Champions of Diversity: Our Journey to Sam!

Every Bearkat has a story. Sharing our stories builds acceptance, respect and understanding of different experiences and perspectives. SHSU would like to highlight some of our stories. We encourage you and your colleagues to submit the story of your journey to Sam, so we can continue the diversity conversation.  And click here to find out how to join our team of Champions.

Thieme Jackson Bittick, MA

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With an MA in English, Thieme J. Bittick, AKA “TJ,” started at SHSU as an adjunct faculty in 2005. She moved on to become a dissertation reviewer and now works in Human Resources as the professional development coordinator for the staff. TJ began her career after college as a civilian contract negotiator for the US Air Force, where she purchased multi-million dollar satellite systems (such as the GPS that later made its way onto the civilian market). Through a series of fortunate events, she fell into the learning and development field, which she continues to enjoy.

TJ’s heritage is a mixture of African American, Irish, and Native American. Her parents met while serving in the Air Force when the service was being desegregated, and her mother was a WAF (Women in the Air Force). TJ was born in Germany, but her older siblings were born right here in Texas. The only thing she loves more than her two dogs is her Sam professor husband and their (very nearly) adult twin sons.

Amanda Venta, PhD

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Dr. Venta joined the faculty of Sam Houston State University in the Fall of 2015 as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology & Philosophy. She received her B.A. from Rice University and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Houston. Dr. Venta’s clinical training focused on children, adolescents, and families. Her primary research interests are the development of psychopathology in youth and the protective effect of parent-child attachment. She has received research funding from the National Institutes of Mental Health and the American Psychological Foundation.

Dr. Venta is a first-generation American born to Cuban immigrants who fled Fidel Castro’s communist regime in the early 1960’s. As a Hispanic woman and native Spanish-Speaker, Dr. Venta is passionate about highlighting the unique contributions of Hispanic culture in the U.S. As a member of CHSS’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, Dr. Venta has lead planning efforts for Hispanic Heritage Month the last two years. She also focuses on Hispanics in much of her research and clinical work, training graduate students to provide much-needed psychological services in Spanish and leading numerous research studies on the mental health of recently immigrated children and families. As a mentor in both the McNair and Bridge to Aspire programs at SHSU, Dr. Venta attempts to involve​ ethnic minority and first-generation students in both undergraduate and graduate research and training.

Ervin Malakaj, PhD

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Dr. Ervin Malakaj is Assistant Professor of German and coordinates the German Program at SHSU. He received his B.A. and M.A. in German Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a Ph.D. in German (with a minor concentration in Film Studies) from Washington University in St. Louis. Dr. Malakaj teaches German language and culture courses across the curriculum and regularly contributes to the course offerings in the SHSU Honors College. His research centers on media studies. Recently, he has published on queer film history and is developing a longer project on queer melodrama.

Dr. Malakaj was a founding member of the SHSU LGBTQI* Faculty & Staff Network. In addition, he co-chairs the CHSS Diversity & Inclusion Committee, which has come to be one of the main sources for programming related to diversity and inclusion on campus. Dr. Malakaj co-directs the Diversity Reading program, which is an inter-college reading program devised to foster discussion on campus about some of the most pressing issues of our time. In addition, Dr. Malakaj co-directs the CHSS Diversity Fellowship Program, which recognizes undergraduate students for their keen interest in diversity and inclusion with a stipend and a mentorship program during which they assist the programming efforts of the CHSS Diversity & Inclusion Committee.

Jordan Chang, MEd

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Jordan Chang is the Assistant Director of the Center for Diversity & Intercultural Affairs and has been with Sam Houston State University (SHSU) since March 2015. Jordan’s Journey to Sam has been an interesting one that truly reflects on his diverse upbringing. Originally from Kingston, Jamaica, Jordan moved to South Florida when he was 14 years old. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and his Masters of Education in Higher Education from Florida Atlantic University (FAU) in Boca Raton, FL. While at FAU, it was his campus involvement in a variety of student organizations and working within Student Affairs that garnered his interest in student development and higher education. While in the Higher Education program, his graduate assistantship was in the Office of Diversity & Multicultural Affairs, which allowed him to share his experiences as a Chinese Jamaican man with others. It has also allowed him to develop skills in student advising, multicultural education and presentations.

