Holmes Scholars: Representing the Underrepresented Well

Sherry Tuliwa McKnight, doctoral student in the Department of Teaching and Learning, has quite a diverse educational background. And being designated as one of three Holmes Scholars at UNLV continues to distinguish her as she completes her doctoral studies.

McKnight transferred to UNLV in 2004 after receiving her associate’s degree in Liberal Arts. Upon graduating with a bachelor’s degree in African American History and in 2008, she cites her son as her inspiration to further her education: “My son encouraged me to join him in graduate school. When I graduated with my master’s in December 2012, my son received his Ph.D. at the same graduation ceremony. Of course, he also wanted his mother to change the family tradition and complete a Ph.D. as well.”

In 2013 McKnight began the Ph.D. in Career and Technical Education and Post-Secondary Education (CTPE) degree program; her dissertation work centers on the potential role of stereotype threat in African American females’ pursuit of graduate education. While helping other adults that were returning to the University for a graduate degree in the CTPE program, she was nominated as a Holmes Scholar.

The Holmes Scholar program, which began in 1991, was designed for historically underrepresented individuals at various colleges and universities in the United States. The program is sponsored by the American Association for Colleges of Teacher Education (AACTE). Research indicates a tremendous need for retention, progression, and completion of graduate degrees for underrepresented students in the higher education system. McKnight is honored to be a UNLV student who is part of breaking the historical cycle that often holds back underrepresented students in higher education.

Holmes Scholars serve a three-year term, participate in the AACTE Annual Meeting each year, and attend at least two other conferences and/or symposiums offered by the Holmes Scholar Organization. After completing her work as a Holmes Scholar, McKnight plans on continuing making contributions in the local community and beyond.

Additional information regarding the Holmes Scholars program may be found at the AACTE website.

Moving Science Education Forward

Dr. David Vallett, Assistant Professor in Teaching & Learning, has received a $315,000 award to increase awareness and knowledge of the Nevada Academic Content Standards for Sciences.


Dr. David Vallett, Assistant Professor in Teaching & Learning, has received a $315,000 award from the Nevada Department of Education Math Science Partnership 2016-2017 grant program entitled: “Moving All Nevada Teachers through Awareness of the NVACSS (MANTA).”

Vallett serves as the Principal Invenstigator, and Dr. Hasan Deniz, Associate Professor in the same department, is an evaluator for the project. Vallett has partnered with eight other leadership team members at the University of Nevada-Reno (UNR), within Clark County School District (CCSD), and with Southern Nevada’s Regional Professional Development Program (RPDP).

Led by UNLV, and partnered with UNR, CCSD, and the RPDPs statewide, Moving All Nevada Teachers through Awareness of the Nevada Academic Content Standards for Science (NVACSS) (MANTA) is a multi-institutional project in science education with the primary goal of raising awareness and familiarity with the NVACSS statewide through the development of a cadre of teacher leaders, who will then develop and present workshops to teachers in their districts and regions. The 96 person teacher leader cadre will complete a 50-hour institute on the NVACSS and peer leadership delivered by higher education faculty and teacher educators from across the state. Through a partnership with PCG and Dr. Richard Vineyard, all science teachers statewide will participate in Pepper, an online module outlining the NVACSS. Additionally, NV science teachers will have the opportunity to take part in up to 20 hours of teacher leader delivered workshops along either an awareness or implementation track, depending on their level of experience with the NVACSS.

New UNLV Student Organization for Scholarly Writing

Dr. Margarita Huerta and students have founded a chapter to support students interested in academic writing.


SAA is a UNLV-registered student organization of individuals who meet together to support one another with scholarly writing. SAA provides resources and networking opportunities, and allows students to share experiences of navigating through novice academic writing. The goal of SAA is to maximize quality and production of scholarly writing for UNLV students.

2016-17 SAA Meetings:

  • September 2 at 2pm in the Student Union Room 224
  • October 7
  • November 4
  • December 2
  • February 3
  • March 3
  • April 7
  • May 5

For more information, contact Kristin Withey or visit their Facebook page.

Urban Leadership Development Program Graduates First Class

UNLV, CCSD partner on hands-on master’s program to create a pipeline of local K-12 teachers to fill demand for as many as 150 principals and other administrators a year.


By Keyonna Summers • Read on UNLV News Center

Diana Gomez always felt a pull toward a teaching career.

