New Face: Denise Dávila

This College of Education professor says that UNLV’s diversity and school spirit were among the factors that drew her here.

By Kelsey Hand • Read on UNLV News Center

Denise Dávila’s research focuses on children’s literature and how it reflects society. (R. Marsh Starks/UNLV Creative Services)

Growing up in a time and in a family where it was more important to fit into the mainstream culture than to identify with her Latinx roots, Denise Dávila, a literacy education assistant professor in the department of teaching and learning, is heartened by the communities of people who advocate for an inclusive and pluralist society. With children’s literature at the center of her research and teaching, she says her most prized possession in her office is her collection of critically acclaimed diverse and multilingual books for children.

What about UNLV strikes you as different from other places you have worked or where you went to school?

The students here. I am excited to have the opportunity to work with first-generation college students, like myself, in a highly diverse region of the country. I love my students here;I love that we can talk about bilingual and Latinx children’s literature and diversity in ways the students appreciate as we’ve shared some of the same experiences.

Also, the sense of school spirit is top-notch. My first introduction to UNLV was through the Hulu documentary series Behind the Mask, which followed the life of a student who served as UNLV’s mascot. When the show was first aired — years before I was invited to join the faculty — my spouse and I were impressed by the sense of school spirit the series captured at UNLV.

Where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in Oakland, California. I was not the only bicultural person by any stretch… but my parents wanted my sisters and me to be like everyone else. So we didn’t talk about family members speaking Spanish or practicing Latin American espiritismo.

What inspired you to get into your field?

Growing up, I never saw characters like myself in children’s books. Even now, over 85 percent of the children’s literature published year after year has featured either white children or non-human characters (e.g., animals, toys). Today, I’m really interested in analyzing the kinds of books publishers release in the marketplace. I examine the social narratives and viewpoints the books endorse. I investigate how children, families, and teachers respond to stories and illustrations that are not only inclusive of diverse characters and life experiences, but also provide counter narratives to the kinds of perspectives that have dominated the children’s books industry.

It’s been great to study children’s literature and bring research into the classroom to spark provocative conversations with students about how to use books to discuss issues of equality and/or censorship in elementary schools. And all of these conversations start in really authentic ways because everyone brings different backgrounds and experiences to the table.

What is the biggest misconception about your profession?

I think there’s this misconception that children’s literature is created in a vacuum and is disconnected from the real world. But actually, it’s a reflection of the real world — the kinds of narratives that happen in life make their way into children’s books. And more now than ever, stories are emerging that respond to sociocultural, political, and environmental conditions in the world. Many people think children’s literature scholars are mild-mannered librarian bookworm types, and that these books are just cute stories with cute pictures. But we’re not, and these books are much more than that. We’re activists, and children’s books can make statements that educate, change, and improve our world. In other words, we go beyond pretty pictures.

Insider tips for fellow Rebels?

Get to know the amazing ways that the UNLV librarians and media specialists can assist you with your research endeavors. They are invaluable in the field of children’s literature.

Tell us about a time in your life when you’ve been daring.

One of the times I was daring was several years ago when I first organized my community to stand up against an issue that would harm a neighborhood creek, and diminish the heath and safety of local families. At the time, city council members thought I was easy to dismiss. They didn’t expect that I, as a quiet person, would also have the tenacity to take the charge and lead… But I did, and we saw this issue through to a satisfactory conclusion.

What is your proudest moment?

I am honored to have been the recipient of the 2016 Alan C. Purves Award from the National Council of Teachers of English for my piece “#WhoNeedsDiverseBooks?: Preservice Teachers and Religious Neutrality with Children’s Literature.” The Purves Award is presented annually to an author judged as likely to have the greatest impact on educational practice. I am especially proud of this award because the research was inspired by my own childhood experience.

What are your hobbies?

Hiking in the beautiful local parklands of Sloan Canyon and Lake Mead with our rescued bluetick coonhounds, Frankie, Mazie, and Wally — named, not surprisingly, after story characters. We recently agreed to foster a small redtick hound, Reba, who we are hoping to place in a forever-home.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

When hiking with my hounds, people often assume that I am training them to hunt. To the contrary, I have been a vegetarian for over 20 years and have followed a 100 percent plant-based (vegan) diet for the last 10.

Dr. Chris Wood Named American Counseling Association Fellow

The College of Education at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas is proud to announce that Dr. Chris Wood, an associate professor in the Educational & Clinical Studies counseling program at the College, has been awarded the prestigious American Counseling Association (ACA) Fellow Award. This honor is presented to less than 1 percent of the more than 56,000 ACA members.

The ACA Fellow distinction is bestowed upon members of professional distinction who have been recognized for significant and unique contributions to the counseling profession through professional practice, scientific achievement, leadership and governance, and/or teaching and training.

Dr. Wood joined the College of Education faculty in 2015, having previously been a faculty member at Old Dominion University, Seattle University, the Ohio State University and the University of Arizona. Previous to his tenure as university faculty, he served as a high school counselor, a counseling/guidance department chair, a counselor/group leader at a residential youth facility for adjudicated youth/troubled teens, and a career counselor at an alternative school serving grades 7-12.

In addition to his professional practice, Dr. Wood has been Principal Investigator, Faculty Research Associate, or Research Methodologist on over $3 million in grants including over a dozen research projects investigating the efficacy of career development interventions in K-12 settings. Dr. Wood has over 30 conference presentations and 30 publications including articles in Professional School Counseling, the Journal of Counseling & Development, the Journal of College Counseling, Counselor Education & Supervision, Career Planning and Adult Development Journal, and The Elementary School Journal. He co-edited the 5th and 6th editions of A Counselor’s Guide to Career Assessment Instruments. He is currently the Head Editor for the Professional School Counseling journal, the flagship research journal for the American School Counseling Association (ASCA).

Dr. Wood will be recognized in March 2017 at the American Counseling Association Conference in San Francisco.

APRIL 20: Join COE for Policy Conversation with Rick Hess

We are excited to welcome American Enterprise Institute’s Director of Education Policy Studies, Senior Founding Fellow at the Public Education Foundation’s Leadership Institute of Nevada and Education Week Contributor Rick Hess to campus on April 20, 2017. Join us for compelling conversation with Hess on his new book, Letters to a Young Education Reformer, where he distills more than 25 years of knowledge regarding policy’s role in education reform.

RSVP requested to Sheila Bray.

Postdoc Spotlight: Peter Wiens, Ph.D.

Dr. Peter Wiens, a Ph.D. graduate in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Virginia, came to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas shortly after completing a grant that examined English as a foreign language in the West African country of Niger. A postdoctoral scholar, Wiens is currently a member of the Department of Teaching and Learning at the College of Education.

Since arriving at UNLV, Wiens has embarked on several research projects that focus on the outcomes of preservice teacher education. These include a preservice longitudal study with five years of stored data, the Clark County School District Peer Assistance and Review Program Study (PAR), and research that examines the introduction of video-based assessment during field placements. Wiens has also been teaching courses in social studies teaching methods.

“My experience at UNLV as been wonderful,” said Wiens, “the faculty have been extremely welcoming and supportive, and the students are great.”

When he finishes his posdoctoral fellowship, Wiens hopes to continue his work in academia and continue his research. He and his family are enjoying their new Las Vegas home.

For more information about Dr. Wiens and his research, check out his bio on the COE website or his ResearchGate profile.