees were fascinated with the connection between leadership coaching and how one can regulate one’s and others’ emotions in the moment,” Ezzani said. “Our conference topics are focused on theory to practice connections and solutions, which makes this annual conference so beneficial to educational leaders at the school and district level.”   

Participants said the conference offered relevant lessons they could immediately implement on their campuses.

“The content of this conference was right on target, and the opportunity to practice some of the coaching strategies was extremely impactful,” said one bilingual/ESL interventionist.

 

Above, COE Dean Randy Bomer presents a gift to Mike Moses, former Dallas ISD superintendent and Texas commissioner of education.

Dean's Message - Fall 2017

It was only a few hours’ drive up I-35 from Austin to Denton. But the transition to being dean at UNT has been a passage into a new world, like walking through the wardrobe portal in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. This university, especially the College of Education, is a welcoming place, a community full of people proud of who they are together and the amazing work each of them is doing, but very open-armed in embracing newcomers like me, new faculty members and new students. Still, it is, as I said, a new world, and as of this writing, I have lived through about 70 days of eye-opening experiences.

I knew, for instance, that UNT has great alumni, but until talking with Development Board leaders Cathy Bryce and Steve Waddell about their passion for the college, I had no idea that people held so much love for the life-transforming work of this university and the College of Education.

I knew about important, visible centers of excellence like the Child Development Lab and the Kristin Farmer Autism Center, but I didn’t know that the college also has a doctoral program in gifted education with more students than any other such program in the nation (Drs. Rinn, Kettler and Mun). I didn’t know that the Applied Physiology Lab has built a state-of-the-art laboratory rivaling some of the best in Texas and the region, through scrappy and inventive ways of securing funding and equipment (Drs. McFarlin, Vingren, Hill and Olson.)

I knew about the outstanding counseling program and the historic work in play therapy that has gone on there, but I didn’t know that the department also has four young faculty with deep and complementary strength in addiction counseling (Drs. Prosek, Giordano, Wilson and Schmit).  And I didn’t know yet about the multi-million dollar grants supporting work in culturally competent counseling for diverse populations (Drs. Wilson and Ceballos) or work in culturally responsive education of children who speak first languages other than English (Dr. Boyd).

These are only a few of the many discoveries I’ve encountered in my new world, and I take it as one of my jobs to bring these and other great stories to the attention of alumni and friends, partners in the mission of this great college.

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