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.

J. Carlos Hernandez, EdD, CPA

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Dr. J “Carlos” Hernandez attended the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) from 1984-2009 earning all his degrees at UTEP including a BBA in Accounting, a Master of Education and a Doctorate of Education. He is also a Certified Public Accountant.

With over 30 years of Public Higher Education experience having worked with The University of Texas at El Paso, University of North Texas, University of North Texas at Dallas, University of North Texas System and currently serves as Vice President for Finance and Operations at Sam Houston State University.

As a first generation Mexican/American identifying as a low socio-economic minority student he is personally familiar with, and invested in promoting student access and education affordability. He strongly identifies with the SHSU community, whose goals align with his personal experiences. At SHSU, he has the opportunity to leverage his culture, values, identity, professional experience and academic training to advance student success. Higher education provided him with the training needed to affect his social mobility and he endeavors to support similar student access and diversity efforts at each campus.

To this end, he has advanced institutional policy governing Employee Resource Groups that created a process for the establishment and support of groups advancing LGTBQIA priorities and women’s leadership (We LEAD) at SHSU. His efforts have also included the expansion of academic success opportunities for under-represented, under-served and minority communities at both UNT and SHSU. He also drafted and proposed the framework and charter for SHSU’s University Diversity Committee.

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.

Ricardo Montelongo, PhD

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Ricardo Montelongo, Ph.D. (aka "Dr Ric") is Assistant Professor in Educational Leadership – Higher Education at Sam Houston State University. He received his Ph.D. in Higher Education from Indiana University and an M.S. in Student Affairs Administration and B.S. in Psychology both from Texas A&M University. His research interests include educational outcomes associated with college student involvement, factors influencing involvement in extracurricular activities, and the impact of Latina/o/x college student organizations on members. Additional research areas include diversity issues in higher education administration, campus environments, online learning and digital pedagogy. Dr. Ric has twenty years professional administrative experience in the areas of student success, undergraduate academic support services, academic advising, Student Support Services/TRiO, institutional research, career advising, and residence life.

Dr. Ric joined the SHSU Educational Leadership faculty in January 2014. Dr. Ric values his faculty role knowing that he is preparing the next generation of higher education student affairs leaders. In addition to sharing his practitioner work in higher education student affairs, he also brought his passion to serve college students from diverse backgrounds. As a Latino working-class first-generation college student, Dr. Ric has made it his mission to serve those that have been told in one way or another that educational aspirations are out of reach. Hearing similar messages throughout his educational journey, he knows the importance of commitment and support. As an administrator, Dr. Ric primarily worked with students labeled as “at risk”, or what he prefers to describe as “educationally disadvantaged”. Today, he still mentors his previous student advisees, several who obtained success as teachers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, and student affairs administrators. His story and work experiences is often reflected in his teachings and research topics. Professionally, Dr. Ric is very active in ACPA College Student Educators International and was co-chair of their Latinx Network from 2011-2013. He currently serves on the National Advisory Board for the National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE). Dr. Ric also is an avid runner and coach for half-marathoners in Bay Area Fit, a Houston-Clear Lake area running club. Running has helped Dr. Ric practice what he preaches: commitment, self-discipline, and achievement!

Samar Zahrawi, PhD

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Dr. Samar Zahrawi is an Assistant professor of Arabic language and culture in the Department of World Languages and Cultures. She received her PhD from the University of Leeds, UK in 1992 and worked as a professor of English literature and translation for 21 years in Syrian and Saudi Arabian universities. Originally from Syria, she moved to the United States in 2013. At SHSU, she is building the Arabic program and directing the minor of Middle Eastern Studies. For Dr. Zahrawi, knowledge of world languages and cultures empowers students and helps them function globally. Her earlier work with Saudi female and Syrian students was a testimony for the role languages play in transforming minds and lives. Her mission at SHSU is not only to teach Arabic language, but more importantly, to build intercultural skills which will help Bearkats become global citizens. Her research interests are Middle Eastern culture, Arabic theater, Arabic film, translation methods and pedagogy. In her teaching and research, she is keen to minimize the bias and present a humanized image of the Middle Eastern communities.

Dr. Zahrawi is a faculty advisor for the Arabic Language and Culture Club which helps raise awareness about Middle Eastern cultures. She is a member of the CHSS Diversity and Inclusion Committee, where she participates in programing and activities such as the Day of Dialogue: Diversity and Inclusion in classroom and the Diversity Reader program. She is the co-chair of Islamophobia Awareness sub-committee that aims at replacing the negative stereotype connected to Muslims with a more informed complex image. She will also contribute to the SHSU Honor’s College by co-teaching a class on Islamophobia.

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.

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.

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.

Montse Feu, PhD

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Dr. Montse Feu joined the faculty of Sam Houston State University in the Fall of 2013 as an Assistant Professor in the Department of World Languages and Cultures. She earned her Ph.D. in Hispanic Studies from the University of Houston with certificates in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies from the University of Houston, in Fascism, Modernity, Politics, Aesthetics from the Cornell School of Criticism and Theory, and in Language Teaching Pedagogy from the Universitat de Barcelona.

Dr. Feu is a recovery scholar in the field of print culture produced by Spanish Civil War exiles in the United States. This research agenda, which includes topics of antifascism, humor, migration and exile, and periodical studies reflects her larger interest in U.S. Hispanic and Spanish literature. In her publications, Dr. Feu explores the creative expressions of migrants and exiles. The recovery of these so-called “invisible” literatures plays a fundamental part in understanding both Hispanic and American history and culture. Dr. Feu’s recovery work informs her teaching by showing students the diverse political and cultural history of Latinos in the United States. Students reflect about literary representations that fight narratives of political and cultural subjection and in doing so students learn the importance and the gift of freedom and peace. Her instruction is based on culturally relevant pedagogy that meet the needs of traditional and nontraditional students and empowers them intellectually.

