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Outstanding education students want to make world better

When Rylee Morrow moves into her own classroom this fall to become an elementary school teacher in Edna, she plans to keep a piece of advice in mind: If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.

Morrow, who also lives in Edna, recently was named the Spring 2020 Outstanding Undergraduate Student for the University of Houston-Victoria School of Education, Health Professions & Human Development. Alyssa Cano of San Juan and Jennifer Southern of Victoria both were named the school’s Outstanding Graduate Students.

Rylee Morrow

Each semester, professors from UHV’s three schools select outstanding graduates to be honored during commencement. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, UHV has postponed its spring graduation ceremonies until it is safe to be together to celebrate students’ achievements.

“Each of these three women are excellent examples of how a higher education enables people to better help others,” said Fred Litton, dean of the school. “They each have a passion for investing in the lives of students and those in need, and I know they will make a positive difference in the lives of those they help.”

Morrow earned a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies in early childhood development. For the past five years, she has worked for the Edna school district as an Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID, tutor for middle and high school students. Now, as she prepares to move into teaching in an elementary school, she hopes to get a position teaching first grade.

Fred Litton

During the spring, Morrow was doing student teaching as part of her final semester before graduation. When the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools in March, she had to continue her student teaching in a virtual setting.

“This last semester was a bit overwhelming because of all the changes we faced,” she said. “We don’t get to pick the cards we’re dealt. Even though I only got to do half of my student teaching in a physical classroom, I also got firsthand experience at how to adapt and go to virtual teaching.”

As she gets ready to move into her own teaching role, Morrow plans to draw inspiration from one of her favorite faculty members at UHV, Mary Lasater, an associate professor of education.

“Her classes were very focused on helping students find answers instead of giving them answers,” Morrow said. “I admire the way she teaches. She’s one of the best because she tells students where to look, not what to see.”

More than anything, Morrow wants to use the lessons she learned at UHV to encourage and inspire her students to make the world a better place. One day, she plans to return to UHV to earn a master’s degree, possibly in administration or principalship.

Becoming a principal also is part of Southern’s plans for the future. She chose to pursue a Master of Education in Administration & Supervision with a principalship concentration. This is the second degree and third program she has worked on at UHV. She received a Bachelor of Science in psychology in 2006 and attended the university’s VOICE program from 2007 to 2009 to become a certified teacher. Now, she is the coordinator of special programs for the Nursery Independent School District.

Southern chose to switch to education from psychology when she had the opportunity to see her own children learn and realized she wanted to help other children do the same. Now, she’s been working in education for 10 years, and she’s looking forward to one day stepping into a leadership position to continue helping students grow and learn.

“Children need educators for so many reasons,” Southern said. “We make a difference every day by encouraging them as they navigate their personal strengths and struggles. It’s so exciting every time I see a child make a connection and grasp a concept.”

Jennifer Southern

The road to getting her master’s degree was difficult and included taking a major, comprehensive examination. But she received support from her professors, including Lou Lloyd-Zanini, an associate professor of education, who encouraged her and helped her remain calm as she prepared for the test. One major benefit of her experience at UHV was how the faculty emphasized real-world situations when teaching in the classroom and giving assignments.

“They spent a lot of time showing us how what we were learning applied to real situations we will encounter,” Southern said. “It gave me a deeper understanding of the why behind many administrative decisions.”

Cano recently earned a Master of Education in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and is working as a case manager at the Gulf Bend Center after completing an internship with the center’s Wellness Community, which offers independent living support for individuals with mental illnesses.

Cano first started studying psychology when she was an undergraduate student at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. She changed her major to psychology after taking an introductory course.

“I was fascinated by the subject,” she said. “I wanted to be able to help people recover from their personal struggles and deal with their issues.”

Alyssa Cano

Cano chose UHV’s graduate program because of the university’s culture and its small, diverse and compassionate atmosphere and community, she said. Now, as she completes her clinical hours and works toward certification, Cano plans to stay in Victoria for a while. Eventually, she wants to work with veterans in the Corpus Christi or McAllen Veterans Affairs facilities.

“Veterans are special to me because they were willing to give so much of themselves to protect us and our nation,” she said. “Their stories are full of so much that others never experience. They carry a lot, and I want to help them learn how to handle and lessen that burden.”

One of the main things she will take from her learning experiences at UHV is the importance of positivity, Cano said. Everyone in the program, from the faculty to her peers, has positive attitudes and supports each other. The experience showed Cano how to be even more compassionate and empathetic.

“I’m truly thankful for the opportunities I’ve had to learn and improve my skills at UHV,” she said. “I feel like God has a plan for everyone, and I want to help people see that for themselves. We all have a purpose.”

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.