Currently at SHSU, Jordan leads diversity efforts in heritage/history month programming as well as other cultural programming. He also conducts diversity trainings for classes, student organizations, and professional conferences. Jordan also serves as the student organization advisor for a myriad of cultural organizations including Diversity Council, African Student Association, NAACP, African Student Association and the Exceptional Men of The Talented Tenth, Inc. Throughout his time at Sam, he enjoys daily conversations with students across campus the most - it is through daily interactions and conversations that we truly learn the most about each other and humanity.

David Yebra

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Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) David Yebra is the Director of Emergency Management and also facilitates the SHSU High-Potential Employee Leadership Academy. He is a graduate of West Point with a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering Management. He also has a Master of Science Degree in Counseling and Leader Development from Long Island University. David served the Nation as an Officer in the U.S. Army for 24 years that included three years deployed to combat in Iraq. He is a graduate of the Army’s Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He was awarded four Bronze Star Medals during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was also selected as the U.S. Army Cadet Command Professor of Military Science of the Year in 2011 out of 273 university programs in the country. He received the Legion of Merit upon retirement in 2014.

Born in Tucson, Arizona, David credits his high school counselor with changing the course of his life by sharing higher educational opportunities with him. His father, a lifelong trumpet playing mariachi that migrated from Mexico, influenced his love for music and the passion for making others feel good. In addition to the Leadership Academy, David conducts leader development events for organizations on campus including the SHSU Football, Baseball, and Women’s Basketball teams, as well as Honors College, SHSU ELITE, Graduate Studies ASPIRE, and First Year Experience courses. Still unwilling to grow up, David plays soccer weekly and gets out on his motorcycle whenever the sun is shining. His experiences have taken him to countries around the world, but he knew right away that SHSU and Huntsville was the right place to take off his Army boots and begin the next phase of his life.

Siham Bouamer, PhD

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Siham Bouamer is an Assistant Professor of French and Francophone studies at SHSU. She received her B.A. from Université de Haute-Alsace in France. She then moved to the United States and earned her Masters in French studies from Saint Louis University. She received a Ph.D. in French with a secondary concentration in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies from Washington University in St. Louis. Her research foci include Francophone literature and film of the nineteenth to twenty-first centuries, colonial and postcolonial literatures, and contemporary transnational cultures. Part of her research also centers on pedagogy and diversity and inclusion in the foreign language classroom that she has shared in several department teaching workshops and college-wide events such as “A Day of Dialogue: Diversity and Inclusion in the Classroom.”

Her passion for teaching and mentoring goes beyond the classroom. Dr. Bouamer serves as the faculty advisor for two student organizations. The French and Francophone Club aims to raise and promote awareness about Francophone cultures. As We Are: Natural Hair Society is an organization that provides a forum for the SHSU community to discuss and reframe the negative and social connotation of natural hair aesthetics. She is also an active member of the CHSS Diversity and Inclusion Committee. As part of the committee, she has worked on programming such as Hispanic Heritage Month, Black History Month, and Women’s History Month. She is also co-chairing the Islamophobia Awareness Committee that aims at challenging the stereotypes about Islam and Muslims. Most recently, Dr. Bouamer created and is chairing the CHSS Faculty and Staff of Color Network. The network seeks to promote professional development and advancement for faculty and staff from diverse backgrounds.

Victoria White

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Victoria White was born and raised in small town Livingston, TX, which makes her appreciate the sense of community found at Sam Houston State University. Approaching her 2005 graduation from Livingston High School, Victoria only applied to one school – Sam Houston State University! Following in the footsteps of both her parents, four aunts, one uncle and her older sister, Victoria became a Bearkat. She knew that her time at Sam Houston would produce both a quality education as well as real world skills and life-long friendships. Victoria graduated from Sam with her Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication with a concentration in Public Relations. For six years, Victoria worked in the non-profit sector providing services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. She held two different positions during this time: Residential Manager for the Walker County Shelter Program and then as the Community Education Coordinator.

In June of 2016, Victoria came to work as an Admissions Counselor at Sam Houston State. Once staffed on campus, Victoria was eager to find opportunities to serve the students here. She serves on the following committees at Sam: the FORWARD Committee, the Reimagining First Year Committee, and the Motivate Me Committee. The FORWARD Committee’s goal is to provide optimal services and resources to Sam Houston students who are former foster youth. The Reimagining First Year Committee works to increase retention rates, especially among first-generation college students. The Texas Association for College Admission Counseling’s Motivate Me Committee, works to promote the importance of higher education to teens living in inner-cities and low income areas. Victoria is also the Advisor for Sam Houston’s Soul Lifters Gospel Choir, where students of all faiths are invited to lift the spirits of campus and community members through the gift of song.

