College graduates have to understand and respect diversity and globalization, and have a sense of civic responsibility," said Dr. Audrey M. Sorrells, associate dean of students in the Office of the Dean of Students and associate professor in the College of Education. An expert in curriculum development and instructional design, Sorrells was tapped to lead the DoS Research Initiative to help fulfill recommendations made by the Commission of 125. These recommendations include adding learning in leadership, ethics and diversity to the core curriculum, and bridging these learning experiences to student involvement, where leadership skills can be practiced in co-curricular activities.
Home to the Leadership and Ethics Institute and to Greek Life and Intercultural Education, the Office of the Dean of Students is responsible for generating educational content mandated in the Commission of 125. This work is already underway and DoS is committed to increasing the number of students exposed to its curriculum. Sorrells' task is to expand access to DoS programming in leadership, ethics and diversity to all students by weaving it into the academic curriculum, and professors have already begun to work with Sorrells, to fold these concepts into to their syllabi.
An expert in developmental disabilities and the death penalty, Dr. James Patton plans to add DoS content and activities into his signature course, Disability and the Media. Working with Dr. Sorrells, Patton is drawing diversity content from an educational psychology course called Training Processes in Intergroup Dialogue taught by Dr. Elizabeth Medina and Smita Ruzicka of Greek Life and Intercultural Education. Currently, he plans to add ablism terminology into three different class sessions throughout the semester.
Medina and Ruzicka plan to add some of Patton’s course materials back into the Intergroup Dialogue program as well. “There is this kind of mutual reciprocity going on, and I think that’s just wonderful,” said Patton. “Fundamentally, any time there is a cross-disciplinary kind of involvement … you get different ways of looking at things, different perspectives that enhance not only the learning experience of students but I think it's creative and also an enhancing feature for faculty,” said Dr. Patton. As the DoS Research Initiative takes shape, Sorrells will forge partnerships with faculty from across campus, building an interdisciplinary team of scholars, as well as leading and collaborating on research projects.
One of the most exciting aspects of the DoS Research Initiative is the bridging of academic theory in leadership, ethics and diversity into the practical application in real-world environments such as the 1,000 registered student organizations on campus, each of which has at least three officers. “Our students learn every minute of every day,” said Soncia Reagins-Lilly, senior associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students. “Lessons in the classroom are reinforced in an array of student activities and job experiences.”
An educator with more than 22 years of university teaching and research experience, Dr. Sorrells is an expert in curriculum development for diverse learners. A fellow in the Lee Hage Jamail Regents Chair in Education, “Dr. Sorrells has both the passion and the skill-set to help us understand how learning happens and how we intentionally replicate it through our programs,” said Dean Lilly. Sorrells has served on more than 30 dissertation studies and provided more than 50 professional presentations at workshops and conferences. She has authored numerous publications, including her book Critical Issues in Special Education: Access, Diversity and Accountability with co-authors Drs. Herbert Rieth and Paul Sindelar. Sorrells served as undergraduate advisor and chairman of the undergraduate committee in the Department of Special Education. “We were in the process of reform,” said Dr. Herbert Rieth, Audrey Rogers Myers Centennial Professor in Education and chair of Special Education. “She had the program rely upon professionally developed standards, which ensures that our students are knowledgeable of evidence-based practices … and helped shape our program so that our graduates are well prepared to educate an increasingly diverse population.”
Through the DoS Research Initiative, Sorrells hopes to integrate the learned and the lived, preparing Longhorns to lead in the 21st century. “In higher education hopefully we train people to accept that there are multiple truths and there are multiple identities,” she said. “How do students deal with that when they might have power and authority? It is important for UT graduates to understand the need for solutions. The world is looking to them to answer some pretty important questions, and to derive solutions that will have far-reaching implications for the people of Texas and beyond.”