Even as a child, her heart was happiest when she was supervising her sisters and cousins’ cursive writing and math lessons, recess sessions and lunch duty during games of “school.” She spent five years post-college exploring an accounting career, but the passion for her first love — education — remained.

Gomez returned to school to obtain her teaching credential, moved to Las Vegas because of vast job openings, and might have been content to teach first grade forever. But one fateful day, a mentor, whose “growing our own” mantra had encouraged Gomez to spend the last several years moving up the ranks, urged her to attend an informational meeting about UNLV’s Urban Leadership Development (ULD) program.

The four-semester master’s degree program is a partnership with the Clark County School District aimed at preparing a new crop of principals and top administrators to fill a leadership gap created by retirements and local population and school growth. Officials say CCSD will need 100 to 150 new principals a year.

“The need is nationwide to really train teachers as instructional leaders. That was the first thing that got me,” said Gomez, an Edwards Elementary Title I learning strategist who has her eyes set on nabbing an assistant principal position next year. “The next thing was that community members and even businesses that are employing CCSD students know this is a great need, and this program listens to them and gives them a voice. I was sold.”

Gomez is among 27 members of the inaugural ULD cohort who graduated May 14.

Started in January 2015, the graduate program’s bread and butter is the real-world experiential learning element. Students are embedded in Las Vegas schools, where they work with mentor principals to research data/issues and available school resources specific to that particular urban environment — such as poor attendance, test scores or behavioral problems — then implement programs to spur improvements.

“Field experiences are core to our program — putting theory into practice,” said planning director Patti Chance. “It’s real work that benefits a site where the teacher is working.”

The program also works closely with Teach for America, which has six graduates among the first cohort, and is supported by Nevada Succeeds.

Circle of learning

The Urban Leadership Development program will broaden this fall under the College of Urban Affairs to include graduate education for community and business professionals in a variety of fields. Concurrently, the College of Education will continue the CCSD leadership-focused track under a new name, Educational Policy and Leadership, and expand it to 40 to 50 new students a year plus bring in nationally-recognized course instructors.

Officials say they believe the program is one of only two in Nevada specifically dedicated to the preparation of K-12 principals, and is the only one catering to Southern Nevada.

The emphasis on bringing in outside perspectives is among things that impacted ULD graduate Benjamin Feinstein most.

“We were introduced to so many resources that are there to support students  — who, for example, might be hungry or homeless or have no insurance to get glasses or a toothache fixed — that when we become leaders we already have contacts in the community to call and we already know how to meet that need,” he said.

Feinstein is a Valley High School International Baccalaureate coordinator, whose field experience project focused on simple techniques for teachers to help English Language Learners succeed in mainstream classrooms. He has worked in administration at private and independent schools, and his graduation from ULD allows him to begin applying for CCSD assistant principalships over the summer.

Tracking results

Gomez’s capstone project targeted kindergarten English Language Learners at Edwards, which has an 88 percent Hispanic and 66 percent ELL population. She developed a program to prepare the 13 pupils for first grade beginner reading courses and get them on track to meet CCSD’s read-by-third-grade initiative through tailored lessons on letter names and sounds. Gomez said her goal of a 70 percent success rate was exceeded by 15 percent.

“If the ULD program taught me anything it’s that if I’m growing, my teachers are growing and that means students are learning,” Gomez said.

It’s a sentiment echoed by ULD graduate Dawn King, who helps educators develop teaching strategies as a special education instructional facilitator. Her project successfully decreased behavioral problems in one Monaco Middle School classroom by implementing the “genius hour strategy,” a popular tool at companies like Google that gives individuals free time several hours a week work on something they are passionate about. There was a roughly 50 percent decrease in off-task behavior by students allowed to work on research paper topics of their choosing, King said, but a side bonus was the significant confidence boost teachers noticed in students who were suddenly eager to give presentations to their classmates.

King is hoping her newly-minted degree helps earn her a dean position at a middle school, where she can expand her capstone project and refine the traditional disciplinary role of a dean to include a bigger focus on building relationships with students.

“The biggest asset of this program was the relationship between CCSD and UNLV, and the professional development,” King said. “We know specifically what’s expected of us when we go into these jobs. UNLV brought in key speakers, had seminars on the weekends. I feel so prepared to get started (in an administration job) because I don’t feel like I just learned what was in a textbook. I learned how it can be applied on the job. UNLV did that for me. And the partnership with CCSD is invaluable.”