Jorge Varela, PhD

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Jorge G. Varela is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology and Philosophy, and Director of Clinical Training for the Doctoral program in Clinical Psychology. Currently, he teaches doctoral practicum and a doctoral-level course in multicultural psychology, and teaches undergraduate courses in abnormal psychology and psychology and the law. His areas of research include the intersection and multicultural and forensic psychology as well as forensic assessment in general. He served as an Officer in the U.S. Air Force and was the Commander of the Mental Health Flight at Kirtland AFB (Albuquerque, NM) before coming to Sam Houston State.

Jorge was the first member of his family born in the United States. He grew up bilingual in a Cuban neighborhood, and his Cuban heritage is an important part of his identity and life. He loves to share his experiences with students and friends, including his recipe for Cuban Black Beans. He has served on the Faculty Advisory Panel for the SH Elite Program, an academic support program for first generation African-American and Latino male students, since its inception in 2010. Jorge spends his time reading science fiction and fantasy novels, watching college football, and cheering for the San Antonio Spurs. He also believes being a fan of Star Trek and Star Wars are not mutually exclusive. One thing Dr. Varela wants you to know is that he dislikes prejudice in all its forms, exploitation, and, to a lesser extent, blueberries.

David Arriola

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David Arriola is a sixth generation Texan, and a fourth generation soldier. His mother, a school teacher, and his father, a public transportation officer and Army veteran, instilled in him the value of service before self and a passion for helping others. Deciding to follow in his father’s footsteps, David enlisted in the Army as a Petroleum Supply Specialist after high school. After graduating with honors from the US Army Quartermaster School at Fort Lee VA, David returned to Texas. He then served six years with the 72nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion while he attended SHSU. Eventually serving as the Battalion Petroleum logistics section leader, David was awarded for the successful coordination of both large-scale training operations, and disaster relief for the State of Texas.

After graduating with his Bachelor’s degree in Political Science, he returned to work at SHSU. David currently works in Institutional Effectiveness as the department's Office Manager. Previously, David worked in Human Resources coordinating on campus student employment. In his spare time, David is working towards his Master’s degree in Comparative and Global Education, with an Emphasis in Higher Education Administration. He also enjoys reading, traveling, touring museums, camping, golfing, and playing with his dog. David is thankful for the opportunities he has been afforded working at Sam Houston State University, and looks forward to many more years of service.

Stephanie Bluth, PhD

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Dr. Stephanie Bluth is a Coordinator in the Office of Graduate Studies, and an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology. She comes from a military family and has lived in many different states. Her family settled in Colorado after her father retired from the Army and her mother retired from the Navy. Her parents served a combined 25 years in the armed forces. Stephanie earned her Bachelor of Arts degree and her Master’s in Mental Health Counseling at Adams State University. She moved to Texas after completing her MA degree to work in case management with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, and then for CASA Child Advocates. During her career she provided intensive case management to children and families identified by community mental health crisis units, and investigated reports of abuse and neglect to children. As a community education specialist, Stephanie provided crisis intervention and advocacy, providing court assessments of home and social environments.

Stephanie came to work at Sam in February 2011, where she also completed her PhD in Counselor Education in August 2014. Following her experience as a doctoral student, she found a passion in ensuring access to graduate education. Stephanie has developed and coordinated two graduate student minority scholars programs, The Bridge ASPIRE program and the ROAD to PhD. Both programs provide minority graduate students with faculty mentoring, and career and academic success workshops. She is a member of the CHSS Faculty and Staff of Color Network, and she serves on the Faculty Advisory Panel for the Sam Houston Elite Program, an academic support program for first generation African-American and Latino male students.

SHSU Diversity Events:

  • Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept-Oct)
  • Black History Month (Feb)
  • Diversity Leadership Conference (Feb)
  • Women’s History Month (March)
  • Lavender Graduation (Dec and May)
  • Latinx Graduation (Dec and May)
  • Fall/Spring Diversity Reader program
  • Diversity Poetry Slams

…and many more to come!