Dr. Feu is a first-generation Catalan born and American trilingual speaker (Catalan-Spanish-English). As a member of the CHSS Diversity and Inclusion Committee. Dr. Feu has participated in the planning efforts for the Hispanic Heritage Month and organized the DACA informative panel and the Women’s History Month events in 2017. She is the founding member and Interim Chair of CHSS DiveIn Latinx Working Group and the faculty advisor for the student organizations Ballet Folklorico, the Latinx Club of the World Languages and Cultures, and LULAC #4284. Dr. Feu enjoys advising students in undergraduate and graduate research opportunities at SHSU in the Bridge to Aspire and McNair programs, and Undergraduate Research Symposium programs. Each year, she volunteers at the Houston Hispanic Forum Annual Career and Education Day where Hispanic families meet professors and learn about the steps to succeed in higher education.

Craig Henderson, PhD

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Craig Henderson is a Professor in the Department of Psychology and Philosophy. Currently, he teaches doctoral practicum and Assessment of Intelligence and Achievement along with special problems courses in advanced statistics and grant writing. At the undergraduate level he typically teaches Developmental Psychology. His areas of research include adolescent substance abuse treatment and other health behaviors such as exercise. He is a licensed psychologist whose practice interests include couple and family therapy and psychological assessment for vulnerable populations such as immigrants and individuals who identify as transgender. He Chairs the Clinical Psychology Program Diversity Committee and serves on the College of Humanities and Social Sciences Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

Although Craig was raised in a fairly affluent suburb of Houston, his life trajectory has been strongly influenced by the interactions he has had with people from backgrounds different from his own. At 2 years of age, his family moved to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and lived there for the next five years of his life. He credits this period of his life as forming his interest in diversity; he lived as a numerical minority and had friends from all over the world, some from relatively privileged backgrounds, others not. Since this time in his life, he has sought out experiences to grow multi-culturally, enjoying particularly affinity with our SHSU’s international students. He serves as Co-Faculty Sponsor of Bridges at Sam, a student organization devoted to building relationships with international students and helping them achieve a sense of belonging at SHSU. Professionally, he is committed to improving the diversity of the field of psychology to meet the needs of the variety of people it serves. Craig enjoys music, reading, and the outdoors, including activities like cycling, hiking/backpacking, and climbing. He is a huge fan of soccer (the beautiful game) and would love to watch a match with you at some point.

Dr. Bernadette Pruitt, PhD

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Dr. Bernadette Pruitt has been a member of the Department of History at Sam Houston State University for two decades. She earned her BA in Journalism in 1989 and MA in History in 1991 from Texas Southern University, a Historical Black College/University (HBCU) in Houston and completed her PhD in History from the University of Houston in 2001. The associate professor serves on several committees including the Commencement Committee. She is also advisor to two organizations: Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society and Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority. Prof Pruitt holds membership in both. Dr. Pruitt is also a member of the Committee for the Status of Women in the Historical Profession with the Organization of American Historians.

An engaged scholar, Prof Pruitt has published one book, several peer-reviewed articles and book chapters, and numerous encyclopedic essays. Dr. Pruitt’s scholarship and teaching interests examine the Black experience in the United States, principally African-American urban history in Texas, long civil rights, and the Great Migration of the twentieth century. Pruitt’s first book, The Other Great Migration: The Movement of Rural African-Americans to Houston, 1900-1941 (2013), studies African-American internal migration within the South. The monograph challenges the prevailing notion that the Great Migration singularly defines the mass exodus of African-decent Americans out of the South. The migrants she studies participated in intrastate and contiguous interstate migrations within the South. Currently the native Midwesterner is writing a book proposal about the Second Great Migration in Texas.

The award-winning scholar reminds students that life experiences guide the historian’s scholarship and pedagogy. She is certainly exception. A native of Detroit, Michigan, Pruitt is a product of the Great Migration, with each set of grandparents fleeing the South in the early twentieth century. Her maternal grandparents as stepwise—migrants who, for monetary purposes, traveled from one destination to another before settling in a permanent community—migrants, initially left Memphis and Kentucky before meeting in Barberton, Ohio in the 1930s prior to relocating to Detroit years later during the Great Depression. Her paternal grandparents fled rural Kemper County, Mississippi near Meridian in 1941. Her grandfather followed his eldest son who secured permanent employment at Ford Motor Company. Both sets of grandparents eventually found themselves on Detroit’s West Side at a time when the city served as the leading “Arsenal of Democracy” center during the Second World War. While her grandparents and parents lived and grew up in integrated working-class neighborhoods on the city’s West Side, the Detroit Riot of 1943 served as an ignition switch that prompted a permanent demographic shift in Greater Detroit and Southeastern Michigan, one guided by, regrettably, racial segregation.

Because of defacto segregation and class-based racial isolation, the Detroit she grew up in differed from the Detroit of her parents and grandparents. Despite the negativity that often permeated Pruitt’s existence and that of her community due to gang violence, sex, drugs, despondency, poverty, depression, and discouragement, Pruitt, a child of the 1970s and early 1980s, experienced glimmers of hope, with a love for history being one. Alex Haley’s Roots aired on television in January 1977 (and later Roots: The Second Generations, in 1979) and allowed the future history professor to come face-to-face with her destiny, told to millions of people worldwide and explained in such a way that offered African-descent Americans extraordinary pride and self-love about their history. Prof Pruitt’s familial history also influenced her decision to study history in graduate school, as it taught her something magnificent about self-love, identity, and agency.

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!